A perfect meal is hard to come by. Often it is not just the food that matters; there must be a perfect mélange of key elements: atmosphere, the person or people you share the experience with, perhaps a slight intoxication from good wine, a feeling of love or even nostalgia. And yes, of course, flavors that dance on your tongue, textures that make you close your eyes and savor the moment. You chew more slowly. Perhaps you moan in pleasure, feeling incredibly content. You have been drugged by your food until reaching a state of absolute bliss.
You don’t have to eat at a fancy restaurant to find that bliss. It can be found in a bowl of pho on a cold day, at a rib cook-off with friends or while making a simple pasta dish with the one you love – purposely brushing against each other in the kitchen until consuming al dente noodles with a voraciousness you didn’t know existed. Food and passion. Mmm.
On Saturday night Lucas took me out for an early dinner at a restaurant named Tamari in Lawrenceville, a neighborhood just minutes from downtown Pittsburgh. Most of you probably know that Tamari is a Japanese soy sauce, but Tamari can also mean “people who do things passionately” in a native South American tongue. I think that’s quite clever, considering the restaurant is predominantly a fusion of Japanese and Latin cuisines.
And as I’m sure you’ve already guessed, the meal was perfect. Why else would I write – no, how else could I have remembered the way that a perfect meal makes me feel? It has been too long since I admired the simple beauty of a chef’s presentation, treasured every bite, anticipated the next course. Shiro’s in Seattle ring a bell?
We arrived early and were seated at one of the few tables downstairs. Tamari is a small restaurant with beautiful, yet simple decorative touches. The bar takes up the entire right side of the restaurant; beginning as a place to enjoy a drink, but as it extends further patrons can enjoy their meal with views of the open-air kitchen or at the treasured seats in front of the sushi chefs. I am so glad that we sat where we did because our waitress played an essential role in helping to make the experience so wonderful. When I mentioned that I was torn between starting with a cocktail or a glass of wine she recommended the Asian Pear Sake-Tini (Asian Pear Sake, Grey Goose La Poire & Prickly Pear), an ambrosial, barely sweet drink that still packed a wallop.
Perhaps Lucas ordered a beer. I don’t know because I was lost in my own little world, daydreaming about becoming a lesbian and running away with our waitress who had two adorable braids, an endearing accent and the sweetest face you could imagine.
By the way, this was a two hour meal so the flowery, pretty language that this post started with may eventually default to typical Kelly-isms and perhaps a few “f words”. I’m a little ADD.
After ordering our first drinks we moved on to a few small plates. Yellowtail Nigiri, while fantastic, may have been the most commonplace thing we ate. Next, the Robata Platter (skewers of chicken, beef, salmon, mushrooms, Brussels sprouts and – my favorite – bacon wrapped quail eggs, which exploded in your mouth, releasing the soft yolk). The skewers were served with not one, but three dipping sauces. For those of you who know me well this is restaurant gold. Three dipping sauces, each equally as good as the last! Ponzu butter, which paired nicely with the mushrooms and the bacon wrapped quail eggs; chimichurri, which I greedily coated the beef with; and an amazing ginger sauce, which was ideal with the salmon and the chicken. The Brussels sprouts surprised the hell out of me and required nothing except to be put into my mouth and savored.
Next? A glass of reasonably priced Carmenere for me and a 3519 (Hendricks, St. Germain & Cucumber) for Lucas. Along with the best specialty roll I’ve ever had the pleasure of tasting. Appropriately named the “Tamari Roll”, this beautiful work of art was stuffed with white tuna & crab, then topped with torched scallops (!), a touch of crunchy flakes and an abundance of gorgeous, red roe. There was just a hint of spicy aioli, but not so much that it overpowered the delicate flavors of the fish. When I saw Lucas fighting for the larger pieces I knew he was equally as smitten. I believe the exact words from both of our mouths were “I could eat three or four more of those”.
But we didn’t. Instead we ordered the Chipotle Tuna Tartare. Chunks of decadent tuna coated in smoky chipotle, topped with a hedonistic portion of yuzu crème fraiche. But the pièce de résistance? Wasabi tobiko (flying fish roe). I don’t recall ever trying roe that was infused with wasabi and let me just say that it’s fucking brilliant. The plantain chips that garnished the tartare were perfect for scooping up small bites and also offered a slight reprieve from the richness of the crème fraiche.
Time for another drink? A sparkling rose, thank you. And you, sir? I’ll have a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon.
Pork belly. If you have made it this far in life and never tasted pork belly you should just off yourself now. Your life has been a complete waste. Contrary to what some people think pork belly is not some over-hyped holy grail of the foodie community. When done well it is one of the most fantastic pieces of meat you will ever put in your mouth. And let’s be honest? Far worse piece of meat have gone into your mouth, no?
Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck <– I just described the pork belly, but you have no idea what I said, do you? You’re still trying to decide if I just called you a whore or possibly a gay whore. Well, not really. Just, um …
Braised with Chinese Five Spice until tender, luscious and ahhh! So delicious! Topped with crispy, fried leeks and served with a side of Ra-Yu marinated cucumbers, which slapped me in the face with their oh-so Korean spiciness. I paused occasionally, smiling like an idiot for all the world to see, beaming at Lucas with thanks for making me so happy. Sounds escaped my lips that were highly inappropriate for a social setting, but to hell with everyone else. I was in heaven.
Our plan was to skip dessert because let’s face it – pork belly is like dessert. But curiosity got the better of us and we agreed to look over the dessert menu. Haha, somewhere else? Nope. We argued back and forth between the Thai Tea Cheesecake (my choice) and the Pear Something or Another (his choice). We left it up to the waitress who picked the Pear Something or Another because it would be a nice, light dessert to follow the unctuous pork belly. Humph! She was right, of course. I have no clue how to describe that damn, awesome thing. Pastry stuffed with homemade paneer cheese. Incredible. Roasted pears. Exquisite. Cinnamon whipped cream? Yes, please. It was like Japan, India and Mexico all declared war on my mouth, dropping flavor bombs at the exact same time. To know perfection, you must first surrender. Oh yes, very wise am I now.
Haha, see? I just can’t do such an interesting, delicious meal justice. The only way for you to find out is to come visit. Dinner will be on me.
(at Steak n’ Shake)