It is February, Valentine’s around the corner, and I have been thinking a whole lot about love lately. I love “love.” I love being in love. I really either absolutely love something, someone, or I just don’t. All or nothing, that is the way I live, love. Madly, passionately, with all of my heart.
I have experienced great love in my life, the sort that I can only imagine you reserve in your soul for a child. The sort that breaks your heart each time your gaze settles on that person. Your heart aching because it is just so full it truly may burst. And, then it does. It inevitably bursts, it breaks, and you wonder ever so briefly if this pain will ever allow love to exist in your life, your heart, again.
So, you fill your days, each moment, with the love that remains. Because if you are anything like me, your life is spilling over with love still. The true and unquestioning, reliable love of friends. Of food. Mostly of food. My love, my passion for food and for eating is a powerful one that rarely breaks my heart. It fills me up.
Meandering among the market stalls, my heart beats out of my chest with the excitement of stumbling upon that perfect, honey-scented peach, or discovering first of the season local asparagus. Licking the bitter, dark chocolate batter straight from the wooden spoon or inhaling the faraway scent of a spice as it hits a hot pan, will forever make me sigh.
Physically, my insides mend in a warm kitchen filled with friends cooking together, more yummy red wine being poured, a long laughter-filled feast indulged in. Settling into a new restaurant seat for the very first time quickens my pulse, shortens my breath, the thrill of experiencing a dish, a chef’s cuisine, for the very first time the ultimate aphrodisiac.
I try to pinpoint the moment when I fell in love with food. I didn’t realize when it happened, it quietly crept into my life, slipped into my market bag unbeknownst to me, arrived in a bowlful of grandpa’s spice-laden chili or dad’s obsession with the ultimate chicken wing. It settled into my heart with the glorious perfection of a farmer’s market tomato or maybe while buttering that first rustic baguette; a gooey bite of runny Brie, the first glass of pink Champagne, all of which simply left me swooning.
Food-centric travels, while exploring exotic markets and far-flung restaurants, that is probably when I realized I was a goner. It wrapped its arms around me while laying there on my picnic blanket amongst the boards of stinky cheeses, livery pâtés, the mustardy deviled eggs. In a sweaty commercial kitchen, a slug-filled vegetable garden, in a stinky Chinatown grocery store, shopping, digging, cooking right alongside me, I found the ongoing love of my life. Food.
What I am eating now: Sea urchin
I never understood the fascination with sea urchin. The pasty, tasteless orange slabs of Uni tucked into seaweed at most sushi spots left me disenchanted, to say the least. I never understood chefs that waxed poetic about quivering hunks of the stuff dotting a sauce tucked amongst handmade noodles or when just scooped raw from their shell with fancy little spoons. That is, until I ordered the luxurious Uni served, completely unadorned, on a spoon at Sushi Ran in Sausalito, which literally blew my mind. I realized that the sea urchin I had consumed in the past was more than likely frozen, more than likely shipped in from the other side of the world. Remember, I have mentioned it here once before?
That day, I was a sea urchin convert.
It is not often that I feel compelled to order sea urchin, terrified that I might end up with the icky version. In fact, I have only eaten it one other time since then. Although, as I slid into a seat at a hip sushi bar on a recent visit to Portland, I spotted “wild, Oregon Coast” uni on the specials board and immediately ordered some. It arrived, elegantly wrapped into a delicate blanket of nori, a pinch of sticky rice hidden beneath, unembellished for the exception of a tiny grating of lime. I nibbled a tiny bit of this strange sea creature from its seaweed wrapper. Oh! It may have been love at first sight. Or, first bite. Another hesitant nibble and my eyes widened, the blood rushed to my head, a giggle may have escaped. I popped what remained into my mouth, the flavors of the sea, of a sort of soft, fresh funkiness, the toasted crisp seaweed, the ever so slightly warm, vinegary rice all a dreamy combination of flavors that left me stunned. I sat silently appreciating the fact that I was fortunate enough to be sitting there that very minute, gratitude to be tasting this magical thing. I felt dizzy with the wonderfulness of it all.
Sea urchin is said to be an aphrodisiac and, as I sat there, I was possibly falling in love, or lust maybe. I needed another one. When it arrived, I hesitated for another moment. Wanting to ingest it all, not to forget any of it, to simply be present, allowing my gaze to linger over the strangeness of the thing: its tongue-like texture, its off-putting color. It tastes of nothing else. You cannot compare it to another food, only of the sea or of salt, a briny sweetness. Maybe that is why I am so absolutely fascinated by it. A new taste, a new flavor in my mouth, a new love…always so exciting, the newness. Quite the aphrodisiac all right, I quickly ordered three more.
My Valentine’s Day dinner picks
Valentine Pop Up at Suite D: Dining on an over-the-top, romantic, bubbly filled menu is the absolute ideal way to celebrate the love for your significant other this über love-filled holiday. Are you paying attention, gentleman? Book two seats at the girl and the fig’s Valentine PopUp at Suite D and you will win major, major points. Sondra will certainly ensure the atmosphere is ideal for cuddling, with candlelight, romance, and even some lovely live music in the air. The gorgeous sounding, eight-course menu boasts fancy ingredients such as raw oysters, smoked salmon, lobster, duck, and sea scallops in delicate preparations. The very best part? Each course is paired with its very own sparkling wine. Sigh. Visit Figsuited.com for more information and to purchase your seats.
Centre du Vin’s Valentine Tasting Menu and Live Music: The restaurant in the Ledson Hotel is always a special spot for whiling away an afternoon on the porch or for listening to jazzy tunes in front of the fire. Although, for this special evening, the talented chef here has created an elegant tasting menu that is completely delicious. A velvety sunchoke soup and local oysters are pretty beginnings, while dinner is a choice of massive sea scallops or a pan-seared filet. Diners will nibble their way through dinner while listening to the sounds of vocalist Tracy James and pianist Glenn Pearson. Reservations are recommended and can be made by calling 996.9779.