Restaurant week 2010, or, The week-long food coma (part 2)

Last week, we left me disgruntled with an unimaginative chef and average strawberry shortcake. Next on the docket was seafood at Atlantic Fish Company, and although I’m a recent seafood eater and despite my traumatizing dinner with my mother and the lobster-massacring waiter, I was optimistic.

As I was trying to write this week’s column, it took me several minutes of deep thought to remember what I ordered. That is not a good sign. I had some gazpacho that I hated, which was my own fault, as I can’t eat onions or chunky tomatoes. I tried to sip as much of the broth as possible and ate three slices of thick, warm bread and hoped I hadn’t offended the chef. I honestly can’t remember my main entrée. I know the shrimp was grilled, but parts of it were way too charred. If I wanted to eat burned seafood, I would have made it myself.


Chocolate Semifreddo

But the dessert. Oh, the dessert. Perhaps the best part of Restaurant Week is that I’ve had dessert four times in the past week. I almost never order dessert at restaurants because the meal portions are always so gigantic, and I’m sort of cheap. (And also because I have a separate dessert stomach—I will never refuse dessert if someone else is buying. What kind of life is that, refusing dessert? So I try to save my desserting for special occasions, for the sake of my waistline.) This particular dessert was called chocolate semifreddo and was a type of frozen chocolate mousse with real whipped cream, pralines crumbled on top, and fresh strawberries. And while the other courses were too small, even for lunch, the dessert portion was generous. It was creamy and chocolately, cool but not icy, with a little crunch. It was so delicious I am considering going there once a month and just ordering that. I would even go by myself. I don’t need anyone between me and chocolate semifreddo.

Nearing the end of the week, I was getting a little spoiled. I felt justified saying that a $20 salad was just mediocre, or that it could’ve used a little more basil. I had several unpleasant encounters with onions. The menu would not have mentioned them, but there they’d be, all chopped up and silently waiting to assault me in the sauce or soup. Why do restaurants assume everyone wants to chomp down on onions? And why must onions and mushrooms come on everything? I’d be reading along, going “Mmm” at the description, and there at the end of the paragraph like a blot of ink would be onions or mushrooms. And most of the time, they were either in the sauce where they cannot be taken out, or so integral to the dish that it would be pointless to ask for it without them. Disappointment.

When I went out for tapas with my friend Stacie, who I met in Spain, we discovered that we are not alone in our intolerance for onions. Why don’t more restaurants accommodate for people like us? We discovered a possible solution: eating in the dark. For our tapas, we sat on the patio, and when the main courses were arriving, the sun was setting and we were eating mostly by candlelight. A major weapon in the arsenal of the picky eater is sight—we can identify things that we already know we hate or that we assume we’re going to hate and daintily pick around. In the dark, that’s not an option. After half a bottle of wine, it doesn’t seem to matter that much. I’m pretty sure I ate some artichokes and green peppers. With tapas, you just eat. You don’t ask what it is.

My last meal was in a modern Italian restaurant. I had an amazing salad that was supposed to have grapefruit on it, but just had grapes. Maybe in Italian “grape-fruit” translates into “grapes.” It was delicious regardless. For dinner, I had to turn down the gnocchi because of the damned mushrooms, but I had a steak with a ginger sauce, steamed spinach and mashed potatoes that were somehow crispy. It was incredible. Our conversation dwindled to nothing by the time dessert came. I had mango panna cotta, a custard with fresh berries, and my other friends had chocolate mousse. We all became so absorbed in dessert we were no longer looking at or speaking to each other. I was enjoying mine so much that I was beginning to feel uncomfortable with everyone else around. I wanted some alone time with my dessert. And I don’t think I was the only one feeling that way.

That evening made all the dollars I spent worth it. To be lucky enough to have enough money to eat that well (at least for a little while… I’ll be eating cereal for a few weeks and hanging around after meetings at work trying to snag a free sandwich or brownie) is something I’m grateful for. I will definitely be hitting the gym this week, and eating more salad than usual, but I don’t believe in diets. If you don’t enjoy what you’re eating, really, what’s the point?

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