A few months away from officialities, I’d consider myself 30 years old. And while that may not be many years to speak of in the grand scheme, I’d consider it enough to speak of dining. I’ve dined at many places in my life (…sadly, too few abroad), from backyards to back of the house seating (I’ve never been great with reservations, I prefer just showing up) at some of the world’s renowned, and many of them bring a smile to my face, which is to say they brought satisfaction to my palate. As for the ones classified as fine dining, my only issue is terminology. In my opinion, there’s nothing finer than dining with and on food prepared by family and or friends, in a laid back environment, free from pomp and circumstance if you will.
Not to say I don’t enjoy eating in a more formal environment by any means. Dining at Bayona in New Orleans stands out to me, but not as much as Chez Panisse in Berkeley, as some of the most regimented and best feats I’ve ever had. The service, décor and atmosphere were impeccable, the food, just as much and more. There’s something to formalities whilst eating I think. That you’re treated with such importance as a diplomat is obviously a pretty cool feeling (makes me feel like James Bond), the fresh, hurried neatness of the whole experience is constantly entertaining and when it comes to the food, the old axiom about getting what you pay for most assuredly reigns true.
It’s describing the experience as fine that I don’t get. When I think of fine, I think of my girlfriend…and I think she’s her finest in the morning, when she’s stripped of all the done-upness (and clothing) that makes her so striking the rest of the day. It’s in that moment, when she gets out of bed and starts pacing around yelling at me to do the same, that I think to myself, damn, this chick is fine. And I should say that, to a certain extent, I think of a fine meal in much the same way I think of a fine woman. Besides sharing beauty, they share that impactual embodiment of fine-ness I so thoroughly enjoy. I crave those times in life, when you sit back, satisfied in so many ways and in momentary awe of it, and think that despite the sometime overwhelming awfulness that occurs in the modern world, I am totally fine with my place in it. Lewdness aside, the moment is in the stripping of things I think.
A meal stripped of elements like locale, décor, fresh linen and shinny flatware, military-like service and a price tag consists simply of food, drink and company. I’m lucky to have had the pleasure of experiencing the remaining three elements well done and am better for it I think. The Denver based underground supper gang Noble Swine comes to mind, as do crawfish boils not surprisingly down south and pleasantly surprisingly up north, neighborhood potlucks and poker games and in too-many-to-recall establishments run by cool and good people. In each setting I had that moment, that feeling of contentment with what life has dealt to me, and I couldn’t say it better than to say I was feeling fine. When it comes to describing such things though, no one, in my opinion, describes them more perfectly, simply and romantically than my girl Mary Franklin Kennedy Fisher (a fine woman by the by). In her foodie bible The Art of Eating, she muses of raw dough shoveled by bread bakers, into open ovens late night in France…”It was naked, like a firm-hipped woman, without benefit of metal girdlings.”
I can see the shapely dough she referred to, clearly, and can certainly see why she made such a feminine comparison, luckily. I think that underneath it all, (wink) what she was truly referring to was the raw, strikingly primal beauty of sustenance. The enjoy-ability of which is no coincidence, as the more appealing food is to eat, the more life sustained. It’s nothing short of our nature to want to eat well, or I should say, feel fine to dine. I recently felt as much…
It was a few months ago, when the nights were as pleasant as the days have been lately here in good old Denver. My neighbor came banging on my door one Sunday afternoon, covered in blood. It was the blood of an antelope he’d slain a mere eight hours earlier and he needed help getting rid of the evidence. I remember thinking, as we (gangster-style) lugged the cooler containing the carcass, that it was way heavier than I imagined of such a small beast. We brought it in and he showed me, one by one, the various cuts of fresh flesh, killed and cut by his truly. It was a beautiful sight as well as one I’d never seen. It may sound strange, but the smell of blood and raw flesh was absolutely intoxicating. He pulled out the precious filet, the daintiest cut of an animal, seasoned it liberally with salt and pepper and fired up the grill. It was dark by then, and our fellow neighbors had come out to join the commotion. We all feasted on the rarely cooked meat with our bare hands, without benefit of metal utensils, watched the bats of Five Points take flight to do the same, drank many locally brewed beers well into the night and shared life. It was most certainly a fine time.
That said, the next time I dine in good company, well fed, my thirst well quenched, contented to be human, I will say that it is fine dining. The next time I dine and find myself fantasizing that I’m double O (insert man crush on Daniel Craig) seven, I will say that it is re-fined dining. I don’t disagree with refinement though, I just think it’s enjoyable in a different way…I love to dress up and behave formally, refine myself so to speak. It makes me feel like a gentleman about town, which in my opinion is one of the finest feelings to have. And as any gentleman should, I also love taking my girl out to a nice and pricey dinner, its part of making her happy, which is part of a gentleman’s job. In fact, if life itself is a job, and food is its fuel, than to dine on it in any way, whether it be fine, refined or in any other circumstance, is to be doing it well, because if you’re not eating, you’re not living.