While girls around me wanted to be Nancy Drew or Barbie, the seven-year-old me would have none of that.
Instead, I wanted to be one of The Three Investigators, a group of plucky teenage boys who lived in a fictional Southern California town, solving crimes that flummoxed even awfully smart adults. After voraciously plowing through this American mystery book series, my two first-grade best friends, Jill and Joyce, and I huddled at recess in our French convent school in Singapore, whispering to one another about suspicious happenings we had witnessed, vowing to use our powers of deduction to get to the bottom of things.
Last year, the Hubbs and I ventured to Coi in San Francisco — New York Times dining critic Frank Bruni had just named it one of the top 10 restaurants in the country that had opened the year before and our expectations were high. (Coi’s chef Daniel Patterson was just nominated for a James Beard award a few weeks ago.)
Although we rolled our eyes a little at the waitress’s instruction to sniff a dot of perfume oil in order to enhance the flavor of a dish, we concurred that it worked, when we put cynicism aside and actually did it. It was also Coi that served up a dish that I still think about regularly and with great longing more than a year after my visit to the restaurant. It was a simple bowl filled with chard and wheatberries, swimming in a brown
butter-parmesan sauce and topped with a slow-cooked farm egg. The sauce was unforgettable, as were the textures — I adored feeling the juxtaposition of the crisp foam with the gooey egg yolk on my tongue.
But the dish that truly captured our attention was a plate featuring the tiniest sliver of Mimolette cheese, the smallest sprinkling of greens and a sprig of something that resembled a Barbie-sized bouquet of daisies. The waitress instructed us to take a deep whiff of the miniature bouquet and then sip our wine and eat the cheese. The plant’s honeyed fragrance was meant to enhance the taste of our wine and the sharp Mimolette.
We, and the food-loving friends we were with, became instantly obsessed. We could not stop sniffing the tiny blooms, long after the bite-sized Mimolette had disappeared. And when the blooms we’d been given had, sadly, disintegrated from apparent over-sniffing, we implored our waitress for more.
We begged her to to ask the chef, the kitchen staff, what was this plant exactly? We wanted to buy it, grow it in our homes, fill our office cubicles with tiny honeyed bunches. No one, however, had an answer.