We’re foodies in my household. Meals are an event, so the kitchen has become far more than a refueling station. Yet, in all my nearly-burn- the-house-down-serve-up-the-occasional-food-poisoning years of experience, my role in the cooking process is now fairly limited. (Let’s be honest, I’m only allowed to touch the occasional spatula.) So essentially, I have the privilege of salivating over the menu- taking on the ever important role as Taste Tester– while my husband does all the fancy footwork to prepare each heavenly dish.
But as much cooking as we do at home, we adore eating out. It’s exhilarating to experience a brand new food, bite into a unique version of an old favorite, and then just melt into the tabletop because it’s THAT good. Here are five dishes I can’t get out of my head….
1.) The Dining Room, Little Palm Island Resort. Dish to Die For: Prime Beef Châteaubriand, Caribbean Spiny Lobster, Foie Gras
Let’s get a little romantic. Close your eyes, and envision small, round tables set just off the beach, ocean waters lapping in the background at sunset, tiny Key deer grazing the edge of white tablecloths like magical creatures. Warm breezes kiss your skin just as a waiter arrives, carrying a silver platter like he’s about to bequeath you the keys to the kingdom. Whisking away the cover, you visually feast on a bed of buttery Caribbean lobster, atop tender prime beef, subtly sauced with rich foie gras, and graced with a generous shaving of truffles. The lightness of the lobster marries so well with the richness of the beef, highlighted by strong, tangy flavors of truffles and the silky texture of foie gras. Size was no match for my appetite: I savored every last bite.
2.) Joe’s Seafood Prime Steak & Stone Crab, Chicago. Dish to Die For: Double-Cut Colorado Lamb Chops.
Walking into Joe’s is like stepping back in time to the days of swagger. Tuxedoed wait staff, rich linens, and a Sinatra-esque dining room sends the immediate message that diners are about to be really well-cared for. But more amazing than the atmosphere is the food. When dining at Joe’s, stone crab has to be ordered, and lots of it. Luckily, stone crab is so light and delicious, it really qualifies- in my book– as both appetizer and dessert— and by that I mean, it’s essential to order enough to continuously inhale throughout the meal. But beyond the crab, Joe’s has an amazing menu, including one I knew was going to blow my mind: double-cut Colorado lamb chops with mint chimichurri sauce. I knew these chops were going to be unbelievably tender, barely-there salt savory, and minty, tangy-sweet. They lived up to every expectation.
3.) The Turf Room, North Aurora. Dish to Die For: Butternut Squash “Mock” Risotto
Before I describe the universal wonder that is butternut mock risotto, I would be remiss if I didn’t share the most vital piece of advice in dining at the Turf Room: bring your thirst buds. Yes, yes, it’s all about the food…and the food is one-hundred percent delicious, but the cocktail menu at TR is out of this world. So water up before stepping foot in the door, because Jack, Jose, and Captain have some particularly delicious plans in store for the adventurous imbiber. But back to the food…I love fall dishes that feature warm, whipped squash…but The Turf Room takes it to a whole new level with the tanginess of blue cheese, savory shallot, and the crunch of candied walnuts. This side dish was so good, I actually stopped eating my entree just to make more room for it.
4.) Camille’s, Key West. Dish to Die For: Norwegian Eggs Benedict
My soul could live forever in Key West, so it’s only fitting that one of my favorite meals is served in an eclectic restaurant on Simonton Street, just blocks away from the Heron House, our favorite place to stay. Eggs Benedict is a delicious dish in any form, but to me, nothing tastes better than the Norwegian version. Smoked salmon on a crisp English muffin, topped with poached eggs, swimming in buttery Hollandaise. Camille’s eggs are always the perfect temperature, breaking the yolk just as my fork dips into the side of the egg, pooling the smoky salmon with savory yellow. I could eat breakfast all day.
5.) Better than Sex, Key West. Dish to Die For: Try everything.
Dessert is supposed to be last. Eat vegetables. Drink milk, and, maybe…if you have room after all that…dessert. But in this tiny, busy, candle-lit restaurant, dessert is the only item on the menu. From cocktails to coffee, every beverage is served in a glass coated in white chocolate, milk chocolate, or caramel. Pair a sweet beverage with bread pudding, molten chocolate cake, peanut butter silk pie, or lime cream pie. Each dish is arranged sensually on the plate, named to inspire a wink and a smirk from diners and wait staff alike. Eating vegetables may be the best way to keep our bodies healthy, but eating dessert feeds our hearts and souls.