What Makes a Meal Memorable?

Through the years, I’ve enjoyed some pretty spectacular meals at a broad range of price points.

There was lunch at the French Laundry that came in at a cost that dwarfed my car payment, and a dinner in Liguria, Italy that included two bottles of Pigato and multiple courses of locally caught fish for a total of less than $60.

Decades later, memories of those two meals still resonate as a reminder of the power of hospitality, hyper-fresh ingredients and skillful preparation.

On my recent trip to Greece, there were too many individual meals to recount, but there were two that were absolute standouts. Interestingly, those two dinners could not have been more different from one another. While both were excellent value, in my opinion, the cost of one was ten times more than the other.

One took place outdoors on a beautifully laid out table set for approximately a dozen guests. The other took place on a sidewalk table that came with a warning to be careful about placing one’s chair too close to the curb lest there be a unfortunate accident.

The views offered could not have been more disparate – the sun setting over the neighboring island of Antiparos, and the crumbling remains of two glorious classical buildings. Both, however, were captivating.

The first unforgettable dinner, a “Farm to Table” experience booked through AirBnB, was a multi-course meal that began with locally made charcuterie, cheeses, incredible capers and fresh vegetables, all served with a plethora of wines produced at a single winery at the north end of the island. The meal was prepared in a converted garage outfitted with all the necessary equipment for a professional kitchen.

The chef, a French native who had married a Greek woman, composed a meal that invited class participation and took full advantage of the available seasonal produce. The tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, sweet peppers and eggplant were sublime, and the cauliflower a revelation.

We enjoyed ceviche and additional dishes, though I was too engrossed by conversation and scenery to properly commit all of them to memory. I do recall clearly that every part of the evening was lovely.

The second meal that filled my heart as well as my belly took place on our final evening of vacation in Athens. Ten days previously, at the beginning of our trip, we had taken a walking food tour with a terrific local guide, Marina.

One of our stops had been at a family owned business close to the oldest food markets in the city. My son and I decided to revisit this one place because everything we had eaten there had been delicious and presented with warm pride.

Unfortunately, we arrived after they had finished serving for the evening. Disappointed, I explained that we had so enjoyed our meal there during Marina’s tour and had hoped to again eat from their menu. There was some head shaking and gestures that indicated this would not be possible.

As I looked around the kitchen was visible, and I took in the numerous plates of what I assumed were leftovers from the day. I asked if it would be possible for them to simply make a platter of any items they’d like to serve for us to be able to eat their wonderful, traditional food just one last time.

After a couple of failed attempts to communicate my request, a woman sitting at one of the sidewalk tables intervened, and we were in business.

We sat at a somewhat wobbly table and were given flatware, bread and a half liter of white wine. Within minutes we were served a plate of simple and delectable items – tender gigante beans, marinated eggplant, a long red pepper of mild spiciness filled with cheese and herbs. We requested olive oil for the bread and our smiling server generously drizzled the flavorful oil on our plates.

After checking to be certain we were satisfied with our meal, he left a bill that totaled 6 euro or less than $7. I handed him a 10 and asked him to please keep the change. His response? How about some tzatziki? We smiled and nodded and were given an oval plate filled with the most perfect cucumbery yogurt, complete with garlic and dill. And more bread, followed by more wine.

When we left, everyone was smiling. It was a priceless meal that I know I will think about for years to come.

Are there meals that you’ll never forget? What made them special?

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