City Pages has listed Old Man Summer as today's Minnesota Blog of the Day, so I figure I should come up with some good stories. I did come prepared: I had a truly epic date last night. I went to a matinee of Pan's Labyrinth, then had dinner at La Belle Vie.
The review of Pan's Labyrinth that resonated most with my own was, unsurprisingly, Anthony Lane's (it's only a capsule review; you'll have to scroll down). I found it distressingly graphic and kind of depressing, although it was beautifully (maybe too beautifully) shot. Visually it looks a bit like Agnieszka Holland's version of The Secret Garden, only with a lot more Spanish gold and crimson.
Afterwards, I matched the movie's sins with lesser ones of my own, specifically gluttony. My meal was worthy of a declining empire in every way; never have I felt so thoroughly like a slavering Roman empress (and of course, I wasn't buying). Even if I was, though: There is a secret to successfully spending half a month's mortgage payment on a single meal: If you spend even one second, one brief tragic sigh, contemplating how much the bill will be between the time you sit down and the time the check comes to bitter up the last of the coffee: You have wasted your money. You have to throw yourself into the experience headlong, or you might as well stay home. Both my dining companion and I are skilled at this sort of hedonistic mindfulness, and also well aware of proper deportment in a Temple of Gastronomie, which is to say that since you're paying dearly for the pleasure, you should take off your shoes as soon as you sit down, and start opulently kissing your date between courses such that your waiter will have to tap your shoulders and tease you for attention. (After all, why else did they seat you side-by-side on those handsome leather banquettes?)
At any event, I started off with a sidecar enriched with tangerine juice and probably other aphrodiasic substances, and mixed, I hope, by the devastatingly gorgeous colt behind the bar; my date had an "old Cuban," which was made with ginger beer rather than champagne and tasted complicated and rich, rather like a real New Orleans Pimm's Cup. A handsome and stocky busboy who reminded me of a Nuyorican mafioso crossed with my grandfather brought good bread, and then a plate of gougeres arrived: diminuitive Gruyere-flavored popovers. The amusee was a bite of King Crab topped with slivered black truffle and what were pretentiously described as "minigreens," floating in a pool of salsify soup that had been drizzled with some beguiling oil and fish roe. Yummmm. Then our kindly and maternal waitress showed up with some sort of blanc de blanc Champagne.
I'm not much for wine, ordinarily, but I am surprised at my ability to nevertheless learn and remember quite a bit about it. We enjoyed passing one another our glasses (we split the Sommelier's wine flight, because neither of us have the stamina for seven glasses of wine, even if they were tasting pours) and sniffing and tasting elaborately. I was amazed at all the wine-snob flavors I could pick up in this way. The champagne really did smell like crisp green apple, new-mown hay, and dust, just like they tell you it should, and it was the driest champagne I've ever drunk, but not at all tannicky and puckery: just clean as empty sky, and delicious. I can imagine acquiring the skills necessary to be a first-rate chef, but the sommelier's job undoes me. How do you ever acquire the body of knowledge necessary? How do you imagine in your head the flavors and memorize the associated names of an entire cellarful of hundreds, maybe thousands, of different wines, and then pick out the one -- the one! -- that will create alchemy with any given dish? I can choose something adequate for a dinner party, but whoever picked the wine I drank with my meal last night is a magician.
The rest of the menu you can follow for yourself:
Langoustine (hello, they're crayfish, but whatever, they are good)
Seared crispy Arctic char with black ravioli (with another clean, apple-y, but simpler Sancerre)
Pheasant served with mushrooms and risotto that was bar none the most delicious thing I have ever put in my mouth (served with a Chateau du Pape red that was dirty, mysterious, and yummy in a muggy, overcast way)
Duck with carmelized roasted chestnuts, a parsnip puree that tasted like what mashed potatoes dream of being, and fried parsnip chips that had been dusted with what tasted like garam masala (with a Russian Valley red that I thought was boring, but my date said he could drink gallons of it)
Lamb with tomatoes and sausage (served with a red I can't even remember)
A cheese course: a pear poached in some sort of red wine filled with and sitting next to some sort of nearly levitating blue cheese panacotta, with curly endive (served with a pale amber colored dessert wine that my date thought tasted like epoxy remover, although I liked it, specially with the cheese)
A cone-shaped popsicle (!) made from two kinds of citrus (one I'd never heard of, and then also blood orange) and mascarpone cheese, poked into a little honey cake (and served without wine, because really, what pairs with popsicles?)
And four leetul desserts: a molten chocolate cake, a chocolate truffle-type cake topped with two impossibly fresh and flavorful and steroidally huge raspberries, a raspberry-goat cheese "spring roll" (really sort of a tiny, delectable, deep fried blintz), and a scoop of black-peppery raspberry sorbet, served on a peppery chocolate leaf (and of course this came with a red dessert wine that tasted like chocolate and raspberries, even I could've managed that pairing)
And then because too much is never enough, they showed up with the check, excellent coffee, and four little "petit fours" -- an apricot linzer torte the size of a matchbook, a coconut macaroon, two bitty meringues glued together with a circle of ganache, and a blackhearted truffle that had been rolled in what tasted like powdered raspberries. We actually, absurdly, ate all these -- stuff, stuff, stuff -- leaving me feeling feloniously guilty: Dear Mary in Heaven, what kind of a mother am I, that I didn't steal even one petit four for Floppy?
A bad one: naturally I tossed all night with indigestion and nightmares, the nasty minor fate of empresses at the sunset of empires everywhere.
A memorable night, indeed.