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the spontaneous giggle test

lunch yesterday was one of those quintessential new york experiences, one that i feel extremely lucky to have had.

it was lunch in the basement speakeasy wine cellar room of the “21” club, the secret room hidden behind a brick wall accessible only by pushing a thin wire into just the right hole. click on the link if you don’t know anything about this–it’s fascinating.

and the food was surprisingly solid and good–nothing that passed the spontaneous giggle test, but really enjoyable nevertheless.

the spontaneous giggle test, by the way, is my own way of reacting to a restaurant dish that’s at the highest level of my personal enjoyment. it doesn’t happen very often, and i can’t plan it. but there are just some times when a dish makes me break out in giggles because it’s so damn good.

which is not to say that if a dish doesn’t make me giggle, it’s not good. i can intellectualize whether or not a dish is good or not. i can tell a peter luger steak is at the pinnacle of steak-ness, but it’s never made me giggle.

yesterday’s appetizer–a crab cake with the highest quality and nice quantity of fresh lump crab meat, served on a cucumber salad with a light curry sauce, is a good example. it was very very good in every way. there was practically no breading, and all on the outside, and so nothing distracted from the pure taste of the crab. and the crunch of the cucumber and the flavor of the curry perfectly complemented it. it was a well-planned and wonderfully executed wonder of appetizer perfection in every way, and i really can’t think of anything i didn’t like about it.

did it make me giggle? no.

here’s a perfect example. yesterday’s entree was sea bass, skin left on one side. completely fresh, even on a wednesday. cooked to perfection with a champagne sauce accompaniment to die for. and truffled mashed potatoes and roasted baby carrots and asparagus spears. very very nice entree, and much better fish than i had at the manhattan ocean club during wine week a few weeks ago. again, no complaints, major or minor, whatsoever. nicely done. but no giggle.

what did make me giggle in this department, though, was a meal i had a couple of years ago at a restaurant called au c’amelot in the 11th arrondisement in paris. again, fish for the entree, although i can’t remember which particular fish and i don’t have my notes. but the preparation killed me. the chef had carefully removed the skin leaving no flesh on it, had cooked each item, skin and fish flesh, separately, each with its own flavoring and technique, and had placed the skin atop the perfectly cooked fish just before service. the skin was crunchy and had its own flavor, completely complementary to the fish that had its own separate texture and flavor.

i giggled my ass off.

why? i can’t explain. it’s like harry cohn’s ass. harry cohn was the head of columbia pictures in the ’30s. and when he watched a movie with a preview audience, he listened for the creaking of chairs, including his own, and if too many chairs creaked, that meant that people were squirming in their seats and therefore were not enjoying the movie.

it’s not scientific, but everyone has an instinctive reaction to the things they enjoy the most. and if you are aware of that reaction, it can be quite helpful and telling. and my reaction to great food is a giggle.

and while i did not giggle at the excellent food yesterday, i must confessed that i giggled a bit while looking around the room in a moment of conversational silence, thinking of what those walls would say if they could talk, and recognizing that i was having what was probably one of the coolest moments in my life.

so it’s not just food. my definition has been expanded.

the wine cellar room at the “21” club definitely passes the spontaneous giggle test.