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Flemings
Food for Thought

Empty bottle moments: Recognizing what truly makes a meal memorable

Empty bottle moments: Recognizing what truly makes a meal memorable

Found this line in a book today:

“Horatio dreamt, I assume, of memorable meals, for he was licking his whiskers in his sleep.”

Kerry Greenwood was referring to a cat in her mystery Forbidden Fruit, but it got me to wondering what makes for a truly memorable meal for two-legged eaters, the kind we dream of in our sleep?

And it come down to three things: Great food, good drinks and people. And the last is really the most important.

Local chef and cookbook author Clive Berkman saves wine bottles from great meals and writes in his cookbook Creating Empty Bottle Moments: “For years, I’ve kept empty bottles that remind me of warm and wonderful times. Full bottles speak of possibilities, but empty ones tell great stories about couples celebrating an anniversary, parents enjoying a child’s birthday party, an engagement, a graduation and a hundred treasured moments.”

I’ve been enjoying a lot of memorable meals of late, eating around town with my 81-year-old dad who has just moved here from Florida after my stepmother’s death. I know the loss has been hard for him, not to mention selling his home of 20 years and moving to a retirement complex down the street from me. But being able to share meals together on a regular basis has been a blessing to us both.

And I swear, every meal we share he declares as the best meal he’s had since he’s arrived.

Blanco’s is his go-to joint for burgers and cold Lone Stars, he loves the cheesy Jose’s Dip and ground beef tacos at Molina’s Cantina and he likes the Smashburgers, across the street from his new home. (We mostly eat out because he’s not really a fan of my healthy cooking, plus he loves to meet new people and will talk to anybody, owners and chefs I know and even total strangers at the bar at Blanco’s.)

But we had a really memorable meal last week at Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar in River Oaks.

We sat down with whiskey and water (him) and a vodka martini extra dry (me) and dived into chef James Cole’s homemade rosemary sourdough bread, a meal unto itself. We ordered the Wicked Cajun Shrimp (shrimp being about the only seafood he’ll eat) and two small filet mignons.

One thing I love about Fleming’s is the way they make steak. Chef Cole knows I like mine Pittsburgh style, charred on the outside and rare inside, yum. And dad, god love him, wants his cow browned through and through. Both arrived perfectly done at the same time. And, even though we’re not big eaters, dad also wanted to try the Fleming’s potatoes and the mac and cheese. Yes, I had a lot of leftovers. I still have some if you want to stop by for a steak sandwich.

Both Cole and the lovely Maeve Pesquera came to the table and chatted with dad. And then his cell phone rang. It was my niece, and she wanted to be put on speakerphone when she found out we were dining together. I knew what that meant right away.

“How do feel about becoming a great-grandfather?” she asked him.

This darling young woman is my only niece and dad’s only grandchild. And now about to be the bearer of his first great-grandchild.

And no, I am not old enough to be a great-aunt and have decided the child must call me Mimsy or Mame, or something equally eccentric.

But, talk about a special meal. There were congratulations and celebrating and (in the interest of full disclosure, a comped meal) and yes, the food and drink were divine, but we will always remember this meal as the one when we found out about our newest family member.

“This is the best meal we’ve had since I’ve been here!” declared dad.

Dad wasn’t along last week when I had lunch at Haven, but that was also a meal I will remember.

Beth Novak Milliken of Spottswoode Estate Vineyard & Winery and Sharon Harris of Rarecat vineyards had invited some foodies to share their wines and promote women in the wine industry. And they did talk about business and pour their wines (loved the Spottswoode 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon and the Rarecat 2009 Sauvignon Blanc) to pair with dishes chef Randy Evans provided, but the meal turned into a girl gabfest that covered everything from drug laws and gun restrictions to immigration. They were smart and funny and fascinating.

Even though I’d never met these two gals from Napa Valley, we had a blast. Great food, wine and companionship.

When I asked Harris what advice she had for women wanting to get into the wine industry, this is what she said: “A great winemaker leaves her heart in her wine. You have to love what you do, otherwise it can be overwhelming.”

Good advice for anyone. And that’s what really makes a memorable meal. Yes, great food and good drink, but it’s really about heart and soul, the sharing of breaking bread with those you love and those you’ve just met.

I don’t know if I’ll lick my whiskers when I dream of these meals, but I do know that when I recall them, while awake, they warm my heart and make me smile.

Empty Bottles
Empty Bottles of Wine is becoming a movement of memories.
Places-Eat-Fleming's-River Oaks-exterior-1
Fleming's River Oaks was the site of my 81-year-old dad's most memorable meal ever. Photo by Chris Conyers
News_Marene_wine
It's not just the wine it's who you drink it with. Photo by Marene Gustin
Empty Bottle Moments
It's all about the Empty Bottle Moments.
News_Marene_wine_Beth Novak Milliken_Sharon Harris
Beth Novak Milliken of Spottswoode Estate Vineyard & Winery, left, and Sharon Harris of Rarecat Vineyards made one memorable meal. Photo by Marene Gustin