If Only I Could Have Eaten My Way Through School
That cartoon light bulb sometimes appears over my head when I eat certain things; food is strongly connected with my memories. Ask me anything about high school calculus and I will probably stare at you blankly. But let me eat my way through Little Italy in NYC to find that amazing, hole-in-the-wall joint where I had that lasagna on our high school trip to the city, and I am sure I could tell you (or I would at least have fun looking for it).
Most of my memories of eating studying around Europe are connected with food. It was not only the food itself, but what was happening around us, the weather, how we were feeling, the people we were with, whether we were upset or happy or sick or drunk. Cantaloupe gelato in Bergamo, Italy. Proscuitto wrapped melon in Venice. And I can’t forget the bus ride out of Venice and the urgency with which I asked the bus driver to stop at the next exit. Too much vino and partying the night before? Of course not. I just needed some air. Ah-em.
I remember the potato soup and “mean green bean salad” (as I called it) that I cooked at a friend’s apartment while her French host parents were on vacation. American girls shopping for ingredients and cooking in a French kitchen. Yep, dream. What I learned in school that day? I couldn’t tell you. But every time I make potato soup, I think about that French apartment. It’s a memory so clear, it was like it happened yesterday.
Restaurants, therefore, have such power and at the same time such responsibility to deliver consistent food for their patrons. The palate has a distinct memory. Isn’t it disappointing when you order the same thing at a restaurant and it’s not as good as you remember? What’s worse is when you talk up the dish to your friends like it’s the best ever and it turns out to be a complete flop the second time around. Embarrassing.
Two girlfriends that I miss dearly drove from Colorado to Omaha last summer to visit. We ate at a restaurant downtown called La Buvette on what seemed to be one of the most beautiful days in August and had an insanely perfect gravlox salad.
In my spring feverishness of this last week in March, I sat outside at the same restaurant to order the same salad, enjoy the 70-degree day, and read a book (Heat by Bill Buford). The salad was prepared exactly like it had been last August. The house cured gravlox had the exact same consistency, not over or under cured, with just a hint of dill. The lunch lacked the girl talk that had made the last one so fun, but at least my palate was happy with fond memories. Here’s to consistency.