Wednesday, April 3, 2013

A Foodie Honeymoon: Friday Lunch at August

August in New Orleans, LA

Going to August was like going to church (at least the last church I used to go to).  You knew that there was a good chance that you were going to experience something great when you went, and perhaps the best part of going was that what you did experience was not this big, communal experience.  It was--as church should be--completely private and personal.

Such was our experience at August.  Even its architecture and decor felt church-like: its main dining room with its vaulted ceiling and soaring windows; its private dining rooms with their cloister-like spaces, dimly lit and glowing with wood and candles.  Age poured from its pores.  Even the stairway that led to the bathrooms on the balconied second floor was banistered with heavy balustrades.

(Speaking of church, I need to confess to you, dear reader, once again.  Thanks to the same damn iPhone incident mentioned in the previous post, we lost almost all our pictures and most of our notes of our August experience.  Please pardon the lack of pictures besides that of the gorgeous entrance.  And to our amazing servers, we loved you just as much as all the others.  I just, ashamedly, don't remember names after so many months.  I sincerely apologize.  And, now--on to the food.)

The dishes that appeared before our eyes at August were miraculous.  An egg cup was placed before me (an hors d'oeuvre that came with the meal, unordered).  Nestled in the bottom of its carefully cracked shell was a delicate seafood custard topped with a creamy truffle mousse.  Its crowning adornment was a tiny scoop of caviar, a beautiful fennel frond, and a brioche toast stick.

Five years ago, there was no way in hell I would have eaten such a thing.  Eggs??? And CAVIAR??? It is just another example of the wonders of becoming a foodie.  When you are constantly creating your own food, you suddenly have an understanding of what it means for someone to create a dish for you.  You know what the processes are.  You know what the ingredients are and what is involved in collecting them.  Food and its evolution become a reality for you.  So much of the unknown in food preparation is removed (remember those moments as a kid? When your mom would set a casserole on the table and you had NO idea what was buried in those layers of stuff?).  With the removal of that unknown comes the removal of fear.  Sure, I had never had caviar before.  And, yes, I knew that I was about to eat the eggs that some mama sturgeon laid somewhere in the Caspian Sea.  I didn't know if I would like them.  But, god, they were mine! Tiny and round and purple and beautiful.  I knew that many people love caviar--and since I'd never had the experience, I wanted to try it.  I wanted to remove a foodie unknown.  So I took my tiny little spoon and scooped down through the multiple layers of meticulous food-turned-art and spooned them all into my mouth in one inhaling bite.  

Dear Lord--DIVINE.

And then came my Pimm's cup (finally! I got to try one!).  And my baby greens salad with fresh figs, goat cheese, and pistachio brittle.  My gorgeously homemade pasta ribbons with porcini mushrooms in a silky cream sauce.  Chef Reiton's unbelievable trout on the thinnest toast imagineable.  Goat milk cheesecake with balsamic caramel. Homemade pralines (god, I can still see these pictures in my head!). 

Speaking of pralines, we got to meet the chef who made them.  We were getting ready to leave August, ready to head to the airport,--and I had to use the restroom one more time.  Chef Reiton and I headed upstairs, giving the restaurant one last perusal before we left.  Passing by the dessert kitchen, I paused; I couldn't help but be nosy and poke my head a fraction of the way into the room.  One of the chefs saw me.  "Hey! Come on in!" she called.  

I think my eyes must have popped out of my head at the invitation.  "Are you serious?" I asked.

"Of course!" she said.  "Come here."  

Chef Reiton and I tenaciously stepped into the kitchen.  The chef walked toward us with a tray of pralines.  "Try one," she offered.  "They are my grandma's recipe."

Beautiful little golden plops of brown sugar and butter stood in perfect rows on a baking sheet.  I peeled one off of the parchment and popped it into my mouth.  Angels started singing.  What a perfectly heavenly way to end the honeymoon of honeymoons.

With the sincerest of thanks we headed back into the hall.  "I can't believe this is it," I said, so strangely happy but sad at the same moment.  I didn't want to leave.

But it was time to go.  Time to head back to our own life, to our own home, to our own kitchen.

And yet I wasn't going home empty-handed.  I had a myriad of experiences that I was taking home: tastes, and conversations, and drinks, and laughs, and generosities beyond anything that I ever had imagined.  

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