Sunday, December 18, 2011

The world's greatest griller

One of my friends - call him the man of many employers (MOME) - likes to conclude a dinner prepared on the grill by bisecting some peaches, removing the pits, drizzling honey on them, and putting them on the flames for a few minutes. He removes them when he thinks they're sufficiently soft and warm and serves them two to a bowl with Breyer's vanilla ice cream. It's not a bad use of a peach from Key Foods, assuming you can find one softer than a lacrosse ball.

Now imagine MOME went to a farm in upstate New York to pick peaches that were at the ideal state of ripeness for grilling. MOME seasons the fruit not by squeezing honey out of the clear plastic container that's been in his kitchen for a year but by searching out the perfect honey, stuff produced by obsessive beekeepers who make sure their swarms pollinate plants that will impart some delicate flavor to the honey. MOME removes the skin from the peaches and grills them for a precise amount of time not over Kingsford charcoal ignited with lighter fluid but over charcoal he's made himself. MOME serves these delicacies with ice cream that has a slight hint of the grill because that's where he's heated the custard before freezing it. No pretension would be added in transformation; the plating of the dessert would be similar in both cases.

Imagine all this, then put MOME in a tiny village in the Basque mountains, and you'd have Extebarri, where Victor Arguinzoniz is such a master of the grill that chefs come from all over the world to eat his food and send their proteges to learn from him. His red mullet was perfect, the skin crisp and with just a touch of char and the flesh moist and delicious. I would say the same thing about his t-bone steak, but I have no recollection of how it tasted. I was full enough when the steak arrived toward the end of a tasting menu last month that I offered half of it to the table next to me. Thanks, they said, but we've already ordered one. I figured I could work my way through a few of the twelve pieces into which the kitchen had sliced the meat, but I didn't even want a glass of red wine to accompany the piece de resistance of the meal. Perhaps five minutes later the steak was gone and my appetite miraculously restored.

But the greatest marvel of the meal came earlier.  Two langoustines cooked modestly with no discernible salt or taste of the grill, just a perfect balance of sweet and rich that demanded a return trip.    

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