The Five are my own favorite five, which are not necessarily anyone else's. When the system was first devised they were, in geographical order, Stephanie's in Melbourne; Chez Panisse in Berkeley; Obelisk in Washington D.C.; Het Pomphuis in Ede (Netherlands); Il Vipore outside Lucca. I haven't been in D.C. for years and don't know if Obelisk is still open; all the others but Chez Panisse are long since closed. I still have a Five, but I hesitate to name them just now. (One of them is for sale at the moment: we'll dine there next month, probably for the last time.)
The Hundred is a more flexible group, of course, and I've named on or another to that category fairly often over the months and years. They are all places that seem to me uniquely rewarding. They speak to me personally: they're warm, inviting, comfortable. But they're also consistent; they're politically correct; they're what Slow Food calls Good, Clean, and Fair. All the Five are among the Hundred, of course.
Tonight we dined at another. We first met this restaurant years ago. We haven't returned often enough; we're not often in this neck of the woods at dinner time. A friend reminded us of it recently on Facebook, partly because it was in the news on the occasion of its twentieth anniversary. Next time you go, she said, let me know; I'll join you.
Done and done. We were in town today anyhow, on political business (demonstrating at the State Capitol, where the presidential electors were convening), and were spending the night.
Nothing had changed. (I mentioned consistency, yes?) The dining room looked just the same; the chairs hadn't changed; the same interesting low-keyed mural was on the wall behind the bar. Best of all the menu was the same. And my order was the same: steak tartare to begin with; braised veal cheeks to continue.
The house knew we were there and sent out a little plate to tease us, a plate of crudo: a scallop; raw tuna; celery and rémoulade. And, oddly we all thought, smoked salmon, rather heavily smoked: a piece of fish that would have been nice with horseradish and a shot of vodka, but seemed out of place among the otherwise raw items here.
(I did not wash it down with vodka, but with a Hanky Panky, which the bartender had to look up before executing it very well indeed.) The tartare was as I remembered it, but served differently, I think: it used to present a single heap centered on the plate; now it comes on three croustades. I prefer to mix my tartare at the table, as I reported from the Restaurang Kvarnen a year ago; but when the kitchen remembers the scallions and capers and gets the proportions right it's okay with me if they do the work for me; I'm easy-going on such matters. This tartare was fine.
Ditto the braised beef cheeks, as I prefer to call them; I like the double "e"'s, and I'm not sure meat this deep and unctuous can really be what I call veal, which should, I maintain, never have eaten grass. Another really fine dish, resonant and thoughtful. And our conversation was splendid.
Dessert: a generous affogato, to cut through a meat-heavy dinner…