The food-obsessed among us relish the moment. It’s when a dish is so well conceived and executed that it slaps you upside the head and forces you to take notice. You shake your head at it. Or, you might even laugh out loud at its splendor.
There need not be many of these moments. To insist that every meal be spectacular would be a tiresome distraction from life’s responsibilities. Food is sustenance. We consume roughly one million calories of food each year, so not every one need be riveting. Food that is merely very good is still, well, very good.
In fact, the rarity of dazzling food moments makes them all the more special. It often helps for stars to align — being in the right place, at the right time, in the right mood. The moments are unlikely to occur as you scarf down a take-out sandwich on your lap in the car.
In the case of my favorite dish of the year, the stars aligned just so. One mild August evening, my wife was away at the beach with the children. So, after work, I treated myself to a quick stop at The Alley Light. As is often the case, The Alley Light was packed, but I managed to tuck into the sole available seat at the bar.
I knew exactly what I wanted. I had coveted it ever since I saw it on the online specials menu weeks earlier. Roasted Bone Marrow, Parsley Crust, Braised Escargot. Fond memories of a dish with bone marrow and parsley at London’s St. John restaurant had lingered in my mind for years. Here was my first chance since then to sample something similar.
Owner Will Richey was on hand, too. Another star aligning. One of the most reliable wine resources in the area, Richey co-founded the outstanding wine buying club The Wine Guild. I asked him to suggest a pairing with the bone marrow dish. I presumed he’d choose a red. I presumed wrongly. Instead, a Macon La Roche Vineuse – a chardonnay with bright acidity and deep minerality.
The dish blew me away.
Taste is said to be our weakest sensory memory, so I cannot recall exactly how it tasted or how it made me feel. But, I do remember the dish having such an effect on me that later I felt embarrassed by my reaction. I kept shaking my head and smiling at the way the flavors harmonized. I kept telling anyone around me to order the dish. I even tried to tell folks who were not there about the extraordinary dish. I wrote on Twitter:
“I can’t believe how good this is. Food nirvana. Bone marrow, braised escargot, parsley. Glass of Macon La Roche Vineuse. The Alley Light.”
It was my food moment of the year. And, it does not surprise me that it occurred at The Alley Light, which opened in February, and is already one of Charlottesville’s best restaurants. There were many other dazzling food moments at The Alley Light this year, more than at any other restaurant. Simply put, Chef Jose de Brito is making the most exciting food in town.
Here’s to more dazzling food moments in 2015.