Nathan Young fondly recalls a particularly memorable dining experience - one of life's most important pleasures.
Dining out is one of life's most important pleasures. Not only is the food usually far more delicious than anything one could prepare at home, but it takes little of the effort of preparing a gourmet meal, and none of the dishes. The high cost can be discouraging, but the infrequency serves to make the indulgence of a meal out a real occasion.
There is one restaurant experience which stands out in my memory. The venue was Chez Max, a small French bistro on Palace street. The first time I went was with a rather blunt friend who wanted to impress me. He was the kind of guy who thought arguing with the chef was impressive, and I had already had more than one uncomfortable dining experience watching him yell about the correct consistency of a Crème brûlée or the exact rareness of a medium steak. He was probably right both times, of course, I just didn’t want to accompany a man who yelled at the chef. He promised me that this time, the food was authentic. While certainly delicious, I decided to test the authenticity.
I brought a friend of mine, a French woman who embodies the gastronomic standards of her homeland. We had the same dishes, a goats cheese in filo pastry to start, with duck as the main. I was a little upset to see the duck was rare, as other birds I’d eaten in my life were always cooked through, but seeing my friend enjoy hers, I decided it was probably okay. It was the most succulent bird I had ever eaten, and to this day I haven’t had better. After having our desserts, and a final round of alcohol, we left. I enquired about the authenticity of the place, and heard this review: “The food was very authentic, and sadly, the music was too. My only complaint was that the duck was overdone”. France has a noble tradition of paying chefs to not cook the meat.
Several months later, between work commitments and a then steady romantic relationship, my first Christmas away from my parents occurred. To compensate for the loss of the holiday itself, they came to visit me for a meal and an exchange of gifts about a week beforehand. Of course, I chose Chez Max as the venue, having loved it twice prior. I phoned and booked a lunch time table, although on Tuesday lunchtime it was quiet enough that I hadn’t actually needed to do that. We were sat down and accepted our menus.
I rarely see my parents. Since moving to Dublin I have visited on average twice a year, once in the summer, and once at Christmas. This isn’t to complain but to contextualise. I don’t believe they begrudge the infrequency of my visits either, as my independence gives them one fewer child to return home with dirty laundry, or whatever else it is full-grown adults apparently expect of their parents. It does, however, mean that when I do visit them, or they visit me, that it is something of an occasion, a bi-annual event. While there are hopefully many years of these bi-annual traipses back to their home, I am acutely aware that they are nevertheless finite, and one summer or Christmas, many years from now, I will make my last visit “home”.
The meal itself was divine. I had mussels as a starter, my parents both had classic onion soup. For my mains, I had something classic, Maybe a steak, maybe the boeuf bourguignon. I cannot remember which. Whichever it was was perfect, as were whichever dishes my parents ordered. We also had a bottle or two of a red far nicer than what I would pick up in Lidl. I do remember the short conversation catching up on the family news and gossip, on what my cousins, siblings, and assorted distant relatives were up to. This is a lie, I have no recollection of this conversation, but I do remember having it. I also remember joking about the gifts, claiming that the bottle-shaped parcel was clearly the best. I remember discussing books, films, and politics, referencing the art and media my parents had raised me on. With the cringe of my teenage years long behind me, I found it comforting to piece together where aspects of my own personality come from, seeing myself in them. I hope they see themselves in me. I hope they are proud.
The meal ended with crème brûlée. I know that it would have been up to my friend’s standards, although I didn’t care. It was, once again, simply delightful. I washed it down with an espresso, as it was only the mid-afternoon at this stage, and my parents had a train to catch. The coffee was also quite nice. A Christmas visit that normally lasts a week had been boiled down into a single, if extravagant, lunch.
Dining is a social experience. Both food and company must live up to each other, but a multiple course lunch, with free pouring wine and loved-ones is a sublime experience. Cheers to many more.