Everyone has a story about their favorite time in a restaurant. I can think of two special experiences that have an indelible effect on my memories of dining out. The first was dining at Le Francais during Jean Blancet’s tenure as chef/owner. I went with 5 other friends, all of whom had never been to the restaurant. We had heard that the restaurant was a little stuffy and formal, but we found quite the opposite. Each of us ordered different choices for each course. We ate 1/6th of each dish, then we all passed our plates to the right! The wait staff thought this was a great idea, and were very accommodating and helpful. We did the same for the main courses and desserts as well. All of everything that we had was delicious and wonderfully presented. The evening was a flawless execution of classic French cuisine, and we all thought it was the best meal we ever had. Among the appetizers were a terrine of fresh artichokes hearts surrounded by artichoke mousse, and lobster, cremini and spinach ravioli in a lobster sauce. Some of the main courses included John Dory in a cream/chive sauce, and a trio of lamb rib and loin with veal loin with a wild mushroom sauce.
My second favorite meal was our 3rd wedding anniversary. We went to Melange (sadly, long gone) in Wilmette’s Plaza del Lago. It turned out to be the 3rd anniversary of the restaurant and David Jarvis, the chef/owner, and his wife came to our table to offer their congratulations. We had David’s stir-fired spicy lobster in angel hair pasta, and had loved it. David gave us a tour of the kitchens, and then was gracious enough to share the recipe of what was his signature dish. I think that the reason that he was so willing to share the recipe with us is that he had published the recipe beforehand, so the normal reluctance of a chef to share secrets did not apply, but I didn’t think of that at the time. The couple’s openness and courtesy is still noteworthy. After a fire in the Plaza del Lago space, Melange moved, and I’m sorry that the restaurant did not survive for long after moving to Northfield in the space currently occupied by the Happ Inn. David changed his format with the move, and in doing so, made his restaurant a much less memorable experience (so I was not surprised at the closure). I often wondered what would have happened to the restaurant’s viability if he had maintained the same menu in the new location. I still have the recipe and am willing to share it if you have an interest.