My Daughter the Critic
Every night I undergo a sauce-curdling assessment of my culinary prowess from our two daughters. The four-year-old, shocked at that night's menu, slips under the table and bursts into tears. The five-year-old uses a rating system based on colors: brown (the color of meat and chocolate) and white (potatoes and pasta) get thumbs up; serving anything green, however, is like sprinkling holy water on the undead.
After one particularly dreadful dinner hour, it occurred to me that it would be delightful to subject a professional chef to the savage culinary whims of our older daughter, Whitney. I chose Hamersley's Bistro in Boston, and made reservations for an early dinner.
6:00. We arrive. Gordon, the chef/owner, comes over to Whitney and tries to gather some intelligence. "Do you like fish?" "No." "Vegetables?" "No." "Mushrooms?" "No." Things were going just fine.
6:05. A plate of steamed mussels arrives. Whitney yanks two of them out with her fingers and stuffs them into her mouth. I ask hesistantly, "You must have liked the mussels. You ate two." "I just ate them because I wanted to pretend that I liked them." That's my girl.
6:20. Gordon has a special appetizer sent out: Roasted Beet Terrine with Smoked Salmon and Horseradish Sauce. Whitney takes a bite and considers: "Salmon is a kind of fish. I don't like fish. I guess I don't like salmon."
6:30. Root Vegetable Ravioli with Brown Butter and Asiago and one of Gordon's signature dishes, Grilled Mushroom and Garlic Sandwich on Country Bread arrive together. Whitney ignores the mushrooms and dives into the pasta. "This is good. Real good. Mmmmm. Can I have more?" I give her another piece, this time with lots of filling. She looks like she just ate a broccoli floret. "There's stuff inside! Yuck!" A close call. She tries a taste of mushroom sandwich and manages to keep it down.
6:40. We're served Crisp Duck Confit with Peppers and an Aged Sherry Vinegar Sauce, an exquisite dish. "I like it. It tastes just like bacon." Score one for Gordon.
6:50. The table is cluttered with six markers, two half-eaten orange slices, two thin strips of duck confit, a balled-up cocktail napkin that has been dunked into a water glass, a ramekin of butter littered with shards of bread, and drawings of six tulips and a rainbow. Whitney wipes her hand on the edge of the tablecloth. "When are we going to have dessert?"
7:00. The Whole Grilled Bass with Onions and Fennel Flamed with Pernod is placed in front of Whitney. She notices the intact head. "My goodness!" She picks up the head and looks at it. "Excuse me, I don't think I'll have any fish."
7:05. The Sautéed Scallops with Orange and Beets and then the Roast Chicken with Garlic, Lemon, and Parsley arrive. Whitney tucks into the chicken and potatoes. "The potatoes taste just like french fries." She starts to make high-pitched sounds like a mauled rabbit. "I have to go to the bathroom."
7:10. She returns singing a song from the movie Oliver & Company. She sits sideways on the chair and rocks back and forth. She makes faces at the woman in red at the table behind us. I ask her what she is thinking about. "Nothing nice."
7:20. Desserts arrive. Layered Mexican Chocolate Terrine. Apple Bread Pudding with Créme Anglaise. Warm Pecan Pie with Vanilla Ice Cream and Southern Comfort. Warm Apple and Prune Tart with Créme Fraîche. Andrew's Favorite Cookies. She starts in on the chocolate terrine and discovers that she likes the chocolate but not the coffee buttercream layers. She strips away the buttercream with the skill of a plastic surgeon. I ask how the chocolate terrine is. "Great."
7:25. The terrine is history. She picks up every cookie and licks the confectioner's sugar off the top. She starts drawing pictures of Gordon Hamersley. "Is it midnight yet? I want coffee. What else can I eat?"
7:30. The table is cleared and the bill is paid. I ask Whitney if she likes this restaurant. "I like it but I don't like the food. The food is yucky." "Is your daddy a better cook?" "Yes." Then she adds with a sigh, "I love you daddy." That's my girl.
- Christopher Kimball