We had come to the end of a perfect meal. For a very long time I had held off on patronizing this establishment because it was touted as this that and the other and I had heard that it was very expensive to boot. I got the impression that it was one of those very formal places where I would be made to feel uncomfortable. You know the kind of place where you are embarrassed to ask your snobby waiter about an item on the menu because you don't want to be made to feel like a complete philistine.
As luck would have it, I was the recipient of a coupon for this restaurant. Not at all sure of the atmosphere and deciding that I needed an ally, I invited along my boldest friend. Lorraine epitomizes the word scathing. Where I might get all tongue-tied in the face of uppity service, Lorraine was born ready to slay dragons. Where I am timorous; Lorraine is emboldened. Thus, we presented myself at the reception area, armed with Lorraine who with cutting stare and dripping derision was ready to slay any would-be pretentious waiters.
We were very warmly received and quickly disarmed. There wasn't a hint of snootiness to be detected anywhere, not even when we made it known by way of our coupon that we could not afford the eat there. The maître d' did an exceptional job of making us feel like we completely belonged.
For me the highlight of that evening was the most humble item on the menu. It rather looked like the poor relation amongst the splendour of the other epicurean delicacies on offer. Until that evening I had never before heard of panna cotta which is a simple, Italian dessert of simmered cream.
"What is it? I asked the waiter.
"You know I'm not really sure. Let me find out and get back to you."
After this exchange the chef comes out. He introduces himself but I don't remember his name because honestly the moment he started speaking, I stopped breathing. It sounds like he is singing as he explains the dessert to me in his gorgeous Italian accent. He assures me that it is easy to prepare. He even gives me instructions (which I don't hear) for making it at home. Thank goodness Lorraine was paying attention. On that occasion the panna cotta was served with a blueberry fruit coulis. It was was like silk on the tongue, scented with vanilla and barely there sweet.
I love panna cotta. It's not a pretentious dessert. It is straightforward and uncomplicated yet elegant in it's simplicity. The pairings with various fruit and spices are limited only by one's imagination.
Click here for the panna cotta recipe and here for the wild hibiscus in syrup.