It is time. Finally. To celebrate.
|Arne plays an outdoor art piano and measures string for a Japanese kite; my heavenly chicharron burrito from El Parasol.|
Joseph’s is located in a cute little house on Agua Fria. The porch holds a few tables, but we chose to sit inside – the weather was cooling nicely, but we’d been wandering around outside for hours. We were greeted warmly, and within moments of sitting down at a table by the front windows we had glasses of water (thank heaven; I was so thirsty!) and a bottle that was kept filled throughout the evening.
Our server, David, was perfect. He was professional but friendly and eager to please, bringing Arne samples of three different beers when he wasn’t sure the one Arne had selected would be a good fit with our food choices. Arne stuck with his original selection, a Belgian called “Gulden Draak,” but David’s first choice, Krombacher pilsner from Germany, was so good I even liked it – and I can’t stand most beer.
Two little rolls and a pot of the most delicious compound butter I’ve ever had served to tide us over as we waited for our food to come. I wish I knew what was in that butter!
Our appetizers emerged from the kitchen with surprising speed. They were so beautifully plated we had to just sit back and admire them for a moment (and, of course, take pictures). The Cast-Iron Bronzed Cauliflower landed in front of me, so I started with that.
It was a playful dish, loaded with components: a silky bed of bright-green spinach, anchovy-tomato and green sauces, crisply tangy fried capers, starchy white beans. The mustard in the cauliflower’s crust was fairly mild, playing better with everything else than I would have guessed. The cauliflower itself was vegetally sweet and perfectly cooked, still firm but with no hint of rawness. All the components worked beautifully together, and composing each bite was fun.
When I’d eaten half the cauliflower, Arne and I traded appetizers; I moved from the light and playful to the rich and meaty. The second appetizer was warm chicken-liver pate on a thin square of fried polenta, topped with crisped Italian ham and accompanied by dried tomatoes and a swirl of herbed oil. It was as rich and melting as you might imagine, but not heavy. It might not have been the most nuanced dish on the menu, but it was impossible not to close my eyes in delight as the warm pate melted on my tongue.
We had a little time to let the flavors linger on our tongues before the next course arrived, but not a lot; service continued to be swift. it was clear that David could be a formally impeccable server if he wanted, but he could see we preferred a more casual style, so he gave us a bit of twinkle without ever letting the quality of service drop.
For my entree, I ordered the porcini-and-citrus-dusted halibut cheeks. When I trust a chef, I like to try the things on the menu I can’t quite imagine the taste of in my head, and I knew I was in good hands with Joseph Wrede. The dish did not disappoint. The brightness of citrus lightened the depth of porcini; once the accompanying mole verde and roasted strawberries were added to the mix, the complexity was mind-blowing. To my surprise, the halibut cheeks were not overwhelmed by everything else on the plate; their sweet flavor and almost scallop-like texture could handle it. A pile of frisee with pumpkin-seed dressing did a nice job of refreshing the palate.
As good as my entree was, though, I didn’t choose as well as Arne did. It would have been hard to, because Arne’s dinner was just about the most delicious thing I have ever put in my mouth. And it was stunningly beautiful, to boot.
That gorgeous stack is Joseph’s Honey & Cardamom Dusted Phyllo Napoleon: delicate leaves of spiced phyllo piled with Brussels sprouts, sauteed root vegetables, and more of that crisp Italian ham, held together with goat cheese carrot pudding, on a pool of sherry sauce and crowned with ethereal carrot foam.
It took Arne a little while to stop just staring at it; then he had to figure out how to go about cutting a bite from it. And then… well, we pretty much stopped talking about anything but how amazing this dish was. Every element was perfect. The Brussels sprout leaves were perfectly cooked, sweet and tender, just the epitome of how a Brussels sprout should taste. The root veggies were the same way. I tasted the carrot pudding by itself, thinking maybe I could recreate this at home, but I think I’ll have to leave this one in the restaurant’s hands. Seriously. Perfection. I am not exaggerating an iota when I say it almost moved Arne to tears.
But it was dessert that had that effect on me.
We had selected our appetizers and entrees in near-miraculous record time, given how tempting everything on the menu looked, but were slower to figure out dessert. We peppered David with questions. Arne settled on the butterscotch putting with caramel sauce and sea salt, served with and a delightfully fudgy chocolate macaron. It was so rich the little cup was almost too much. (Well, so Arne said – I had several luxurious bites and think I wouldn’t have had much trouble downing the whole thing.)
My first instinct was to try the crazy-sounding caramel ice cream with duck fat and soy sauce, but David indicated that it was terrifyingly rich. So I went with his favorite, the Cloud Cake. I’m kind of surprised I did, because it doesn’t seem like my kind of thing: essentially a giant slab of Italian meringue with caramel sauce, creme Anglaise, grapefruit, and tarragon. (I don’t like tarragon!) But I’m so glad I chose it.
The meringue itself was wonderfully moist and quite sweet. Combined with the two sauces, lightened just a bit by the tart grapefruit and delicately accented with the anise-flavored tarragon, it was just lovely. I ate the whole towering piece. I had nearly finished it, and was mopping up caramel sauce with a chunk of almost marshmallowy meringue, when tears suddenly flooded my eyes and I had to lay down my fork.
I had eaten a whole meal with almost no thought to the mechanics of it. I had ordered what I wanted to eat, not what I thought I could most easily swallow. I had enjoyed a whole beautiful three-course meal without feeling like I was choking, without once struggling to get the food down. I hadn’t needed to drink multiple pots of hot tea on a 90-degree day just to get my throat to kind of work. I’d had a perfect evening: excellent service, gorgeous food, laughter and clinking silverware and friendly voices in a beautiful, convivial room full of happy strangers, and not a moment of it was spoiled by my achalasia.
I felt free. Happy. So relieved it made me cry.
I can’t think of a more perfect place, a more perfect meal, with which to have celebrated this milestone. I have my life back. Hallelujah.