The most powerful food moment I remember having was in a restaurant in Napa called Terra. It was in the 80’s. I don’t know what it was I was having, but I still remember the exact sensation. I was sitting with some friends and suddenly, they faded into the background . I entered a state of heightened reality where it was nothing but me and the food I was tasting. I knew there was true genius at work in the kitchen and his or her cooking was not only having an effect on my taste, but on my entire body. It generated a physical and mental buzz that lasted for maybe a minute. The sensation was so strong and my withdrawal from the moment so apparent, my friends asked me, ‘What’s wrong?” And no, I was not stoned. I have been back to Terra since, and the experience was not repeated.
Another powerful food moment was in Rio, at a restaurant called Siri Mole, when I first tasted moqueca. I was with the same friends, so they knew what was happening.
I have had two food moments in Bangkok, the first at Supatra River House. When asked, locals and ex-pat foodies will tell you the food is for tourists and there is much, much better food to be had in Bangkok. But the thing about food moments is they don’t discriminate. They can happen anywhere and anytime. I think it was the sauteed morning glory, a pedestrian dish I had eaten many times before and have eaten many times since, that caused it, but it has never had that effect on me again. And I’ve had it several times since at Supatra.
The second experience in Bangkok was when I was walking along the stretch of Chareon Krung Road between Silom and the Saphan Taksin skytrain. I saw some fried chicken at a street vendor stall that just called out to me. As much as I like Thai food, fried chicken isn’t my favorite, and there is a famous place in Bangkok called Soi Polo Fried Chicken where I had eaten before and had what was reputed to the best fried chicken in town. I found it good but not exciting. So when I saw this chicken and stopped, I was surprised that I even considered it. But I did. I bought a breast, who knows why, since they tend to dry out when fried. And it happened again. The entire street scene, which is extraordinarily hectic and hot, dropped away and it was just me and the most perfect piece of chicken I have ever eaten.
Speaking of chicken, one of my favorite restaurants in Paris is L’ami Louis, and yes, I know what other foodies and experts have to say about it, and I don’t care, and I continue to go back and pay astronomical prices for roast chicken that most people say is better elsewhere. I was there one time with a friend who is a chef and who never been a fan of roast chicken...until he tried it there and found it to be a revelation. I was glad to have helped to bring about a food moment for him and only hope it was as powerful and intense as mine are.
I think food moments may run in the family, at least my family. My 19 year old niece is the only other person in the family with a passion for food, and I am sure she was born with it just as I was. I have had the blessing (and curse, she is after all, a teenager) of being able to travel with her and try some fantastic restaurants around the world, where I have witnessed her having food moments of her own. I can tell when the same state of being that overtakes me overtakes her as well; her eyes widen, and she says to me, when I look at her knowingly, “you don’t know, you just don’t know.” But yes, I do. Raw oysters tend to provoke food moments for her, as does Porcao in Rio and my spaghetti carbonara. Unlike me, she has repeat moments at the same places and with the same foods. I was expecting her to have one at Pre Catalan in Paris, but as much as she liked it, she didn't. You just never know.
My most recent food moment was in December at Ryugin in Tokyo. It was one of the best meals of my life, the tasting menu thrilling, and the chef, Seiji Yamamoto, is a genius in the same league as Heston Blumenthal and Ferran Adria. But the dish that caused the food moment came towards the end and was perhaps the simplest on the menu: "Steamed Rice with Cherry Blossom Tea Topped with Aromatic Sakura Shrimp from Shizuoka".
The best thing about food moments is you never know where or when they are going to hit. But when they do, they are always worth the wait. And I can’t wait for the next one.