Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Photograph (and Memories)

In the name of research, I’ve recently permitted myself to order from several atypical menus. Yesterday I ate something unexplainable. Not sickening or repulsive, just baffling.

The restaurant was La Villa Rouge, housed in the former EMI Recording Studios. The place has made more than one “best of Shanghai” list over the years, and is reported to boast a team of Japanese chefs. The setting is stylishly retro, overlooking Xujiahui Park, complete with music memorabilia. The prices are utterly modern, if not exorbitant.

I ordered ceviche, expecting something that would go down well with a cold beer and got this instead: four blandly boiled shrimp, and a few specks of caviar, served in a martini glass, on a bed of what looked like pudding and tasted like instant mashed potatoes. No hint of the advertised lime vinaigrette.

Just thinking about this disappointment makes me want to remember some of my favorites, and there have been many, in places as far apart as Los Barriles, Mexico, and Tokyo, Japan.

Halibut ceviche at Alaska’s Double Musky Inn in 1989. A Filipino version, called kinilaw, at Balicasag Island Dive Resort, near Bohol. And conch salad, made dockside in the Florida Keys, before the U.S. ban on conch harvesting.

Here’s that recipe, if you ever find yourself in an appropriate spot. Catch six conchs and pack them overnight in crushed ice. After the grip on the shell loosens with the chill, pull the animal free. Trim away the guts and peel off the skin. Dice the conch meat into a punchbowl along with two sweet onions, two green peppers, and a quart of cherry tomatoes. Season the mix with cilantro and jalapenos and cover with fresh lime juice. Refrigerate for at least several more hours, or as long as you can stand it.

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