I usually don't like eating alone in a restaurant. A meal is something to be savored with family and friends. The perfect meal is served slowly, with good wine, good conversation and great story telling. These days too many of my meals are solo affairs while watching TV. Da Vinci depicted that most famous supper much as a dinner should be- good friends, good food, good wine and shared experiences. Jesus didn't order up room service, bring in Chinese, or do drive through.
I should be fishing on the Delaware this weekend. The boat has not been in the water in a while and the recharged battery has not been tested. Our week fishing in the Adirondacks begins August 17th and much has to be done to insure a good time on the water. But I am in the midst of a two week business trip covering our businesses in Germany, Hungary and South Africa. This weekend finds me once again at the D'oreal Grande near O.R. Tambo Airport in Johannesburg. I have stayed at the D'oreal many times over the past 15 years. I have enjoyed the breakfast here and Peter and I even "rode out" Hurricane Sandy by hiding out far away at the D'oreal. I never had dinner here.
The D'oreal is part of the Emperor's Palace Casino complex originally developed by the people who run Cesar's Palace. The Hooters in the Casino mall area is a testament to the former American investment in this complex. So it is, or was, that I never had eaten dinner at Aurelia's- the hotel restaurant. But tonight, the room service menu held nothing appealing and even the prospect of hot young women in tight orange shorts and cropped push-up tops could not answer my craving for a good meal- something totally absent at Hooters. (ever read any other blog on the web featuring Jesus, Da Vinci, and Hooters in the same post? I think not!). So, welcome to Aurelia's
There are few friendlier service professionals in the world than those working in South Africa. Always a smile and a sincere desire to make sure you have a good meal. It is the details that lack sometime. When I arrived at the restaurant the hostess was nowhere to be found. I stood for three or four minutes searching the entire restaurant and bar area for someone resembling a hostess. Seeing no one, I helped myself to a table and grabbed a menu. the table was only partially set. My waiter, Alpheus, came by after about five minutes and said he would be with me in five minutes, Still no hostess. As I perused the menu, I decided to set my expectations low. The bread girl came with a tasty slice of challah and a slice of a mild rye both delicious. Alpheus was ready to take my order before his prognosticated five minutes had elapsed. I had decided to have an appetizer of beef carpaccio. "Swing and a miss" called the Bob Uecker voice in my head, The carpaccio was "out of stock". Not so for the smoked Scottish salmon. I added a beef filet served with vegetables for my main and pumpkin fritters. Despite the bread, I was still reluctant to raise the bar. At this point, the hostess finally came by the table asking for my room number. Not sure where she had been for the previous 20 minutes.
Alpheus is an energetic young Zulu, with the normal desire to please. He made sure the table was set and that my glass of Coke Light was never empty. When he brought the salmon starter, the evening definitely took a most unexpected and delightful turn. I will not do the dish justice- I should have taken a picture as my Chef son often does. The salmon was shaped in a scoop shape with pieces of smoked salmon covering a mixture of creamed cheese and various seafoods. with each bite of delicious salmon came a nice bite of the cream cheese and also different caviars. The texture and different flavors of the different roes made the dish really tasty. Surprisingly good.
Butternut squash and pumpkin, along with creamed spinach, are probably the most popular vegetables served in South Africa. This was the first time I recall seeing a fritter-ized version on the menu, As the taste of the salmon appetizer lingered, I began to think maybe the fritters would be something special too. When Alpheus laid the meal in front of me I was really impressed. The steak looked perfectly cooked. There were baby carrots and the baby corn cobs around the filet with small zucchini strips. When he set the fritters down, they were the perfect brown offering the promise of yumminess inside. Fearing I would burn my mouth, I resisted just popping one in my mouth and, instead, took bites of the carrots and the baby corn while I cut into my steak. Perfectly cooked. One of the highlights on the plate was a swoosh of beet root puree. I love beets- a real childhood favorite. The puree turned out to be a perfect garnish for the medium rare steak. The time had come.... I took a bite of one of the fritters. They were seasoned with cinnamon and sugar. I smiled and made an audible mmmm just as my eye caught Alpheus' eye while he was working at the wait station. He smiled a broad smile and I nodded. Full acknowledgement that there had been no need to set the bar low. The meal was outstanding.
It's funny how the unexpected can change your entire perspective, an entire experience. I passed the rest of the meal slowly savoring each bite. A few times Alpheus came by for a quick chat and he even taught me some new phrases in Zulu. The meal and the interchange with Alpheus were sure reminders of why my four years here were so fulfilling personally and professionally. Thank you Alpheus for reminding me that life is best lived when we leave ourselves fully open to the unexpected. Aurelia's at the D'oreal Grande