It was the thyme sorbet that sent me wandering down memory lane.
I suppose it's true in any world: once you've been around the block a few times, you start to see the same people along the way. Recently, I had dinner at Colicchio & Sons in Manhattan's Meatpacking district, and it seemed as though the room was thick with the past.
First of all, I ran into Phil Baltz at the bar. He's a gregarious guy who runs a successful public relations business in New York that's focused on restaurants. But, as he reminded me, we first met in 1991 when he was working with Bridgehampton Winery on the East End of Long Island.
Back then, the Long Island wine industry was in its infancy, and I had just moved back to New York from France to work for Wine Spectator. So we were all green recruits. Alas, Bridgehampton fell by the wayside. But it was among the region's early standouts. And its winemaker, Richard Olsen-Harbich, is still working on the East End; now at Bedell, he is one of the industry's veterans.
Then, in the dining room, one of our servers turned out to be an old acquaintance. He had been part of the team that opened Vaux, an early locavore restaurant on then-gritty Fifth Avenue in Brooklyn's Park Slope neighborhood, in the mid-1990s. Vaux was a pioneer in both location and cuisine, and probably too far ahead of its time. I was sorry when it closed, and it was nice to be reminded of a fine place and time.
Finally came the thyme sorbet. The taste took me back to the early 1990s and the shock and pleasure of my first bite of an ice cream flavored with basil. It was at a restaurant called Mondrian in Midtown that was earning attention for a young chef named Tom Colicchio.
Colicchio, of course, has gone on to fame and fortune, as a chef, restaurateur and television personality. I didn't see him in the restaurant, but his imprint was on the plate, in the profusion of vegetables, the simplicity of the presentations and the purity of the flavors.
Was my meal any better because of the memories triggered by the coincidences of people and flavors? Probably not in any objective way. But as the evening light gleamed through the restaurant's big windows, I reflected on the transformations that had brought us all to that place on that night. Some gains, some losses, but all of us still standing, still engaged with food and wine.
So maybe that thyme sorbet did taste more intense, and more meaningful, because of the lingering memory of a scoop of basil ice cream nearly 20 years ago. Sure, facts matter: ingredient quality, kitchen techniques, price-to-value ratio. But without the past, the present loses its meaning. Sometimes it's the memories that make the moment magic.
Jerry Rosenblatt — Montreal, Canada — August 26, 2010 5:29am ET
Marj Ingram — Irvine, CA USA — August 27, 2010 3:23pm ET
Thomas Matthews — New York City — August 27, 2010 4:30pm ET
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