Monday, March 19, 2012

Food: The Best

Anybody who doesn't think that the best hamburger place in the world is in his home town is a sissy.
Calvin Trillin

The best Thai iced tea in the world is served at Tour Eiffel in Los Altos, California, along with the world's best egg rolls. I hadn't tasted either one since we moved to Oregon; I'm happily full of them today. We've been traveling. And eating. (Read Himself's post for the details and the restaurants that you really should visit.) And I've been thinking about the best foods in the world, past and present, available and lost. The best foods, that is, according to my memories.

The best cupcakes in the world are sold at Saint Cupcake in Portland, Oregon. They're not the usual bought cupcakes, the kind that are mostly sugar and oh-yeah-maybe-we-should-add-some-butter. They taste of enough butter to make your fingers shiny when you eat them, and of eggs, and chocolate--that is, if you get the yellow cupcake with chocolate icing, my choice. The buttercream icing has the texture of chocolate ice cream that's thawed to precisely the point of no resistance, except when you're dealing with ice cream that point is followed fourteen seconds later by melting into liquid, while the cupcake can stay there all day. Or at least half an hour, which is the longest I've ever kept one uneaten.

The best fried chicken in the world was cooked by my mother. I'm pretty good at frying it myself now, though I only sometimes achieve the level of glorious greasy crunchiness that she accomplished regularly. I've learned part of the secret--it's a side effect of cooking more chicken than will fit in the pan. But I think there's more to learn, and Mom doesn't cook it any more, so I'll have to figure it out on my own.

Early in my St. Louis childhood, I learned that the Flaming Pit was the best burger restaurant in the world. We moved away to Nashville for a few years, where I ate the micro-thin steamy burgers from fast food restaurants. And then we moved yet again, back to St. Louis, and my brother and I begged to rush to the Flaming Pit. I have a clear memory of my first reunion with that burger, in its fat, smoky charredness... and not liking it one little bit. My mis-trained palate betrayed my memory, and as far as burgers are concerned, it never recovered; I never asked to return again, and have never appreciated a really good burger.

My memory asserts that the best Chinese food in the world is served at King Doh's in Kirkwood, Missouri, the town where I spent my teen years. I remember when King Doh opened, decades ago; back then, the term "stir fry" was a new curiosity, at least for folks my mother's age. The first time she was invited, Mom said that she didn't want to go, because she didn't like fried food.

We figured it out eventually, and ate a lot of dinners there. Mom was delighted by the chopsticks and the feeling of experimenting with the exotic, Dad looked forward to the hot sake; they both seemed more jovial than at most other family occasions. I hope my brother experienced those meals as happy, too. Me, I loved the food and still remember it as having a flavor unmatched by any Chinese restaurant I've eaten at since. Did it, or is my memory colored by happy moments? I suspect I'll never know.

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