Historically, I’ve been known for being a somewhat picky eater. While I debate the term picky—I prefer formerly selective—these rumors are somewhat true.
Growing up, I liked what I liked, and any deviation from the norm was reprehensible. This made family meals, while seasoned, still bland. This is no insult to my parents' cooking but a complaint about how they raise children, as both my sister and I have had to overcome these food hurdles.
At this junction, I would like to take this time to thank my parents for allowing me to publish this joke without disowning me.
Slowly but surely, I began to try new foods. In my sophomore year of high school, my mother dragged me to the oyster festival in New Jersey. When asked about my weekend plans, I begrudgingly thought about being dragged all over New Jersey by my mother––so I complained about my future horrors to my math teacher Ms. Houston.
She said, “Faith, just try it; you never know!” Ms. Houston had the unfortunate disadvantage of being a new teacher at the Nightingale-Bamford School and was unaware of how “just try it” only encouraged me to complain more, so I gave her an earful about why I didn’t want to go or try oysters. Lo and behold that next Monday, I held my head in shame. She was right. I quickly went from slurping oysters to shucking them. I couldn’t––and can’t—get enough.
Four years later, after being direly ill due to my chronic Lyme disease and the medication that was “supposed” to help me, my appetite ~changed~. Between June and December 2021, my medication interacted with everything fermented. I easily cut alcohol, vinegar, and soy sauce from my diet. But I quickly learned restaurants cooked with these foods, some chips contained them, and random foods just didn’t digest well. And so Food and I were on a mutual hiatus.
Off the medication, in February of 2022, I needed to make up for 6 months of not eating, and as a foodie (of foods I liked), this needed to happen. Thankfully I was in the bountiful land of Italy, and there was no shortage of good food. I tried normal things like yoghurt, pistachio cream, and Italian wines; things I was previously not interested in became things I never want to go without.
I slowly added sandwiches like my 1916 Porchetta Sandwich and Rome’s famous Supplì. These opened me up to a world of trying new things––which, as a slightly stubborn person, can be hard to do. I explored new cities, tried their foods, and talked with the locals. I began opening up my world to the world.
This has all led me to “Baby’s First Michelin Star.”
Yes, that’s right. I’ve gone to my first Michelin star restaurant: Restaurant Schwarzer Han Bar. And to those who knew me way back when, you are never going to believe what I ate.
We started with an Amuse bouche, followed by six courses, two desserts, and a flight of wine (with 15 glasses.) So, before you ask, yes. It was a great experience and hopefully a night I will be able to remember.
The Amuse bouche was a Parfait of Sturgeon with cucumber, Imperial Caviar, and garden dill. You are not alone. While I, too, knew most of these words, I didn’t know what to expect or what I really ordered.
It was a type of volcano of fish pudding, with caviar at its crater surrounded by a sea of cucumber juice. The pearl white pudding had a jello-like substance and a somewhat odd flavor on its own. But eaten with caviar and cucumber juice, the combination is quite delectable. It is never something I will seek out again, but something I enjoyed eating, trying, and experiencing.
The first course: Norway Lobster. This first course served both baked lobster and lobster tartar. And both were scrumptious. While I was hesitant and slightly poked the raw lobster around, I thought about how much I love salmon tartar and oysters and then went full fork ahead. And to my surprise, the Norway lobster, razor clam, watercress, and fennel with a surprise of saffron dill sauce was delectable. Like every dish in Deidesheim, Germany, I almost licked my plate clean. I equally liked the baked and raw lobster, but what made the dish were the sauces’ ability to complement the particular pieces of lobster. While the handy taste buds of one of my hosts, Simone, identified the golden yellow sauce as saffron and dill, I believe the green was a mint and watercress, but none of this was confirmed by the staff.
Thankfully, the English menu wasn’t updated recently because instead of an Organic Onsen Egg, I received a beet tartar dish. (My disdain for eggs as a food rather than an invisible ingredient has clearly yet to budge.) As it wasn’t on the menu, I am unaware of what made the beet so irresistible. The beet was plated with sour cream, herb oil, a singular silver of pepper, and radish slices. Easily one of my favorite courses, I quickly inhaled every bite of this dish. The texture of the beet tartar was crunch and had a tang of sweetness, and after swirling it in sour cream and oil, the combination was candy-like––addictive.
Three is where the meal veers off course, and I had the first dish I couldn’t bear to finish, a mushroom pâté garnished with watercress, peas, blackberries, and hay foam. Yup. This is when the artistry of Michelin-star restaurant requirements deviates too far from actual food. Despite its similar appearance to ocean foam collecting garbage, the hay foam was light and airy with a deep taste of, shockingly, high-end hay––that I would eat again. The blackberries were another delight against the mushroom meatloaf placed in front of me, reeking of peas bringing back haunting memories of confusion between mushy peas and guacamole.
My faith in the restaurant (bu-dum-bup) was saved at dish four: Atlantic Brill with morel mushrooms, turnip cabbage, marrow crust in a savory red pepper sauce, and garnished with asparagus and a sliver of olive. Sitting in a 14th-century wine cellar, I, once again, inhaled this dish, not knowing that if I had looked up a picture of Atlantic Brill or morel, human psychology would have questioned my intention with the dish. But thankfully, with no wifi or cell service, I just inhaled this hodgepodge of ingredients.
Course five was Brenton Lobster a la Romanoff, or if you're a layman like me, lobster in a lobster sauce with a balled mashed potato stuffed with more lobster. This course was arguably superior to the first lobster dish due to the sauce. The stars aligned on this dish, perfectly salted with fresh bread haunting me at the table, I sponged the plate clean, leaving no bread crumbs or puddles of sauce left. The potato sat alone on the plate when it was taken away, finally discarded from my life. (Note: This is more of a comment about ALL potatoes than the Lobster potato itself.)
If I wasn’t already stuffed, my last course was Poulet de Bresse with spring herbs, lemon gnocchi, bunched carrots, sauce tajine, and a small side of chicken pâté. While the chicken was delicious, the mysterious thick green layer was an unknowable ingredient, textured similar to green scramble eggs, vacuumed sealed 50% to remove air between layers. After a couple of bites, the sponge texture got the best of me, and I haphazardly scrapped the layer off. This allowed me to fully enjoy the gnocchi and carrots, which deserved a course of their own. Despite my disdain for the mushroom pâté, I bravely took a bite of the chicken version. I regret this. So, I shall boldly announce that pâté and I are not friends. I will not be trying it in the foreseeable future.
After countless courses, I cut myself off. That is, from the wine. After these two to three hours of eating, I was served roughly 12 half glasses of wine––carefully paired with each dish by a knowledgeable sommelier. Unable to pronounce or spell his German name, let’s call him Red, due to the color of his tie. Unlike my very few encounters with sommeliers in Italy and the States, the sommelier asks what kind of wine you like and what you are having; he pops the bottle open, lets you smell the cork, and that’s that.
But Red went above and beyond. He asked me nothing, which I honestly prefer. Knowing the flavor of the courses, he perfectly paired reds, whites, and even rosés with the dishes. He then alerted me to the year, where it was made, the type of wine, and occasionally why he chose it. After cycling through the champagne, small, and medium glasses, I finally asked why and how he was choosing the glass. His intellectual answer was followed by a tasting of the wine in different glasses. And while I knew there was this theory that wine tastes different depending on the glasses, I was never able to taste it, let alone smell the difference. I would be honored to go into details of his argument but…12 glasses of wine. At this time, I moved to the non-alcoholic wines. These beverages have a more complex flavor palette with delicious, albeit unusual, flavors. I could go on and on, but this is about food.
Our two dessert courses outdid themselves. While I am never one to order dessert, I made room. Dessert dish one had a strawberry theme or erdbeere. On the far left were rows of thinly sliced strawberry pieces. On the opposite side was strawberry sorbet top with a hexagonal wafer, these dessert center a strawberry gelatin coated with a layer of cream and crust. In the US, these treats would undoubtedly be too sweet, but the dish perfectly balanced the sweetness of the strawberry with the cream and crust. The fresh strawberries and ice cream added an addition of sweetness if required. For our ultimate course, we were served macaroons, madeleines, and three bite-size sweets. It was the perfect way to end a meal for a king, or in this case, Queen.
But this post isn’t just about food. After this privilege, I have a new understanding of what it means to have Michelin-star restaurants. And, if you are an average person, is it worth SPLURGING on?
Michelin-star restaurants give you a glimpse of upper-class dining. They show you that the class difference between the 1% and 99% isn’t just about access to better quality food but our definition of what food is and how it can be conceptualized.
My new understanding of Michelin-star restaurants is that I only have more questions. But I do know that at any earlier age, I would not have been ready for this experience. If you are on the fence about going to a Michelin star, it may not be for you. And that’s okay. However, if you are looking to expand your adventurous taste buds, these chefs will put them to the test.
Until my next Michelin-star experience, I will just be pondering more questions. Is hay foam food just because it is edible? How much are food psychology and Western norms holding me back from eating new things? Are burgers fancy enough for Michelin-star restaurants?