A question that I’m constantly asked by people who know that I spent more than five years as The Times’s restaurant critic is what my most memorable meal was. It’s impossible to single one out. But a dozen or so experiences indeed eclipsed the others, and they included an evening at Alain Ducasse at the Essex House, a Manhattan restaurant that has since closed. I recall the night so vividly because it was such an insanely over-the-top paean to the farthest reaches of fatty excess.
As it happens I dined there with the man who would succeed me in the critic’s job, Sam Sifton. And what we shared, once we had finished our martinis and white wine and had moved on to a bottle of red, was a côte de boeuf that easily weighed more than two pounds, had been basted in butter and was sliced in a fashion that allowed the interlacing of broad, glassy ribbons of seared foie gras between the thick, glistening dominoes of beef. To some of you, this may sound revolting in its bloat; to me, it was pure heaven. I remember thinking, “If I could get away with eating like this every night, I would.”
I can no longer get away with eating like that even a few times a month, and in fact haven’t eaten like that in a while. It’s unclear whether I’ll ever eat like that again. About four and a half months ago I was given a diagnosis of gout, whose triggers are believed to include a surfeit of alcohol, a plenitude of red meat and any and all organ meat, and the category into which foie gras, which is liver, most definitely falls. My Ducasse meal amounts to a perfect storm of dietary no-no’s, a long swim in the Bermuda Triangle of gout, and a replica of it might land me in excruciating pain — and put me out of commission, in terms of my ability to walk — for 48 hours. I can’t risk it.