Saturday, 20 October 2007

The perfect asparagus

What would you do, Gentle Reader, when accosted with the most perfect piece of asparagus? Would you freeze, like me, not knowing whether to devour it with eyes or taste buds?

This was the dilemma I found myself in during a recent visit to Taipei. Dining with my Taiwanese colleague Nadia - no, not the gymnast - I had ordered Saltimbocca at the wonderful Toscana restaurant at the Sherwood Taipei hotel. The gnocchi patate beforehand had been a real treat, and the very pleasant Veneto white wine was warming up the taste buds perfectly. Be in no doubt - if you're in Taipei and not in the mood for taitsai, do yourself a favor and make a reservation at the Toscana Italian Restaurant. And do please stay at the Sherwood...

But back to the asparagus. I would never deceive you, Gentle Reader, but I was at a complete loss when faced with the vegetable of kings. To be completely honest, I initially thought that the 2 long, luscious lengths were those plastic or wax imitations. "How odd!", I mused, "that Chef feels he needs to decorate the plate like this."

So I asked Nadia whether the use of artificial vegetables was common in Taiwan. After a brief bout of apoplexy, she assured me that it was not and that the strong likelihood was that these particular pieces of asparagus art were real.

Now the pain was even worse. It would be silly to take them back to my room. Nadia would think I was a weirdo... And besides, the possibility of getting them past Japanese Customs was pretty low. Could I commit the travesty of actually eating these pieces of perfection? How low would I stoop?

You know me well enough to realize that I immediately fell about the asparagus with relish, gusto and absolute abandon. What a heavenly experience! Turned out to a tee, a light standing butter sauce, 100% absolutely right on the tooth...oh goodness, Heaven take me now!

I will never forget these two stems of asparagus. For me, a trencherman from way back, this was a defining moment. Toscana has absolutely ruined the notion of asparagus as part of a meal out forever. Good job, Toscana! Oh cruel and heartless Toscana! The pain and the misery of an asparagus-free existence is all that awaits your humble correspondent.

Needless to say, I have already made a reservation at Sherwood Taipei for the new year. But will I be able to summon the courage to order some asparagus ...?

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