Column, Movie Diary

To dine in style: From presentation to the final bite

By Dom Cioffi

I had a meal recently that absolutely blew me away. My wife made plans to dine at a small restaurant with a good reputation and eclectic fare, and while many of our friends had visited this establishment multiple times, we had yet to stop by.

I was famished when our reservation time arrived, given that I had gone on a long run hours earlier and spent the day doing yardwork. This is my favorite way to approach a big meal — I basically starve myself all day while draining myself physically. Then, when I get to dinner, I can overindulge without concern or remorse.

Sometimes this approach backfires. I’ve showed up for dinner famished and then gorged on the pre-meal bread to the point where I either don’t enjoy my main course because I’m already satiated, or I overeat to the point of feeling sick. This hasn’t happened to me in years, so I think I finally got a handle on it. My son, on the other hand, breaks this rule almost every time we dine out.

My son also consumes an inordinate amount of fluids before his main course. Normally, I limit him to one soda, but he usually finds a way to coerce us into more. After multiple beverages plus a glass of water, his stomach is full. Then he tries to consume his meal and wonders why he feels so bloated.

No amount of explaining can get through to him regardless of how many times this scenario has played out. He’s a teenager, so I can only hope that he’s learning these lessons (they just haven’t been fully realized yet).

When we were shown to our seats, my son and I glanced at each other and then at my wife before attempting to sit down. We know better than to get too comfortable before my wife signs off on the seating arrangements. She’s very particular about where she sits and which direction she faces.

We sat down gingerly, trying to read her mood. After a moment she announced that this was a good spot but that she would prefer to face the deck where there was a better view of the mountains. I acquiesced and switched seats without hesitation. I like mountain views as well but not enough to really care.

At this point, the waitress arrived to take our drink order. My wife and I ordered a cocktail and my son asked for a soda. I gave him the quick speech about filling up on fluids and bread and he assured me he wouldn’t. We also ordered an interesting charcuterie tray of meats and cheeses.

By the time the meat and cheese plate arrived, my son had already sucked down his first soda and quietly ordered another. I also noticed his water glass was half full. Oh well.

The platter was delicious. The meats were cured in interesting ways and the cheeses represented various locations from around the country. The three of us gobbled up the whole plate while waxing endlessly about the unique flavors.

I was, surprisingly, still hungry when our main courses arrived. My son got a gourmet hamburger with feta cheese and caramelized onions that was so big he could barely bite into it; my wife ordered pan-seared halibut with Parmesan and dill dressing that literally melted in your mouth; and I ordered baked scallops wrapped in bacon that were placed on a bed of creamy mushroom risotto with a side of asparagus.

‘The Donut King’click here to see the trailer

All three dishes were incredibly tasty but what really made them stand out was the presentation. I can appreciate good presentation in food but I’m not so enamored with it that I’m willing to pay a premium. In this case, however, the level of culinary craftsmanship was so exemplary that it was hard not to take notice. Even my son (who is usually shoving the food into his mouth before the waitress lets go of the plate) commented on how impressive each of our plates looked.

We wrapped things up with an eclectic dessert that was based on an ordinary doughnut. However, this doughnut was trumped up to such a degree that you’d swear it was an art project. And while it looked amazing, it tasted even better — maybe even as good as the doughnuts featured in this week’s film.

“The Donut King” is a riveting documentary about a Cambodian refugee who fled his war-torn country in the late 1970s to come to the United States for a better life. Once here, he created one of the most powerful doughnut dynasties the country has ever known.

I love documentaries on topics that I know nothing about, and I certainly didn’t know how this particular man affected the lives of so many people with his passion for fried dough. Check this one out if you’re in the mood for an incredible story of survival that has several unexpected twists. A tasty “B+” for “The Donut King,” available for streaming on Hulu.

Got a question or comment for Dom? You can email him at [email protected]

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