3 min read

The best meal

...of many excellent meals

(This is the 5th installment of the year-end wrap up at Routine Chaos. You can read about how the year went overall, my favorite cup(s) of coffee,  the defining thing(s) I watched, and the book that will stay with me)

I need to qualify what I’m about to say with two very important points:

  1. I spent a week in Rome earlier this year. I think I gained 3 or 4 pounds during that week, because I ate so incredibly well (the secret to eating in Italy is this: take a child with you. Because you want to eat the pizza, but you also want to eat the veal and the oxtail and the octopus, and all of the other delicious things, but you still want to eat the pizza. The child will order the pizza, you will be able to steal one or two slices of the pizza).
  2. I was back in the US for the first time since pre-pandemic, and I had dinner with 3 of my closest friends in the world at one of the premier establishments in my old neighborhood. By the standards I have applied in many of the other entries to this end of year list - will I remember that as a defining moment of 2022? - the answer is yes.

But the best meal of the year wasn’t a product of my international travels. I could probably drop 3 more caveats into that list above, because I managed to eat really well this year…but at the end of the day, the winner on this one was so far ahead of the field that I needed to make these points just to establish that there’s a solid basis for comparison.

Back in October my wife and I went away for the weekend to celebrate our anniversary. We found a little boutique hotel with a restaurant on premises on the Dutch coast with a decent rate because it was the last weekend of beach season.

The actual bar area at Villa de Duinen…that painting is really, um, something else.

But here’s the thing: Villa de Duinen wasn’t a hotel with a restaurant on premises. It was a four star restaurant with a hotel on premises. The hotel was, you know, totally fine. No complaints. The restaurant, though…without knowing what I had gotten us into, I had booked the chef’s tasting menu for both nights with the room reservation.

A note about fixed menus: they are such an exercise in trust - aside from information the staff of dietary restrictions, you cede control to the kitchen. They will bring out whatever they want, in whatever order they want, in whatever quantity they want. You don’t know what you are going to get. When that trust is rewarded, though, what you are getting is an experience.

I think I’m supposed to tell you what I ate and how it was prepared, and for the most part I cannot do that. (This is in part because I also opted for the wine pairing with every course) I do recall that every single dish was exquisite and novel, but what really remember is how knowledgeable the staff was about the different flavors and textures and how they went together, how the table itself had a hidden drawer out of which our waitress produced new cutlery for every dish. The whole thing was perfectly choreographed, and Sarah & I agreed that it was the best meal we’ve had together in 15 years.

When we went back the next night, it was still excellent…but my memory of that meal is hazy in comparison (and, inspired by my wife’s wisdom the previous night, I opted for the non-alcoholic drink pairing, so you’d maybe think my senses would have been sharper). The first night wasn’t just a meal - it was a moment, one that caught us by surprise and elevated us from one plane of expectation to a series of ever higher ones. When something like that happens, it is the result of many people working in a complementary manner at a level of excellence that only comes from both hard work and inspiration. I desperately wish I could capture more of the experience for you, but words fail. I just hope that you might have a similar experience once every 15 years or so.