Memories Are Made Of This.

Keith and I were supposed to spend last Saturday night at Eleven Madison Park, a favorite restaurant of ours in New York, but Irene threw a wrench in our plans.  Mayor Bloomberg shut down the city, and Eleven Madison Park followed suit.  I can’t say I blamed them, regardless of how much I had been looking forward to dinner.  The restaurant has never failed me in the past, and I know we would have had a spectacular meal.  I was able to get us last-minute back up reservations at Blue Hill at Stone Barns, but they too closed because of Irene.

So, reservationless on the eve of a hurricane, we stayed at home with my parents and ate reheated-in-the-microwave rotisserie chicken from Costco.  A few hours later, the power went out.

And that is how Keith and I celebrated our sixth wedding anniversary.

I am not the kind of girl who cares about anniversaries, or Valentine’s Day, or if my partner stays out late with The Guys.  Frankly, I don’t give a damn about any of it.

Does Keith love me?  Do we still enjoy each other’s company?  Are we happy?  Yes to all of the above.  Isn’t that all that matters?

Okay, take all of that in and then scrap a third of it.  I mean, sure: love, company, happiness… I want to go to there, and most of the time, I do go to there.  But my relationship with Keith moved so seamlessly from platonic to passionate that until we got married, neither of us had a clue as to when it was we actually got together.  It was springtime, we agree, when I was nineteen and Keith twenty-three, but that’s it.  Was it March?  Or May?  Or in between, in April?

This is my point precisely: we have no idea.  And that’s why finally having an anniversary meant something to me.  Valentine’s Day can get bent.  It has nothing to do with me.  But a certain day in August…

It’s just plain nice to have one day marked in Keith and my lives that celebrates us, even if most of the time I don’t think about it unless someone asks or if the end of summer looms.  I feel that with Keith I’m part of something special, and though we take care to appreciate each other often, it’s important to take a minute once in a great while to formally acknowledge it.  Often with cocktails.  So when August 27th does come around, I like stepping into a dress and a favorite pair of heels, sitting across from my husband in a thoughtfully decorated room, and drinking a French 75 while talking about absolutely nothing related to our wedding.

Which is why I was pissed off at Hurricane Irene.

Now about those chickens…

My dad is a horrible snob.  He’s opinionated, and he’s particular, and sometimes — let’s face it — he can be a little racist.  That said, he loves Costco rotisserie chicken.

This is alternately bizarre and hilarious to me because my dad scorns places like IHOP and Outback Steakhouse (though he does like the occasional Red Lobster).  My father likes Peter Luger, drinking oghi on warm summer days and talking about life in Beirut.  Most modern American things are worthless, or a disappointment.  Case in point: Burger King.

In the seventies, when my parents were still dating, they went to a fancy dinner that neither of them enjoyed very much.  As my father drove my mother back to her apartment, he spotted a Burger King.  Still hungry, he pulled into the drive-thru.  They each ate a Whopper in the car, parked in the lot.  Now when my father talks about Burger King, what he has to say is all past tense, what Burger King used to be like.  He pinches an inch of air with his index finger and thumb and says, “The burgers used to be thick, like this.  And the lettuce was crunchy, and green.  The tomatoes used to be so fresh the juice would come out of it!  Now the hamburgers are so thin, like paper.”

For my father, the memory of something is always far more delicious than the reality.  So I can’t help but wonder, what’s up with the chicken?

To be clear, I fully admit to sometimes cheating a recipe and using a store-bought bird rather than poaching or roasting my own.  When I do that though, I feel like such a culinary con man.  My mother raised me better than this, I think guiltily as I hide the chicken’s take-out container deep within the recycling bin.

Of all the social stigmas in the world, the ones we’ve associated with food have got to be the strangest.  I mean, we have a whole category called junkBut is there anything junky about a rotisserie chicken?  If there is, like Valentine’s Day, does it even matter?  They’re flavorful and nutritious, and my Republican dad loves them.  And when I think about the day that marks my sixth year married, what I’ll think about is this: eating chicken with our crybaby puppy tangling himself up in the now-tattered quilt I made for our bed over a decade ago, while my parents — once so disapproving of Keith — tease and cajole my husband to eat some more as they piled more white meat onto his still-full plate.

And, for me, that’s what’s up with the chickens.

* The most popular recording of “Memories Are Made Of This” is by Dean Martin, but I’m quite fond of Johnny Cash‘s.
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Dinner at Oleana.

As I may have written about before, my cousin Niki recently (-ish) moved to Boston fro the Philippines. She’s super into food like me, but unlike me, she’s making her living at being a chef. A while ago Niki mentioned to Keith and me that her favorite cuisines are Mediterranean-influenced, so we decided to drop by Oleana for dinner.

There’s something I should say before going any further, and it’s something that indubitably shocks people when I say it: I’m not too psyched on Oleana. All right, here’s my defense: I grew up eating this sort of food, so it’s extremely difficult for me to look at it with an unbiased eye (and unbiased taste buds). The flavors and ingredients are simply not novel to me. This is not to say that the food is not incredibly delicious and skillfully prepared, because it clearly is made by a team of talented chefs led by the lauded and highly regarded Ana Sortun. It just means that I don’t get as wowed by something like a fava bean pâté served with zatar (also spelled za’atar). The fact that I’ve never been a huge zatar fan might have something to do with that, but I think I’ve made my point.

Keith, Niki and I decided to split a few choices off of the “prêt a manger,” or “ready-to-eat,” section of the menu. It’s funny because a few days earlier, I had bumped into my friend Audubon and her lovely boyfriend Dave in the North End. I hadn’t seen them in the longest time, and when I told Audubon I would be going to one of her favorite restaurants, she immediately started rattling off items for me to try. I’m sorry to say that we went in a different direction, but I appreciate her enthusiasm.

At Oleana, we ordered the warm buttered hummus with basterma (also spelled basturma) and tomato, and the whipped feta with sweet and hot peppers (each $5.00). Normally I’m not too into basterma — a traditional Armenian cured, spiced meat — but when combined with the hummus and tomato purée, it was completely surprising. I think I can actually say that now I like basterma… or at least, I like it like this. The feta/pepper duo was, sadly, a little lackluster. I happen to really enjoy both peppers and feta so very much, but this fell flat for me. The feta was all but smothered by the two different flavors of the peppers, which were unevenly represented.

Niki and I seem to have really similar tastes; the appetizer course was the first of two where we ordered the same exact thing. We both gravitated towards the fried Haloumi and spring onion dolma with walnuts, sesame and rhubarb ($11.00) because, really, who can resist cheese, let alone fried cheese? Another reason why I was drawn to this is that I love dolma, another traditional dish. (While it’s most commonly seen in the form of stuffed grape or cabbage leaves, I adore a nice zucchini or pepper filled with rice, beef and spices, and served with dollops of garlic-infused yogurt.) What was most unexpected about Oleana’s dolma was the fact that it is served flambé. I’m not quite sure what alcohol was used, but I’m guessing it was something like arak (which we Armenians call oghi, though don’t quote me on that spelling), an aniseed liquor similar to pastis.

For my entrée, I chose the one dish that was the least like the others: scallops served with a chorizo gnocchi, sunchokes, asparagus and golden raisin crumbs ($27.00). The scallops were cooked absolutely perfectly, the vegetables were bright and colorful, and the gnocchi/chorizo made for a terrific mix. My favorite part, however, was what is actually not visible in this photo — the crisp raisin crumbs upon which everything else rested. They were sweet, they were crunchy and they were a total bombshell. As a whole, the components made up a very nice plate, though one that wasn’t particularly special.

The dessert menu was the most exciting for me, and I was, as usual, torn between more than a few options. I decided on the Sicilian almond cremolata with a warm chocolate panino ($12.00), making it the second course that Niki and I agreed on. The panino was made with a dark chocolate that was so obscenely delicious; it would have been easy to produce a dessert that was overly sweet, so to have a richer finish was lovely. The cremolata was scooped with crunchy sugared almond slivers, and was so refreshing.

In all, it was a nice meal… but not one so completely amazing that it changed my mind about Oleana. What can I say, though? The kitchen here creates wonderful food that is thoroughly flavorful and tasty, but it is of a cuisine whose origins are so very close to my heart. The fact of the matter is this: I’m simply too attached and sentimental to make an objective case for or against the restaurant. So, please, if you’re in the area, make a reservation and let me know what you think.

Oleana
134 Hampshire Street
Cambridge, Massachusetts 02139
617.661.0505
oleanarestaurant.com

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