At Taste Vacations, we love to discuss anything and everything to do with food and drinks – from the newest cocktail trends and unique recipes we’ve tested to the different beers and wines we’ve tasted. It’s not only fun to hear about new experiences to add to our list of things to try, but it’s interesting to hear why a certain dish or drink was so memorable to that person, whether it is due the ingredients used, the atmosphere or setting you’re in, or the company you’re with.
Because of this, we thought we would share the Taste Vacations’ team’s answers to the question:
What was the last great meal you had?
As a family with a young child, getting opportunities for great meals outside the home is limited! The best meal I have eaten recently was at Watercourse Foods, a vegetarian restaurant in Denver. My wife Devon, our 18-month old daughter Sydney, and I joined two of our good friends and their daughter who was born exactly one week before Sydney. The four adults each ordered a different “hash” dish, a vegetarian version of the traditional Corned Beef Hash. All four of us loved our dish. I ordered the Toulouse Hash with “smoky marinated portobello, artichoke hearts and a fresh broccoli with home fries, scrambled tofu and blue cheese.” Sydney loved her pancake.
I’m sure that Billings, Montana is not at the top of the list when one thinks of culinary greatness. However, it is the nearest “big city” to my little town of Red Lodge and can provide some good options for occasionally eating somewhere different than our handful of home restaurants.
After work on Friday night, my husband and I drove an hour to Billings to treat our friend (to celebrate her birthday) and my mother-in-law (to celebrate her new job) to dinner at a new restaurant called Commons 1882. They had fun drinks on the menu (for only $6!), plus a bunch of great tapas dishes that we ordered and shared (every last bite!): Mushrooms in Sriracha Sauce, hand-cut French fries, fresh mussels in a garlic wine sauce served with crispy baguettes, and panko-dusted calamari. I also had one of the best and freshest salads I have had in long time (and I make great salads, if I may say so), tossed with a white balsamic vinaigrette dressing. My husband ordered Korean tacos, which were also delicious.
It was one of those meals that made me want to come back the very next night and try everything on the menu!
One of the last great meals I ‘ve had was after the recent Winter Yellowstone Zephyr Adventures tour I met up with a small handful of friends. They all live in Montana and we convened at our mutual friend’s house outside of Bozeman. The group has known each other for many years; we met while teaching skiing in Germany almost 15 years ago.
My buddy, Michael, is a commercial fisherman in Alaska for part of the year. He is also the one who gave me the nickname, “Tractor”, and, more importantly, always has a freezer full of seafood. After a day of soaking up the hot water at Chico Hot Springs at the end of February, we went back to Michael’s cabin and feasted on baked, smoked black cod (also called Sablefish); pan seared Alaska scallops from the waters of Kodiak; roasted red potatoes from a winter CSA (brought from Oregon); and a simple green salad. We drank Pinot Blanc from St. Innocent Winery outside of Salem, OR and King Estate Pinot Noir from the southern Willamette Valley.
Black cod is hard to come by in the US. It has a dead sexy mouthfeel after just a few minutes in a hot oven (think: luxurious, naturally buttery, and separating in perfect mouthsize bites) and sells, primarily, on the Japanese market. Black cod is an expensive item in the retail market and I am privileged to have been able to feast on such an exquisite and hard to come by fruit de la mer.
It is hard to go wrong with salt and pepper and a quick sear in a cast iron skillet with sea scallops. Like the black cod, the sea scallops we ate had a naturally silky mouthfeel to them. There is nothing stringy or unrefined about great quality scallops that have been cooked to perfection. Their almost sweet tasting meat, in combination with the plumpness, makes them a great creature of the sea to pair with a number of different wines. The Pinot Blanc had enough viscosity to enhance the scallops and also just enough zip of acidity to balance out the two, rich, seafood selections.
It’s hard to tell what really made the dinner….the amazing food? The warmth from the wood stove that filled my friend’s cabin in the woods beyond Bridger Bowl ski area? The smiles and laughter and stories that were told that evening that absolutely filled the tree house to the brim? I went to bed with a full belly and a heart warmed by being surrounded by the best of friends.
My last great meal was when my husband and I went out to celebrate my birthday. We had decided to start the night at a new cocktail bar we had been dying to try called The Betty in Chicago. The decor is like stepping into the set of Mad Men – classic dark wood, mid-century modern furniture and fixtures, and a whole wall of interesting memorabilia and artifacts. Kind of like being in a really cool antique store. Their cocktail menu was creative and fun. I had an interesting and colorful cognac and gin cocktail while my husband had a deconstructed gin and tonic where he got to play mixologist with interesting bitters choices. While sipping our tasty concoctions, we had fun chatting about the past year and planning out our next big vacation.
After that we headed to my old neighborhood, Lincoln Square, where I had my first apartment in the city. We had dinner at a little BYOB brick oven pizza place where Mark and I used to go when we first started dating, called Pizza Art Cafe. They have amazing pizzas – but the pièce de résistance is their bruschetta. It’s hands down my favorite bruschetta I’ve ever had. They take a pita-like dough, add olive oil, tomatoes, basil and feta cheese, and fire it in the brick oven. I could eat an entire order of it all by myself!
The combination of fun new cocktails, a nostalgic eatery, and conversation with my favorite person really made the night one to remember.
A great meal that comes to mind was a breakfast I had last fall. Breakfast happens to be my favorite meal, and although this breakfast did not consist of a fancy, or even creative, it was memorable because of the location.
My husband and I enjoyed a camping trip in the Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho. It rained all of the first night, but we stayed toasty and dry in our tent-trailer. The next morning, as we made our breakfast of whole grain, hearty pancakes topped with butter, maple syrup and heaps of Idaho huckleberries, the clouds began to clear, and as we sat down at our tiny table we were treated to a sunrise reflecting off the jagged peaks. We ate our pancakes and leisurely sipped on French-pressed coffee as we enjoyed the view and planned our day.
I’ve had many pancake breakfasts since then, but they never seem to “stack up” to that camping trip!
After a cold day of skiing and snowboarding there’s nothing quite like refueling with homemade chili served with good bread for dipping, plenty of cheese and a few glasses of a favorite local brew.
Of course, the chili ingredients are muy importante. I was fortunate enough to harvest a White Tail Deer last year and we made some of the venison into sausage with lots of spice and flavor. Heather (Reno’s wife) and I also had a good growing season in the garden and had put away lots of frozen, dried and canned tomatoes that we use in the chili. We also added peppers, onions, cilantro and garlic. Then we throw in a few cans of organic black, pinto and kidney beans, add a few secret ingredients, grate lots of extra sharp aged white cheddar from Wisconsin, cut a few limes and the meal is almost complete.
The next step is to bike down to the local Blackbird Bakery to get a loaf of fresh bread and then stop into the Bozeman Brewery on the way home to fill a couple of growlers with a refreshing Pinhead Pilsner and Hopzone IPA. Sometimes we run into a few friends and have to stay for a pint which is fine because we already have the bread and the chili is simmering. When we get home, its time to put on some vinyl, pour a few pints, crack the bread, fill a few bowls with some of that delicious homemade chili and top it off with a handful of Wisco cheese.
Feel free to join the conversation, what was your last great meal?