About 8 or 9 years ago, I went with Tim to a conference in Chicago. We ate at a little place, in some hip (in that gentrification kind of way) part of town, called Lula’s. Our meal was solid. Outside of the fact that it was pouring down rain, I can recall no details about dinner, save one: a dark chocolate cake with sage ice cream.
It was the first time I’d had an herb ice cream. Since then, my world of out-of-norm ice cream has opened like a spring flower; thanks in part to my well-worn and milk-splattered copy of The Perfect Scoop — but credit due as well to a few other restaurants and some guys in a shotgun house in Georgia who are now semi-famous (our dessert that night: a trio of cheese, bread, and pickle ice creams).
I’ve come to a personal conclusion (in what may be a well, duh! sort of way): when it comes to ice cream, non-traditional flavors only work in very small amounts.
Take David’s Honey-Roquefort version. I made this last summer, and could only eat a few bites at a time before some distant alarm began sounding in my brain: blue cheese + cold + sweet = ERROR. Does not compute. My brain will entertain the combination for just a bit, but then says, no really — let’s not do this schizophrenic dessert thing; pick a cheese course or a creme brulee, and then stick to your guns.
Last week I made the Honey Lavender ice cream from The Perfect Scoop, and it was my contribution to dinner at a friend’s house. The process itself was a bit ethereal — you steep lavender flowers in warm honey, and use the infusion to sweeten the cream. More steeping of flowers in the finished custard, and then all is strained before churning.
And as usual while churning, I took a bite (or ten), and thought it both delicate and rich. It wasn’t until we served up heaping bowls after an outdoor dinner of well-constructed pizzas that the flavor got tired, and quickly. Tim was (of course) the first to say it: he couldn’t get past the thought that he was eating frozen shampoo. My synapses had not yet made the leap from mmmm good to enough, but it wasn’t three more bites before that happened.
It needed to be served on top of something. Maybe, like sage, it would shine as a petite scoop melting atop a dark chocolate cake. Or perhaps dotting a delicacy like the tender, gluten-free almond cake we ate a few weeks ago at H2O Sushi. Something to bear the weight, so the lavender could be the perfume it seemed to want to be.
But this idea isn’t limited to herbs, cheese, and ice cream. To bring a post full-circle: Thursday is our 10-year wedding anniversary, so this weekend we’re headed back to Chicago. This time, I won’t be wandering the streets alone while Tim sits in break-out sessions on green infrastructure. We’ll do vacation-y things, like go to museums and the spa in our fancy hotel. But the pivotal event will be a meal: dining Friday night at a place where we are served fifteen courses.
That’s right, fifteen. Five more courses than years we’ve been married.
The plates will be small. With flavors and combinations we’d dare not try at home; things we wouldn’t want to eat a plate-full of. Sweet herbs, savory cakes, deep-fried grasses, and (here’s hoping!) some liquid nitrogen.
Cheers to little bites. Details to come.