When I was a student, still living in the Fraser Valley, my friends and I took advantage of student rates to see as many plays, symphony concerts and art shows as we could. Our other obsession was finding places to eat dessert afterward. We all drove; it was a way of life back then, especially if you lived east of Burnaby. We thought nothing of driving an hour into town just for a meal. My self at that time would be horrified that I’d give up car ownership for good only a few years later.
One of our favourite spots was a little bistro on South Granville, where Paul’s Place Omelettery is now. My friends indulged me in the scale I’d developed to rate restaurants, which I called the teapot test. Tin, one-cup pots with lukewarm water rated a D, while two-cup, ceramic pots with piping hot water earned an A from me – A+ if they didn’t drip. I claimed, and still believe a little bit, that the quality of the food could be inferred from the restaurant’s score on the teapot test. That particular bistro (if you remember the name, please let me know) got 100% on the teapot test and its food was exquisite to match. We ate meringues and chocolate cakes, crème caramel and cheesecake, occasionally even stopping in for dinner. What was even better than the tea, the desserts and the entrées, though, was the service. The head waiter there sort of took us under his wing, expanding our palates and gently correcting us if we got the terminology wrong. He was a gay man, probably in his mid-thirties, and he reminded me of my uncle in Montreal, whom we were rapidly losing to the one of the first waves of AIDS.
He taught me that I take my tea clear, not black. He also introduced me to scallops, which they served in a red sauce, encased in a pastry shell. Whenever I’ve had scallops since, I think of that time in my life, and of the waiter that kindly put us through a sort of restaurant etiquette finishing school. My parents took us to restaurants of all sorts when we were young, from burger joints to French bistros, but I don’t know if I’d be the eater (and restaurant patron) that I am today if I hadn’t met him.
This week’s recipe put me in mind of those other scallops, but the recipes couldn’t be more different. Dorie’s Scallops with Caramel-Orange Sauce recipe is quick to execute, with few ingredients, while the scallops at that long-ago bistro were a fussy marvel of French cuisine. Dorie’s scallops are no less impressive, though. A caramel sauce, reduced with white wine and the juice of an orange (cara cara in my case), is finished with a little butter. This is poured over some seared scallops. Simple, but lovely.
I was lucky enough to get some lion’s paw scallops from The Daily Catch, our local Ocean Wise fishmonger. They were huge, fresh and beautiful. When they were cooked, they were almost crispy on the outside and extremely tender inside. They were so large that I made sure to dip each forkful in sauce, to make sure I got some with each bite. I served them with asparagus (which is finally in season again!) and potatoes roasted in olive oil and oregano. The scallops didn’t need complicated accompaniment.
One of the things I love about food is how its consumption is so wrapped up in memory. The association we make with certain meals or flavours is one of the loveliest ways to revisit our past.
You can find many other blogged descriptions of this week’s FFWD recipe here: Scallops with Caramel-Orange Sauce