I put out a call for Top Ten Tuesday ideas, and Dining@Large readers came through so well that I seriously considered doing a Top Ten list of Top Ten list suggestions.
Which did I choose? None of them.
It was urged from on high -- an editor here at The Sun was channeling EL -- that I write about some of my most memorable meals. Or non-meal, in one case.
I'm afraid what I've worked up is more essay than list. I'll write shorter next time. I'll also get to some of your great Top Ten ideas in the coming weeks.
The meals, in no particular order:
My husband and I used to live in Oella, walking distance from historic Ellicott City, and this French country spot was always our special-occasion, white-tablecloth restaurant. On Christmas Day 2002, I was a month away from giving birth to our first child. It was snowing lightly as we headed out for a family dinner at my sister-in-law's in Philadelphia. My husband drove with hyper-pre-natal caution. Before we even got to the Beltway, a car barreled by. We were so rattled that we turned back, content to give up the holiday dinner to keep our baby safe.
But still, we kinda wanted dinner.
We had two things to eat in the house, both meant for the family potluck: The caramelized onion tart my husband had made as an appetizer and the chocolate torte I’d baked for dessert. Then it occurred to us: Tersiguel’s might be open. I knew from a neighbor that the restaurant had served dinner on Thanksgiving. Why not Christmas?
I called. No answer. Maybe they’d open later in the morning for brunch. I called again. No answer. I called in the afternoon. No Answer. We gave up on brunch. But we held out hope for dinner. I started calling again late that afternoon. No answer.
Come early evening, maybe 5 or 6 o’clock, I gave it one last shot.
But instead of hanging up, I spoke into the ringing phone: “Oh! You’re open?!! Can you take two for dinner? We'll be right there!”
My poor husband fell for it – until I doubled over, cracking up. We both had a great laugh, if not a great Christmas dinner.
2. Martick's Restaurant Francais
The first time we visited this place, we had wonderful mussels, perfectly cooked lamb chops – and a waitress who volunteered with a laugh and a snort that she’d never waited tables before.
We introduced our kids to Nepalese food here before they were old enough to know better. My daughter learned to like chickpeas and daal, though my son still pretty much sticks to Tikka Masala, naan and Mango Lassi. The restaurant’s kids-eat-free buffet and free chai have kept us coming back over the years.
This was a major splurge for us on my 40th birthday. My husband ordered the grilled cheese as one of his courses because a reviewer had swooned over it. It was a good grilled cheese, but it was grilled cheese. I still kid him about that.
5. Great Sage, Clarksville
I’d had trouble dragging my husband to a vegetarian restaurant, so my first time here was lunch with my daughter, after a preschool hayride out that way. We’d never had a mother-daughter restaurant lunch before. I had a terrific salad. She had ice cream. Great Sage has since become a family favorite, particularly as we have become more interested in organic and green cuisine. Downside: The kids discovered Horizon organic strawberry milk here, saddling us with a $14-a-gallon habit.
6. Sarah and Desmond's, Ellicott City
This cafe, which closed last year, won us over years ago with its play area. There were toys off to one side, and my kids would play contentedly for an hour or more while I read the Sunday New York Times or had actual, sustained, grown-up conversation with my husband. The service was always slow, but who cares when the kids are letting you do things you can't get away with at home? The pastries were decadent and made with natural ingredients. And it was always a kick to hear my little girl order the Lemon Lust Cake.
7. L'Antica Pizzeria Da Michele, Naples, Italy
Best. Pizza. Ever. I had it 11 years ago. Sigh.
8. Star Canyon, Dallas, Texas
Chef Stephan Pyles’ late, great restaurant was our big night out place when we lived in Fort Worth more than a decade ago. All big hunks of Texas protein gussied up with complex sauces. I bought his cookbook, The New Texas Cuisine, and have slaved away many times – grinding chiles, making my own ketchup – trying to approximate his cowboy cuisine. It’s more fun when Chef Pyles is doing the work.
9. Chez Pierre, Stafford Springs, Conn.
My husband took me here more than 20 years ago for my birthday when we were first dating. It was the first real fine-dining experience either one of us had ever had. I can’t remember what we had, except that we finished the meal with some sort of alcohol-laced coffee drinks that we later discovered cost $8 apiece. That pushed the tab over $100, a shocking sum to us then.
10. Chez Rose Vozzella, Kingston, Mass.
My grandmother made a tomato sauce with lobster, but I’d only heard about it. It was never served at the big family gatherings where we usually saw her. When I was out of college, I asked for a lesson. My dad came along, driving up with me from Connecticut to her place outside of Boston. We brought along a bunch of live lobsters.
My grandmother started by sauteing chopped garlic in a bit of olive oil. She added canned, ground tomatoes. Then, using big knives and their bare hands, she and my grandfather – both in their 90s – proceeded to tear the lobsters apart. My father and I recoiled.
“It’s a lobster,” my grandfather replied.
It was like watching a National Geographic special on the eating habits of some primitive tribe, only the tribe was Grandma and Grandpa. When they were done, the pot of “gravy” was filled with lobster parts that continued to twitch for half an hour. The upside: It was fantastic over spaghetti.
The lovely Tersiguel's fare we didn't get to eat that Christmas 2002. Baltimore Sun photo by Doug Kapustin.