Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Matsutake dreams.

The other day I ran to Uwajimaya and bought some matsutake mushrooms. It is still earlyish in the season, and they cost $50 a pound (a few ounces is all you need), but I am about to go on vacation for three weeks. Who knows if I'll be able to find any good matsutakes when I return. I rush home with my precious mushrooms and dig out the pot of golden chicken broth I made the other day, from the roasted carcass of a chicken I had carefully deboned under the expert guidance of a chef-friend. There was plenty of fat in the broth, which would make the rice taste good, so I heated it all up, washed the rice, then added broth instead of water, arranging the slices of matsutake mushrooms on top.

The rice was perfect, pale gold and confetti-ed with the matsutakes, which infused the rice with their perfume. I had some mushrooms and broth left, which I froze for future meals, but I thought that would be it for the year. Then I head to Lark for one last quick meal before leaving for Taipei, and one of the evening's specials is lobster agnolotti with matsutake mushrooms. It is fate. I sit at the bar, in my red lipstick and little black dress (I am on my way to a birthday party, and the staff at Lark, unused to seeing me wearing anything more formal than jeans and a t-shirt all say, "hey! You look nice tonight!") and have some bread and butter and chat with the servers while other diners trickle into the dining room behind me.

The agnolotti arrive, fat chunks of lobster meat wrapped in pasta dough, served in a pool of clear broth. Finely shaved slices of matsutake mushrooms curl around the agnolotti, the raw mushrooms absorbing the hot broth and infusing it with their piney fragrance. There is something minimalist about it, just lobster meat, noodles, mushrooms, a sprinkling of chives. Perhaps butter. As I eat my dinner the raw mushrooms become cooked, like the beef in a hot bowl of pho, but they are so delicious I finish them all before they have the chance to overcook, before my soup even becomes cold. I want to order another bowl, but it is time to leave.

I run next door to Licorous to find my friends, and then we head over to Tavern Law down the street for the party. The birthday girl is all glammed up in a vintage dress and the biggest hair I have ever seen west of the Mississippi, and there are hugs and kisses and camera flashes all around for the next few hours. I have a bourbon sour, foamy with egg white and heady with bourbon, and take sips of countless others. A pastry chef friend arrives with boxes of the most amazing buttery, caramelized cookies, like a cross between a palmier and a croissant, only better, and his homemade version of a sno-ball, or whatever those marshmallow-y balls with chocolate centers are called. I have one of each. More birthday well-wishers arrive, people I have only met briefly, or only know on Twitter. It's good to see them.

I walk back to my car in my heels, wrapped in a light trench coat against the cool air. Fall is here. Tomorrow, or is it the day after, I'll be in Taipei. I'll take the memory of those matsutake mushrooms, and conversations with new friends, with me.

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