“Good Food” was first published in The Square Table in 2004.
After living in New York City and Orlando, two major U.S. tourist destinations, I often wonder why locals don’t take advantage of what’s around them. The people I knew in New York wanted to eat at TGIFriday’s in Midtown and get ice cream at Baskin Robbins and pizza at Sbarro’s, such a waste to me when you are in the restaurant capital of the country and when there are wonders such as Grimaldi’s pizza in the world…. Instead of eat out with friends who’d drag me to chain places, I’d go savor the finer things myself like happy dessert creations at Payard on the Upper East Side. I bought toilet paper and cleaning supplies at the dollar store, but I went grocery shopping at Dean and DeLuca. One of the highlights of my life was meeting Daniel Boulud and touring his kitchen with him at Daniel.
I wonder why folks opt for the mainstream rather than the privately-owned, mom and pop, or gourmet places. When you add it up, you spend about $60 for a meal for two, including appetizers, a drink, and dessert at a place like the Olive Garden or Romano’s Macaroni Grill. Personally, I’d rather spend that money, give or take $20 more, on a meal that’s heavenly, delicious and wonderful with the atmosphere and décor to match. Why spend $20 on Budweisers and wings at Hooters when you can have blueberry sorbet in a vanilla tuile shell and a glass of dessert wine? I’ll never understand choosing anything but the best when it comes to food. If that makes me a snob, then darling, eat your tour of Italy and I’ll take my ahi tuna tartare.
Earlier this year, I was lucky enough to get to attend an opening dinner at Todd English’s Bluezoo in Orlando. The meal consisted of an appetizer, soup, entrée and dessert, each paired with a wine. English, who I was surprised to find out is Italian-American, is famous for his Boston eatery Olive’s, and his New England clam chowder, which I sampled. To me, this is the highlight of eating at Bluezoo. It is perfect–just a hint of bacon with a lovely presentation of clams in the shell. In fact, the presentation of all the dishes here was superb. For dessert, I had a caramel pecan espresso cake with toffee whipped cream. It was served on a clear glass plate that was colored brown in the center, giving the impression that it was a caramel glaze rather than the color of the glass. At the end of the evening, I was able to give my compliments to the chef himself, which was fun for me as I go ga-ga over any bit of celebrity, especially ones who cook for me.
Todd English and Dina at bluezoo
Of course, one doesn’t always have the opportunity to meet the chef of every restaurant she attends, and in truth, I do go for the food. To find Tchoup Chop at the Royal Pacific Hotel, I walked past large Asian umbrellas that looked like giant replicas of the ones I got in my Shirley Temple as a kid, went downstairs and around a pool hidden by tall, exotic plants, past another restaurant, until I thought I was in the wrong place and then I found it. Tchoup Chop was well worth the long and winding road. I had corvina–a fish like Chilean sea bass that was served with sweet potatoes. For dessert, I had a pineapple upside down cake with ginger ice cream and a dollop of deliciously fresh whipped cream.
I did mention that great food doesn’t always come with a price. Sometimes the mom and pop places have great food and sometimes they don’t. It’s hit or miss, granted, if you are going to a new place you haven’t been before. And maybe that’s why people go out to places like Pizzeria Uno or Chili’s–they know what to expect. Unfortunately to me, I know what I’m going to get if I go to one of those places, agita and grease. So I am willing to experiment with places that may not be so good to find the pearl. A few weeks ago, I went to a small, hole-in-the-wall deli with a few booths near where I live called Polonia–a Polish place. I had the best kielbasa, real pierogis and absolutely filling stuffed cabbage like my grandma used to make. For about ten bucks, I ate like a king and had good down home comfort food because I left my comfort zone and tried something new.
I guess I should be grateful most of the people I know eat at The Cheesecake Factory and P.F. Chang’s. While they wait to be seated for two hours, I’m in and having the meal of my life…again.