The Best Meals I’ve Ever Had

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photos by sam boatright

sam boatright, co-editor-in-chief

The best meals should be epiphanies, revelations of flavors upon your taste buds that mold memories and establish favorite dishes. The best meals leave you craving for more. The best meals are marvels. The best meals are experiences.

The keyword here is “experiences.” Often when going out to eat, us Americans–myself included, of course–opt for fast, hasty meals. We devour our food in a matter of minutes, as if we were competing with the family at the table next to us.

“Hah! They got their food before us and we’re already finished with our meal!” one might say. (Yes, I have said that and I’m not proud of it).

However, as we attempt to eat our food as fast as possible so that we can get on with our lives, we are missing out on all of the glorious, subtle and flavorful components of our fares.  And, if we do otherwise, we are considered snobby, likened to our mustache-wielding, baguette-crunching counterparts overseas. (I hope we don’t have a French audience. I sincerely love you, though, France).

What we Americans partake in when often dining out are not experiences, they are just occurrences. I’m not saying that every meal we eat should be grandiose outings–sometimes we all just need to lean back in the driver’s seats of our cars and munch on a cheeseburger–but maybe we should at least try to savor our food more.

Like I said earlier, the best meals are experiences, comprised of bits and pieces of delicious food, each lift of the utensil to the lips evoking new emotions–“Gaaaahhhhh, why is this so good?!”–and cementing culinary moments into our brains. Other popular phrases while eating amazing cuisine are, “I can’t…I don’t want to eat anymore of this because it is too good.” And, “Oh. My. God.” And don’t forget, “This is the best thing I’ve ever tasted.”

You may be able to tell, but I’m a bit of a food junkie, and I’m lucky to live in such a gastronomically rich town. However, all of the best meals that I’ve ever had have been in other cities, other states, other continents. Were I to live in those cities, states and continents diminish the indelible impact  these meals have etched into my memory? Possibly, which shows the importance of experience and context and how those two forces tie in with our taste buds.

Despite that possibility, good gastronomy–like any art form–retains its unique and exceptional characteristics even without context. Now, I present to you my Top Two Meals of All-Time.


1. 37 m^2

Paris, France

This meal started out as a race up the Montmartre steps in northern Paris with my brother, Thomas. Once we scaled the side of the scenic, urban hillside, we descended upon a few little Parisian streets and found our destination: 37 M Squared, a tiny Asian-fusion bistro no more than 37 meters squared in area.

I know what you may be thinking: what a random place to go in Paris! And for Asian cuisine nonetheless.

Well, the stop wasn’t all that random. Through a system of acquaintances similar to the theory of six degrees of separation, we found ourselves being treated to a one-of-a-kind menu-sampling meal.

For each course (entree, main dish and dessert), the cook/owner brought out about five sampling plates of food, so that we could try every dish on the menu. Needless to say, yelps of joy followed, as well as the flashes of phone cameras, in hopes to artificially preserve one of the most amazing meals of my life.

During my 10-day trip to Paris, I became a duck snob; I tried duck dishes at every cafe and restaurant we ventured into. Needless to say, the finely-seasoned duck garnished with fresh greens made for one of the best parts of the meal, and the best duck I have ever tasted. (I know, ducks are adorable, I’m sorry).

At the end of the meal, after consuming about 10 gourmet versions of traditional Asian dishes that were shared between my family of four people, we took a picture with the owner, a picture in which I was ghostly pale as I was about to throw up from the mere overload of food I had eaten. Luckily, I made it back to the hotel despite a bumpy metro ride. Thus concluding the best meal I’ve ever had.

 

 

2. El Patio

Fort Myers, Florida

As our stomachs began to grumble when leaving the tacky Florida mall on Thanksgiving Day, my family and I had to make a tough decision: do we wait a few hours until we get back to Grandma’s house to dig in on some turkey and stuffing, or do we eat now and then again later during Thanksgiving Dinner?

I bet you can guess which one we chose.

My dad searched for restaurants on his Yelp app, and in a matter of seconds we had decided upon a Peruvian restaurant with a four-star review right across the street from the mall’s parking lot. (The restaurant’s adjacency to our location favored heavily in our decision).

El Patio is the most inviting restaurant I’ve ever visited. From the friendly waitstaff and their wonderful recommendations to the vibrant, festive atmosphere of the restaurant, eating at El Patio was a great experience from start to finish.

The staff dealt well with a family clueless to the nuances of Peruvian food and suggested some of their favorite things on the menu, which turned out to be my favorites, too. The best dishes were the most foreign to my taste buds: a thin pancake of rice and beans, topped with steak and delicious sauce called tacu tacu; a seafood grill with veggies and a light gravy deemed macho seafood.

Although I wasn’t old enough to try out the Peruvian beer, my dad gave it the thumbs up; I was satisfied with my fruity, sweet drink.

Overall, our Peruvian cuisine adventure defied stereotypes of what I considered to be Peruvian cuisine. It also ingrained in my mind memories of a cheery, festive restaurant serving rich, hearty food, surrounded by family. And honestly, it’s hard to beat that.

Honorable Mention: Spicy, plump, anything-but-nutritious burritos at a Mexican restaurant in Emporia that is across from a skate park and which doubled as a haircut parlor. I still can’t remember the name of the restaurant, sadly.

As my journalist idol, Anthony Bourdain, would say, “Context and memory play powerful roles in all the truly great meals in one’s life.” And, Mr. Bourdain, you couldn’t be more right.