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Best Meal Ever

October 5, 2015


For forty-one years I’ve been blessed with a spouse who cares enough to constantly be on the lookout for new recipes to keep our dinners varied and interesting. The other day I was having a conversation with Mrs. Chatterbox and the topic “Best Meals Ever” popped up. I figured it was a wife-beater question and the only way to sidestep disaster was to select one of the fabulous meals she’s prepared over the years. But in a later moment of reflection, another meal sprang to mind, one I’ll never forget.


Years ago during a solo exploration of Rome, I grew sick and tired of the crappy food I was eating. Italy is justifiably famous for its cuisine, but some of the worst food I’ve experienced has been in Italy. This is my fault because I don’t follow the European tradition of eating dinner at 10:00 p.m. Most Europeans in warm climates go home for a lengthy afternoon siesta and return to work early in the evening. Dining is understandably late, but after darting around all day doing touristy things I’m usually tired and hungry by six p.m. and ready for my evening meal.


The only restaurants prepared to serve that early cater to tourists and are usually serving overpriced food left over from the day before. I decided to blow my Europe-on-ten-dollars-a-day budget to experience a good Italian meal, no matter the cost. I left my pensione at seven p.m., and instead of marching into a tourist eatery I hit the pavement and began walking.


I was lodged near the Spanish Steps, one of Rome’s sightseer hotspots, so I walked away from the city center, passed by Romans on Vespas fresh from their siestas and returning to work, buzzing past me like swarms of mosquitoes. I walked a long time, until tourists with cameras and maps no longer crossed my path. It wasn’t long before I was hopelessly lost. The streets surrounding me were marred with graffiti and soot, a working class district far removed from the palazzos and museums I’d come to Rome to explore.


Eventually, I passed a neighborhood trattoria. Peering through the front window, I noticed a large and exuberant multi-generational family enjoying a meal. I stepped inside and held up a finger, indicating a table for one. Aside from the boisterous family, the trattoria was empty. I was seated at a small table and given a menu in Italian. No English menu was available.


I pointed at the other diners and said in slow English (I always talk like Tarzan around non-English speaking people) “Bring everything you bring them!”


I handed back the menu. From that point, I received every dish served to the other table. It started with a bottle of wine and progressed through more dishes than I could count. I ate eel and other types of seafood, assorted pastas and vegetables, veal and pork, along with salads and antipastos. Fruits and nuts were served along with more wines and desserts. I can’t remember most of the dishes comprising a meal that lasted three hours.




The trattoria resembled this one



The bill amounted to thousands of lira, the equivalent of seventy US dollars—well worth the price for one of my best meals ever. I paid the proprietor, who said something I didn’t understand in rapid-fire Italian. He gently pushed me back in my seat when I tried to leave. Before long a taxi appeared to take me back to my pensione. How nice since I was a bit tipsy and didn’t have a clue where I was.


Midnight came and went, with that large family of Romans still seated at their table, without even the bambinos looking droopy. They waved as I departed. I couldn’t help wondering how they could afford to dine so lavishly on a weekday, but I refused to let this concern spoil the immense satisfaction I felt while waddling out the door.


Were it not for three bottles of wine, aperitifs and brandies, I might have a clearer recollection of what I ate that night, but after all these years I simply remember that it was incredible, an experience that springs to mind on those rare occasions when Mrs. C. is out of town and I’m reduced to opening a can of Chef Boyardee raviolis.


Can you remember an amazing meal, one that stands out among all the rest?  




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No restaurant I have every gone to has ever topped any Thanksgiving dinner I have ever had.
By: cranky on October 5, 2015
Sometimes those are the best kinds of meals, even if you don't remember all of it. And yes, mine was at a French Chateau here in the States where for three of us, our bill was over three hundred. Oh, but it was worth it!
By: Alex J. Cavanaugh on October 5, 2015
We used to go to a Mother's Day buffet that was out of this world. The restuarant no longer serves the buffet, Hurricane Katrina closed it for a long time and when it reopened, the whole place had changed.
By: messymimi on October 5, 2015
We were in Paris and wanted to celebrate my birthday in style. We found a restaurant near the Opera and wanted to dine upstairs, which looked elegant. Apparently it was because we were told we could not go up there and instead were seated by the kitchen door downstairs. The meal was forgettable. However the next day we found a restaurant on a barge on the Seine River. The menu was only in French but a very nice waiter translated the entire thing for us. I then chose a ham and onion tart which was exquisite. We have tried over the years to duplicate it at home but it is never as good. We decided to proclaim that meal as my birthday dinner, never mind the day.
By: Catalyst on October 5, 2015
I love trattorias! Although, as pointed out to me by my boss (whose family is as Italian as Italian-Americans can get) reminded me I was pronouncing it incorrectly. I called it "tratTORia." She said it should be pronouced "tratorRIA." I then asked, "Oh, so it sounds like 'diarRHEA'?" She didn't have an answer for that. Mamma mia!
By: Al Penwasser on October 5, 2015
That meal that we had at Decarli in May was pretty memorable. When I come to visit in December I'd like to go there again. This time it shall be my treat. Around here, the best meal I had in Salt Lake City was at the restaurant Cafe Madrid. I went with a group of friends and we ordered most of the things on the small menu. It was all amazing, but I think my favorite dish was the tortilla in the black mission fig sauce.
By: Michael Offutt on October 5, 2015
I remember a meal at the home of our Taiwanise guide that started out like yours and then became a marathon of trying to put too much food away! I had to stop eating but so afraid I would insult the hostess.
By: Tabor on October 5, 2015
We've had many lovely meals while traveling-one in particular stands out. We were in Paris and the day was quite overcast and raining so we opted to take a cruise up the Marne River on a small boat. There were perhaps 25 older French folks and us- fortunately the tour guide translated what she was saying to the rest- we eventually arrived in a small village where we were supposed to go eat with everyone else. We opted to go to have lunch at a smaller restaurant even tho' our guide warned us it was very expensive and not to be late for the return voyage. We had an exquisite lunch with 2 bottles of red wine-multiple courses and a lovely dessert at the end with brandy followed by coffee. It was enormously expensive- but still remains in our memories as one of the best meals. On our way back with our fellow passengers it was obvious they too had a lovely meal with lots of wine since they sang old French folk songs all the way back! It was a lovely day!
By: Kathe W. on October 5, 2015
MANY years ago we dined at Le Tour d'Argent in Paris. We started with stuffed mushrooms, which were the best thing I ever ate--& I don't even LIKE mushrooms!!
By: fishducky on October 5, 2015
I once had a roommate who had married into a first generation Italian family. She paid attention to her MIL and became a wonderful cook When we would have dates in for a home cooked meal, she did the honors. Like yours, her meals lasted a good couple of hours. No restaurant has ever duplicated her skill.
By: Akansas Patti on October 5, 2015
one of the best italian meals i've ever eaten was at a restaurant in acapulco, mex. yeah. go figure.
By: TexWisGirl on October 5, 2015
I get the idea of your meal. A meal I remember was at a bar George Washington frequented and was roast beef, yorkshire pudding and dessert and it was all good.
By: red on October 5, 2015
The recipe for a good meal in unfamiliar countries usually starts with getting off the tourist route and doing whatever the locals are doing! You've got my taste buds tingling just from picturing that meal.
By: Botanist on October 5, 2015
It sounds like you had a great experience! Are you SURE you walked into a trattoria, and not into some random family's dining room (a la "European Vacation")???
By: Pixel Peeper on October 5, 2015
I must say I am partial to a particular Chinese takeout restaurant in Springfield, Missouri, where I had the most delectable eggroll and cashew chicken imaginable. Or maybe I was just really ready for some Chinese food that night.
By: Val on October 5, 2015
Isn't it wonderful to go off the beaten track. When my ex and I were in Salzburg, we walked all around the old town and found it quite expensive so we decided to cross the river towards our pension and see what we could see in the "newer" town, which was still quite old in my books. We found a beautiful small restaurant that catered to the locals and businessmen who came to that area frequently. The smell of fresh bread drew us in. The bread was to die for! The meal was wonderful and we went back there each night-great food, no tourists and not expensive at all-perfect!
By: Birgit on October 5, 2015
I've been fortunate to eat some excellent meals at French restaurants. I have also experienced different dining experiences in Bolivia and Turkey where you sit and they serve you everything on the menu in small portions.
By: Daniel LaFrance on October 6, 2015
I can but nothing so lavish as yours. we were in Cozumel and all the restaurants in and around the square and in the hotel as well were all rich tourist european with all these fancy sauces and my stomach just couldn't take it. I hadn't liked any of it really and I was hungry for just some plain real food. we had taken an excursion to see some ruins and one of the stops was lunch at this little bar and restaurant on a deserted beach and they served us grilled fish, boiled potatoes , and something else which I can't remember, maybe cabbage. it was just perfect. I ate every bite and it was the best meal I had there. another one of the best meals ever was also in Cozumel (different trip) when we asked one of the shopkeepers where the locals ate. he directed us to a little hole in the wall eatery and I ordered enchiladas verde. the best I have ever eaten.
By: Ellen Abbott on October 6, 2015
It's a very nice touch to have had them take care of your transport back to the hotel. I had a meal like that at Negri's (which I wrote about) in Occidental. Have you been there? I also used to love the Swedish pancakes at the Swedish Inn on Sepulveda. I reminisce about them from time to time.
By: Robyn Engel on October 6, 2015
Your search and adventurous walk certainly paid off. As a journalist and documentary maker I spent 40 years traveling and remember too many wonderful meals to recount here. One however reminds me of your Italian walk. We were in the mountains of Provence, on the way to Moustier St. Marie. We stopped in Castellane and noticed most of the cars on the square were in front of a restaurant/Inn. We walked into a full room of happy local diners. As we sat the waitress brought a terrine to a neighboring table. It look and smelled heavenly. What is that I asked. "Lapine Chasseur " she said. Seeing me go for the translation booklet she said "Robbeet. You know hop, hop, hop!" That was what I ordered and all these years later I have tried to find or replicate that marvelous and unforgettable meal.
By: Tom Cochrun on October 6, 2015
The best meals I've ever had were of Northern Italian cuisine and French. Northern Italian cooking is much like French and since Rich was a fabulous chef who could cook both, I was a bit spoiled.
By: Bouncin Barb on October 6, 2015
My Aunt's Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners stand out to me as favorites!
By: Michael Manning on October 6, 2015
There is usually an emotional element in the "best meal" isn't there. Funnily enough it has never occurred to me to think of what my best meal ever has been.It's something I'd be interested to think about - now the idea has been put into my mind.
By: Jenny Woolf on October 7, 2015
I am quite sure that I am quite unable to narrow it down to just one (or even two meals) but two meals (one in Michigan and the other in Maryland) stand out to me because of what happened the next time I tried it. Both times involved a T-bone steak that blew my mind the first time and proved to be rather disappointing the second time. I do not know if the first time had everything to do with my state of mind, or the second time just being a matter of the chef/cook simply not doing as well. In any event, the memory of those first times will be hard to beat.
By: Jerry E. Beuterbaugh on October 7, 2015
My first meal at Dos de Mayo, a seafood specialty tapas bar in Sevilla. Amazing! And you're right about dining at locals' time instead of tourist time. We've had challenges getting friends and family to make the switch when they visit. In Sevilla, the good locals places didn't even re-open for dinner until 8:30.
By: Mitchell is Moving on October 9, 2015

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