69-73/1000 Foods to Eat Before You Die
Summer is for travel, friendship, and checking foods off the list (as well as work, anxiety, unexpected dental and veterinary expenses, and suffocating heat, but let’s focus on the positive).
Last week I was picking up some shoes I’d gotten repaired in SoHo, when it occurred to me that I was near the Dominique Ansel Bakery, home of the Cronut (the HAMILTON of pastries). When I moved to NYC two years ago, folks were waiting in lines down the block to get their hands on a Cronut, which were made in limited daily quantities and always ran out before the line did. But now, two years later, the friendly staff informed me that they usually only have lines on weekends, and that by strolling in on a Tuesday morning, I would have no problem procuring the precious pastry. This month’s flavor: Black Cherry and Valrhona Milk Chocolate. As for the taste, I would submit that, like HAMILTON, the Cronut lives up to its hype.
But Cronuts aren’t on Mimi’s list. She would probably consider them a fad food. However, Dominique Ansel Bakery does sell two other French pastries that ARE on the list of 1000 Foods to Eat Before You Die, and I figured, these would probably be excellent versions. So I ordered:
Madeleines — French (69) and a Macaron — French (70).
I have had madeleines before, but there’s no way I’ve ever had any as fresh as these. After I placed my order, I watched as the batter for just my order was poured into the scallop-shell baking pan and placed in the oven. Ten minutes later, I watched as that pan was pulled out, my brand-new, piping-hot pastries were extracted, and powdered sugar was dusted over the top. Of course, they were the best madeleines I’ve ever eaten. Mimi relates to us several apocryphal stories as to how these pastries came to be, but the only point on which they all agree is that the creator chef’s name was Madeleine, and the cakes are her namesake. As Mimi says, “the moist and buttery morsels are soft and light on the inside but satisfyingly crisp at the edges… the cakes exude a heavenly scent as they bake.” Agreed on all points.
Macarons I have had by the hundreds during my lifetime, I am sure. Once, I requested them instead of a birthday cake. This year, there were actually a couple of miniature macarons atop my birthday cake. I luff them. And let’s not confuse them with the coconut haystacks called “macarOOns,” which are just okay at best (read this article for clarification, if needed). MacarOns are airy, ethereal, and come in every possible imaginable flavor. The one I had on Tuesday was rhubarb. For Mimi, macarOns fall into a category she calls “The French Cookie Jar,” which also includes langue de chat, caissons d’Aix, crêpes dentelles, tuiles, and palmiers. MacarOOns are not in the book. According to lore (ie, Mimi): “Perhaps history’s first official cookie, the macaron is traced by food historians to Cormery, the commune in Central France where it was first made at a monastery in 791.” That’s an old cookie, but it’s definitely having a current moment. You can’t walk around downtown NYC without tripping over a Macaron parlor on nearly every block, not that I’m objecting.
After this trip to Sugartown, Miles and I journeyed north to the Green Mountain region of Vermont.
This is what I learned about Vermont: ice cream, cheese, maple syrup, apples.
Those are the things they care about.
I ate accordingly.
Apple Pie — American (71)
There’s supposedly nothing more American than this, right? Especially when shared with a dozen other kids and adults, after being procured from a motel/orchard/pie shop that’s been in the same family for 3 generations (Mendon Mountain Orchard). Since Vermont, there was, of course, vanilla ice cream on top. No cheddar on top though. I know people really go hard for that combo, but I just can’t get into it. Mimi tells us that apple pie purists debate endlessly what type of apple is best for the pie, and what type of crust should be used. What I know is this: as long as the crust is flaky not soggy, and fresh apples are the star (as opposed to a sugary, syrupy blobmass that oozes out as soon as you pierce the pie), I’m not going to turn down a slice.
Switching chapters from the American, while strolling through Burlington, Vermont, we had the good fortune to have lunch at The Daily Planet, where the meat was happy and the food was really superb. I ordered:
Polenta — Italian (72)
…in the form of herbed garlic fries with whiskey-bacon jam. Polenta is one of those things that is so mild and so versatile, it’s as though it can become almost anything. I’ve had many different iterations of polenta, and I probably prefer it as a creamy bedding for a sauce-based dish, but this deep-fried variation was also divine. As Mimi tells us, polenta is traditionally made in Northern Italy thusly: “Properly stone-ground into a fine grain that still maintains texture and bite, the cornmeal is slowly cooked in water to a very soft, mashed-potato consistency… Although similar to the cornmeal or grits of the American South, polenta is based on a different variety of corn (flint corn, as opposed to dent corn).”
I also ordered…
Poutine — Canadian: Québécois (73)
It’s a little bit funny that I ordered this, because I spent several summers at French Camp and subsequent trips to Canada avoiding Poutine, thinking it looked really gross. However, someone at our table ordered this before we arrived, and when I saw it come out, I thought for the first time ever that this combination of fries, gravy, and curds looked actually appetizing. Burlington Vermont is only 3 hours from Montréal, and thus, I felt comfortable trying this truly Canadian dish south of the border.
Mimi tells us, “This soppy treat is said to have originated in Québec in the early 1950s… brown gravy soaks into fried potatoes, and a further softening accent comes from the fresh, snowy cheese curds that melt slightly and lend a measure of squeaky-ness to the stringy proceedings.” [FYI, you can find the simpler dish of just fries and gravy in diners all over Manhattan, under the puzzling nomenclature “disco fries.”] The version of poutine that I consumed substituted in hand-cut sweet potato fries for regular fries, included Vermont (natch) cheddar curds, and added duck to the proceedings. The dish was extraordinary. As Mimi advises, “don’t write off poutine until you’ve tried it.” I may not know a lot more than I did at age sixteen, but I now know that poutine is delicious, and that’s a thing worth knowing for sure.