Once a year since we moved to Europe, my sweetheart and I dine at a Michelin-starred restaurant.
Pre-Europe, the Michelin-star system meant nothing to me. It fell into the same bowl as the Zagat system, or the Mobil ratings, or the AAA stars, or Tripadvisor circles.
I still couldn’t tell you much about those other rating methods. But what we’ve learned is that in Europe, the Michelin system seems to pluck out a very fancy sort of place with exquisite, creative, unusual food.
And we do love our food.
Michelin is excellent about covering restaurants in Europe, even in tiny German towns. But in America, Michelin only surveys three areas: New York City, Chicago, and California. Any amazing restaurant elsewhere is left off.
(The business side of me understands this. America is a huge country. But the foodie in me mourns the little undiscovered gems in Virginia, New Jersey, D.C., etc.)
I feel a little sheepish about this little once-a-year luxury. The prices can be a bit insane, and the waiters are either wonderfully precise or anal, depending on how you view it. They often wear white gloves and act with flourishes, like setting down your plates in synchronous fashion. The utensils are silver. The dining room is hushed, just the way we quiet people like it. It feels like church for chefs. Pretentious? Maybe. Maybe yes.
But then I think, well, concerts or sports events or plays can cost $100 a seat before food, beverage, and souvenir.
Instead, we go to a performance of food.
It’s an experience we talk about for months afterwards. And like an unusual art exhibit, a well-crafted, innovative meal leaves me full with ideas.
I think about the flavor combinations: olives and chocolate. I consider the artful plates: four-leaf clovers laid out so prettily. I contemplate new flavor vehicles: lacy, savory lollipops.
And I marvel at how sweet it is to be married to a fellow foodie, who enjoys the evening of fancy plates as much as a symphony, who looks as giddy across the table as I feel when a bite of the sea explodes in my mouth.
Special meals like these remind me that we create our own world by our experiences, many of which we choose to have. We have to seek out the life we want. And for us, one Michelin star a year adds a lot of sparkle.
The first year, we went to Onyx in Budapest, one of two Michelin-starred restaurants in all of Hungary. Elegant dining room, artful plates, meticulous wait staff.
(Tip: The three-course lunch runs 5,990 Hungarian Forint, which is about $26. It was like catching a first-rate Broadway play for half-price.)
I was captivated.
The second year, we went to Fischers Fritz in Berlin. The food was beautiful and unusual, but my tastebuds didn’t swoon. I wasn’t so starry-eyed after that lunch.
This year, we went to Olivo in Stuttgart, Germany.
It was marvelous.
Four courses over four hours. A myriad surprise courses courtesy of the chef. Bites that made my sweetheart roll his eyes back in delight. Plated creations worthy of Miro. A treasure box of house-made chocolates at the end.
It deserves a post on its own. Coming soon.