I’m Back!

It’s been nearly three years since I have posted anything on here. Three years!

I could start by explaining, complaining, and apologizing, but they would all be fake excuses. Instead, let’s start by fixing it through new writing.

So, a lot has changed since I last wrote on here, and the purpose has slightly shifted. No worries, food will always be the center of it all. To be honest, food seems to be the center of my life. I mean, it IS the center of my life, but I had to say “seems” because I realize how crazy it sounds, and I also wouldn’t want my partner to feel that I’m even more strange than he thinks I am.

So back to the point, the change is that now, we will not be focusing on the Miami area, but rather expanding to a global reach. PS, I have relocated to Haiti, and will be sure to showcase my Caribbean voice, whether it be around here, or across the world

I’ll be talking about all the good food I ate, and all the bad experiences as well. I mean, even great restaurants have dishes that aren’t so good.

To respect the title of this blog, “Tasting it Like it Is”, I will be honest. And feel free to challenge me if I seem over zealous. I will say it’s good, when it is. And I will say it sucks when it needs work. No B.S.

I am not writing what people expect me to write or ask me to write. My writing may include food critiquing, or experiences from a food class, or a visit of a food factory, or just random thoughts like how much I love butter. You know, the usual.

Let’s go!

The Fruit of Life: A Summer of Haitian Mangoes, Culture & Trade

Happiness. That is what a mango means to a Haitian. March to August is the Francis mango season in Haiti, and adults and children alike look forward to it, eating multiple mangoes a day. My number is two per diem.  A mango could be sliced and daintily eaten with a fork, but to enjoy this tropical fruit in its true sense, you must peel it all, grab it with both hands, and take a bite as its sticky, sweet juice runs down.  Full face in!  In fact, my paternal grandmother (who was quite the lady) used to say, I will not get dirty for just one mango, I need at least two or three. Thus, bathing in your mango, if you will, is the only way to do it.

The Haitian mango does not only impact taste buds, but also the economy. The mango business supports over 50,000 Haitian families, with jobs, from the growers, to the exporters, to the street merchants. Mangoes are life around here. Although there are 140 varieties growing around the country, the francis variety is the most exported. Why is the francis mango so special, in addition to supporting Haiti’s recovering economy? Its flavor. The taste is rich and spicy and this variety has consistent flavor, unlike some others. It is also one of the juiciest mangoes there is. This is why these mangoes are so orgasmic. It drips as you eat it and no one is shamed into licking the nectar as it falls.

I have had the pleasure to intern with F&L, a mango exporting firm in the St Marc area in Haiti, approximately two hours from Port-au-Prince. The firm exports its mangoes to the US and is USDA approved. With a rigid selection process and a diverse and talented team, the company truly impacts the local economy. Mangoes are sourced from both F&L farms, and other local farmers. The fruit is naturally grown and only the highest quality mangoes are exported. They are then treated using a hot water treatment, sorted, packed and shipped in refrigerated containers to the States. The process is thoroughly supervised by a local and a USDA inspector, who are both on site, at all hours of operation. All so that you may enjoy the very best Haiti has to offer.

F&L is an affiliate of Agrotechnique SA, a company dedicated to the agricultural sector in Haiti for over 40 years. The team is local and their desire to help the country is palpable. Haiti does not grow through humanitarian aid, rather it develops through sustainable investment and exportation of local goods. This is what F&L does, and their products, mangoes in particular, are proudly showcased in major US cities like Miami, New York and Boston. Yes, Haiti is often portrayed as a country of despair, but let’s look at Haiti through another lens. Haiti = Good Mangoes.

Let’s discuss my experience. The best part: eating all the mangoes I could ever want, whole or juiced. I have never indulged this much and lost weight. This is a girl’s dream! Thus far, my work involves sales and strategy, where I help the firm improve its processes and increase its clientele. I like to think of it as an internal consultant of sorts. But I am learning so much more from this team, than I believe they are learning from me : from the mango culture, to the exportation business, to the love for Haiti. It is contagious. I have always loved Haiti, having been raised there. But working at a firm with direct impact on growers, families and the economy, has changed my view of the country as well. There is so much to be done here, and the impact of your work will be visible. I am lucky to have had the opportunity to make a difference.

At the Genuine Hospitality Group restaurants, the farm to table approach is vital. And TGHG has taught me the value of careful sourcing and of supporting growers. This is why I value the work of Haitian mango growers, and of firms such as F&L, who create work for these farmers, and distributors, through exportation. I have always loved the Francis mango, but now the fruit means so much more. Mango is now life to me.

A Lunch Hideway

I had some friends in town from New York last Monday.  Having enjoyed a cruise, they were only here for the day and spent the afternoon with me before heading back home. They were seeking an elegant and intimate lunch, and cocktails were in order, of course, to sail them back to the Polar Vortex in good spirits. I suggested The Cypress Room.  My last dinner experience was nothing short of breathtaking. Let’s compare with lunch!

Our party of three arrived at 1 pm.  Jazz vocals recalling a distant past flowed through the room, an escape from the commotion of the city.  The atmosphere inside was quiet, yet warm. It was the perfect meeting place.  We all chose the Prix Fixe Menu. $33 for three courses and the option to add a midcourse. It was by far the best lunch I have had in a very long time. Allow me to tell you why.

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Count Basie, courtesy of Hanging with Harris.

I started with a specialty cocktail, the Count Basie with: Redemption Rye, Cocchi Americano, R&W apricot, grapefruit, lemon, egg white and pistachio. I felt so regal just drinking it, in a tall glass, with the foam from the egg white brushing against my lips. A complex mixture of spirits, sure, but the Count Basie was a smooth operator, multi-dimensional and opened my palate for what was to come.

I chose the Triggerfish Crudo for my first course, with cherry peppers and blood orange. Or maybe the Crudo chose me? The tender fish was so fresh it practically leapt from the plate with just enough heat and a perfect balance of acidity.  It awoke every nerve within me.

MarrowI opted for a midcourse, the marrow bones with preserved lemon, celery, garlic toast and topped with parsley. This dish is a classic on the menu since opening and offered both at lunch and dinner.  The buttery marrow is best enjoyed spread on garlic toasts and kissed with a squeeze of lemon.  I’ll stop at that, but I will not refrain from tasting my friends’ food. I reached over for a bite of gnocchi, prepared with calabaza, wild mushroom and herbs. Bold, yet light enough for lunch thanks to a short ingredient list coming together in harmony on the place.

My second course was the most mesmerizing: the short rib with mushroom conserva and lila onions. I added the thrice cooked fries as a side. The contrast of the rich beef, bathing in flavorful broth, shined with just a touch of the potato. With a glass of Oregon Pinot Noir, I enjoyed the decadence of dinner time without feeling overwhelmed.  You’ll just have to trust me on that! Now onto dessert…

I chose another favorite, the brown butter semifreddo with compressed apple and medjool date leather. Its flavors morph as the dish melts from a tableside pour of spiced cider, each bite surpassing the last.  With French macarons begging not to be forgone, we bid The Cypress Room adieu, bellies full and hearts light.  It’s good to know there’s a reasonably priced lunch prix fixe menu ready to satisfy both the simple- or supplemental-minded at heart.

Three Rounds

“Chaque pain a son fromage”, meaning:  every bread has its cheese. I often used this French saying in a romantic context, to motivate my friends when a relationship went sour. Your cheese will come, I would say. My best friend usually followed with : “I love cheese! Where is my cheese already?!” Well, New York Grilled Cheese has it, at least in the literal sense.

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Hidden in Wilton Manors, New York Grilled Cheese (NYGC) is dedicated to grilled cheese sandwiches, evident through its name, with a casual and playful setting. The locale was once a frozen yogurt shop, therefore the restaurant maintained the open floor layout, as well as the bright colors. The room was consequently very inviting and appropriate for a variety of age groups. We even made friends at the circular bar, while we waited. The wait built anticipation and certified that this was NOT fast food.

My guest and I were bold enough to order three sandwiches for the two of us, which was a bit overwhelming to be frank. But being overwhelmed by food is just the type of overwhelming I like. Like my friend, I too adore cheese, but NYGC dares to add untraditional ingredients like sriracha, fries, egg and brisket to name a few. What a pleasant surprise! All sandwiches are waffle shaped, and served with a creamy tomato bisque. I could have enjoyed the soup solo, as it did not compare to the canned tomato soup served at your high school cafeteria. If it were plated in a porcelain bowl, it would have been suitable for fine dining.

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Grindr & tomato bisque

To return to the three sandwiches, we started with the Wall Street Grindr Award with cheddar, French fries, bacon, caramelized onions, garlic butter, fried egg, and dill pickles, served on a country loaf.  It was the perfect balance of crunchy and oozy. Despite the numerous ingredients, it was enjoyable until the last bite and was my favorite of the bunch sampled. I was astonished by the fries peaking out and by the fact that each ingredient fit perfectly. However, what brought the dish together was the soup. Dipping the sandwich in, almost led to hums from the heavens. I am not sure why I took so long to submerge my sandwich, but that bisque put mayos, aiolis, and sandwich spreads everywhere, to shame.

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The MPD

The MPD melt followed. Short for Meat Packing District. These words stress the sandwich’s hardiness with contents of American cheese, cheddar, beef brisket and caramelized onions. It was thick enough, yet refined enough to be a grilled cheese. Although the beef was a bit bland for my taste, it was a manly and packed melt. I was impressed by the view but not as much by the performance.

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The Yelp

The Yelp certainly put on show, however. I imagine it was named after the website and the filling lived up to Yelp’s popularity: fried chicken, sriracha, bacon, cheddar, muenster, and a pepper jam sauce. That sandwich led to a Kung Foo match in my mouth due to the flavor explosion. The crunch, the spice, and the salt woke me up immediately and led to a second bite, then a third. In fact, it may have been one of the most impressive sandwiches I have tasted, due to its complexity. Unfortunately, all great things come to an end, thus the martial arts session came to a halt. Perhaps my taste buds were exhausted. Midway through the Yelp, I felt the need to end the games early as the flavors became, excessive. I am shocked at my own words, as I am one who can never get enough. The Yelp was certainly delicious, but best enjoyed in smaller portions maybe.

I used a Belgian ale as an appropriate referee to these three rounds, from a choice of other craft beers and wines. Not to shabby for a grilled cheese joint. Thank you to my “cool” friend- you know who you are- for leading me to this hidden treasure, with gems all below $10. To all my sandwich lovers, a visit is a must!

I would like to introduce a scoring system to the blog, to help readers better understand my position. After each article, I will assign a score of 1-10 (ten being highest), with the possibility of half points when merited. This is not to be crude, but rather to summarize my opinion. Managing a restaurant takes hard work, and I would like to thank every establishment mentioned in Tasting It Like It Is, for its services during my visit.

 

Score- 7

Kristina

A Sweet Escape in the Heart of Miami

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When I eat well, my pallet and my heart are so joyful that they liberate me from the everyday and allow me to savor the magical moment- the meal in question.  However, great food entails more than taste; it must also be soulful, and earlier this week at The Cypress Room, I was permitted to cherish the pleasures of food well beyond my pallet. The experience was more than just gastronomic, it was emotional.

From the moment I entered the room, the warm lighting and the pink wallpaper welcomed me home, yet took me back in time. I would have loved to experience the roaring ’20s and the chandeliers and intimate environment just about offered that opportunity, while my short hair and my red lipstick fit the scene. Simultaneously, the wall mounts and the pecky cypress panels dare to combine a rustic look with the chic décor. This is what Miami is all about, being daring and escaping; which The Cypress Room embodies through portraits commemorating Florida landmarks and people savoring the indulgences that Miami represents. The Cypress Room found a way to achieve that sort of audacity while remaining composed.

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The evening started off on a romantic note with an aperitif at the bar. I went with the “Go Lightly”, a mix of : cocchi americano, st. germain, sparkling wine and topped with a lemon peel. The beverage was as simple as it was complex. It emitted just the right balance of sweetness with a touch of bitterness, as the flavors developed further and further. Needless to say that I was saddened at the last sip, but my pallet was well prepared for what was to come.

We were welcomed by an amuse-bouche, a creamy celery and potato soup, which both refreshed and set the stage. As the meal had officially begun, I seized the chance to be adventurous by trying the marrow bones as an appetizer. They were topped with parsley, with flavors of preserved lemon and served with garlic toast. I squeezed on some additional lemon and was pleasantly surprised by the dish’s decadence. The filling was rich, yet perfectly acidic, while the garlic toast melted in my mouth. Oooh the parsley…it made me feel as if its true power had been kept secret from me, until that very moment. I shared a topped toast with a friend, but I must admit that I did so reluctantly. I enjoyed the bones with some Jarancon Sec, and knew that this would be no ordinary meal.

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I followed with the duck, served two ways. The succulent breast is presented in chunks, which were so tender; however the roulade took my breath away. Formed using the leg meat, it was shaped as a small cup, with every bite dissolving on my tongue more quickly than I would wish.  At the suggestion of our Maître D’hôtel, I paired it with a glass of Nebbiolo, which perfectly complimented the dark meat. The French techniques were evident, while keeping true to the freshness and authenticity of the ingredients. The sides merely consisted of brussels sprouts and a beet-date purée, but saying merely is blasphemy. I am not ashamed to say that I cleared every ounce of the purée using the duck breast as my weapon, although it may have been a bit rude, now that I remember my table manners. Meanwhile, each layer of the sprouts was peeled which retained its crispiness, offering balance to the dish’s many textures and flavors.

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Although I attempted to focus only on my orders, I could not help myself at the sight of the côte de boeuf. Once prepared, it is presented at the table whole, then taken to the kitchen for carving before serving. I enjoyed the show, but had to taste it for myself. I thus stole a slice, with a touch of béarnaise sauce and was speechless. With just the right amount of fat on the meat and the ideal level of creaminess and acidity, it was perhaps one of most heavenly pieces of beef I have ever enjoyed. That was when I lost touch with reality.

I took part in the conversation of course, but was swept away to another world.  To continue, I chose the maple semifreddo for dessert, with hot bourbon cider and medjool leather. The bourbon cider was poured over the semifreddo, at the table, adding to the anticipation. The beauty in this dish, is its evolution as it melts. The taste develops and the dates at the bottom emerge more and more, crowning the meal overall as the adventure that it was.  However, my gourmand character did not stop there. I ventured into the bay leaf ice cream. Who would have thunk it? It was so delicate, yet creamy and sweet and maybe savory. Each of these characteristics shines through every spoonful, which evidently leaves you to keep digging.

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Just when I thought that my vacation was coming to an end, we were treated with mini espresso macaroons, which were as pleasing to the sight as they were to my lips. I thus skipped out of The Cypress Room, but retained my high spirits, like a girl in love, which I was. With the food. And the drinks. I had gained an incomparable sentiment, one that food alone was not responsible for. The Cypress Room had given me more than a meal, but an escape, in the heart of Miami.

-Kris

Kristina is an employee of The Genuine Hospitality Group and a food blogger at Tasting It Like It is. Follow her on instagram @tastingitlikeitis

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A Taste & A Cause

I have always kept a place in my heart for philanthropy. Evidently food holds a piece of my heart as well, thus when I was informed of a way to combine both passions, I jumped on the opportunity.

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Loews Miami Beach

 

Taste of the Nation is a yearly event, where restaurants and food shops join forces to raise money, to feed hungry children. Chefs Allen Susser and Timon Balloo, led the South Florida portion, hosted at the Loews Miami Beach hotel.  Well-known restaurants in Miami and Fort Lauderdale, showcased items from their menu and guests were able to taste, for a flat rate entry fee, all in support of the cause. General admission was priced at $125; however, I obtained a discounted ticket from Gilt City Miami at $75. Go Gilt!

 

The event was well organized and the venue was ideal. Loews offered a large banquet room where over 50 restaurants were set up in a circular format around the room, with a few islands at the center, primarily with drinks and desserts. There was also a stage at the front of the room, with live music, and space for speakers as well.  J’avais l’embarras du choix!  With so many tasty treats to sample, and a glass of wine in hand, constantly being refilled, I felt as if I needed an assistant or a second pair of hands to help juggle it all. But no complaints, being overwhelmed by fine foods is a good problem to have.

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Onli Soda

 

A memorable drink stand was Madeira, showcasing Sangria and Moscato, served with fruits. I found the Moscato evidently sweet, but not overpowering, and perfect for a girl’s night in.  In addition, I fell in love with the fruit sodas from Onli, particularly the pomegranate & strawberry. The drinks are light and Onli also offers the option of unsweetened flavors. I also enjoyed the Sancol Prosecco from 7 Import & Export. It was easy on the palate, but not too airy, yet affordable enough for casual day drinking.

 

I will begin with some of my favorite dishes.  I must first warn you that with so many flavors, my descriptions may be short, which only reinforces how much I enjoyed the event and supported the cause. Also, my stomach did not allow me to visit all stands, but again, it was a pleasure.

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Northern Thai Sausage
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Pork Shoulder & Buttermilk Biscuit

 

The 50 Eggs Inc. stand, showcased Yardbird and Swine, Southern cuisine, as well as Khong River House with a focus on Northern Thai cuisine. I sampled a spicy Northern Thai sausage topped with housemade crispy pork skin. The sausage was oh so juicy and the pork skin was like a chip with pork flavor. It was not overly fattening and despite the amount I ate that evening, it will forever be remembered.  Meanwhile, Yardbird presented a country fried pork shoulder, over a buttermilk biscuit, with picked red onions served on the side. The shoulder was perfectly toasted and the biscuit, as one of the best in South Florida. Yardbird has successfully presented quality Southern food and portrayed it as fine dining, as it deserves; something unaccomplished in Miami in the past.

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Grilled Cheese

 

In reference to comfort foods, the Daily Melt stand was a pleasant surprise. I tasted a grilled cheese sandwich, with truffle oil, butter, provolone and cheddar, accompanied by a slice of pickle. It was grilled cheese done right! Now I know how to satiate my melted cheese cravings.

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Cavatelli

 

On the truffle note, Dolce Italian dressed a creamy parmesan cavatelli with truffle shavings. The dish was also accompanied by asparagus and the portion was surprisingly large, provided the setting. Again, no complaints. I finished the plate and made a note to visit the restaurant soon. As simple as it may have been, the pasta was fresh, comforting and creamy to the perfect extent.

 

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Poached Shrimp

 

My next stand was Little Palm Island from the Keys. They served a poached shrimp with boniato mash, sweet corn salad and a roasted red onion vinaigrette. I cleared the plate quickly, especially as it was served warm. The potatoes were very smooth and the sweet corn effectively balanced the dish. It definitely encouraged a trip to the Keys.

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Bacon Marmalade Crostini

 

Oak Tavern made me love bacon again! The bacon marmalade crostini, with hints of rogue blue, immediately woke up my taste buds. It was juicy, yet sweet and salty. This is where bar food and fine dining join forces!

 

On a lighter note, sushi lovers rejoice! Zuma served a seared salmon shashimi with caviar, which blew my socks off. The salmon was outrageously smooth and naturally sweet if I dare say.

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Shrimp Ceviche

 

Speaking of sweet, Wynwood Kitchen & Bar offered shrimp ceviche with a pineapple coconut sauce, yielding to a refreshing and sweet kick. It was the perfect transition to dessert.

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Chocolate Cheesecake

 

Susie’s Scrumptious Sweets was one of my favorites stands in general, not particularly in the dessert category. They artistically crafted a key lime cheesecake and a chocolate cheesecake in mini popsicles. The chocolate was decadent, but the key lime was sublime. The surrounding icing complimented it very well and the filling’s acidity was perfectly achieved, as key lime pie often runs the risk of an overly sour taste. I was pleased. Susie’s also showcased a larger red velvet cake popsicle; however, it was not as moist as the cheesecakes.

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Key Lime Cheesecake (White) & Red Velvet Cake (Orange)

 

Although I enjoyed all visited stands, some items were less favorable. The Federal shared crawfish and grits with corn. The grits were very creamy, but unfortunately, the corn overpowered the dish and the presentation took away from the fine dining experience.

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Veal Ravioli

 

Bianca at Delano, offered veal ravioli, artfully plated for the event and sprinkled with breadcrumbs. Despite the presentation, the sauce was highly acidic, which reduced the dish’s enjoyment.

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Meatball & Crostini

 

In addition, The Palate Party served Angus beef meatballs with whipped ricotta, picked garlic and a crostini.  I find that the dish was not fit for transport, thus the meat and crostini’s texture were negatively affected. In short, it was mushy, and the sauce was quite mild.

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Guest Stealing A Treat

 

Nonetheless, I enjoyed the event quite a bit and only left due to the limited capacity of my belly. I was proud to be apart of a soiree, raising money to feed the hungry, while satisfying my palate and curiosity alike. I applaud ALL participants for their efforts and generosity and look forward to next year’s Taste of the Nation South Florida. In the meantime, I will be planning visits to some of the aforementioned restaurants.

 

Kris

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Decadent & Unpretentious

Dining and drinking lavishly in the evening is expected. Doing so in broad daylight is borderline delinquent, and that much more pleasurable. I had the luxury to experience a decadent lunch with a friend at The Foxy Brown in Fort Lauderdale, which set the stage for the rest of my week.

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Patio

I was drawn in at the sound of half priced wine bottles. We made our way to the Broward Boulevard niche, and called so because one is not quite sure of the purpose of the locale, with a drive by. Although the title was clearly stated and the restaurant sat on a highly trafficked road, it did not scream fine dining at first glance. There was also a sign on the sidewalk, reminding passer byes that it was open for lunch or dinner, but again, the facade was perplexing. In any case, upon arrival, we chose to sit outdoors, in a patio adorned with plants, yet facing the parking lot. The humble décor and intimate setting were fitting for lunch, but lacked personality. There was ample opportunity to liven the ambiance in an individual manner. However, the interior softened the look, by playing with oranges and browns, providing warmth. Overall, the décor emitted comfort and simplicity, which translated to the menu.

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Mussels

The choices were not extensive, but I wanted to order almost every item. We began with the mussels, cooked in a garlic curry sauce, topped with sautéed spinach and served with fresh garlic bread. Again the simplicity shined through, but as did the succulence. The garlic was used with rage, yet the flavor came through subtly. The sauce was not described on the menu, therefore it was a pleasant surprise, as I anticipated a traditional tomato broth. If it had been served with a spoon, we would have turned the sauce into a soup. Woops!

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Med. Dry Riesling

In the meantime, we had the opportunity to order a bottle of Riesling to share, at an unreasonably low price. The wine list in total was not extensive either, and the choices listed were not to please a connoisseur. I am no acclaimed sommelier, but most diners would find a wine to appropriately pair their meal with. Again, the beauty lied in its modesty.

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Lump Crab Cakes

Pour la piece de resistance, we shared the lump crab cakes with a five grain mustard sauce, and served with more sautéed spinach. The cakes were generous in size, in quality, and in decadence. The breadcrumbs were minimal, yet the cakes held together nicely. In addition, the buttery sauce further softened them, and rose the bar for lunches served everywhere in South Florida. Such a velvety dish typically emerges after sundown, but the boldness was much appreciated. As for the spinach, it was dressed with salt and pepper mostly, and lightly sautéed. Frankly, I was unimpressed by the side dish, but in a world of such rich foods, it felt right to eat my vegetables.

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Mac & Cheese

Speaking of richness, we also ordered a side of mac & cheese. It was baked and served in the baking dish, while toped with breadcrumbs. The yellow cheddar was distributed evenly and the use of elbow macaroni was appropriate. I had hoped for a white cheddar dish instead, but the mac & cheese complimented the crab cakes perfectly. The combination of these creamy dishes emphasized The Foxy Brown’s role as a comfort food kitchen, and at that, they had succeeded. I was comforted, if you will.

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White Chocolate Bread Pudding

To end things on a good note, dessert was a must. Our server recommended the white chocolate bread pudding, served warm. I am normally not a fanatic of bread pudding due to the texture, but to my surprise, this pudding was firm enough, yet tender enough. It was also topped with vanilla bean ice cream, caramel and crunchy pecans. The ice cream’s grade needed improvement; however the dessert as a whole was a perfect ending to our comfort meal. The white chocolate did not overpower, and the contrast in temperatures stressed the opulence. Lying on a hammock, following our meal, would have made it ideal!

In reference to endings, the check was absurdly low and the service had been delightfully attentive, which may serve as encouragement in becoming a regular patron. After the experience, I was able to connect the dots, in terms of the restaurant’s image. Perhaps the unassuming facade was deliberate, as were the color scheme and simplistic menu. Perhaps the unpretentious atmosphere was apart of the adventure, as were the balance in rich and healthy items. Definitely. Our meal had been so enjoyable that it came close to some of life’s dearest pleasures. It had brought joy to our hearts and a perpetual smile to our lips. It transformed our notion of lunch, emotionally and gastronomically.