I have had some exotic meals in my life. I've had lobster, escargot and Kobe beef. My favorite foods, however, are those dishes, usually ethnic, that are made the way they are supposed to be made. To explain what I mean, my wife and I went to a German restaurant in Winter Park, CO and it was there that I realized that real bratwurst is white. (I also decided then and there that Johnsonville is pretty low-grade.) But fate brought me to the best thing I ever ate in San Jose, CA.
It was 1994-ish. I was working for the cable company producing television commercials. We had gotten some new production equipment and I was sent to the company's official training in Sunnyvale, CA, a suburb of sorts to San Jose.
It was one of the first nights I was there and I hadn't quite connected with any of the other attendees (it didn't help that I was the only one staying at that particular hotel). I stepped out of my room to go to dinner. I had scoped the area and knew there was a burger joint, a steak house and a couple of other unimpressive restaurants within walking distance. I could visit one of those but I wanted something a little more.
I went to the lobby and spoke with the ... bellman? I asked him to recommend a good restaurant. "What kind of food are you looking for?"
"I'm not sure but I'd kinda like something with some local flavor."
"Do you like Italian?" Oh, he'd hit the nail on the head. He recommended a place called Il Postale (The Post Office) and said he could arrange for the hotel van to take me.
Il Postale was a clean, bright, intimate hole-in-the wall place. It was definitely no cookie-cutter chain restaurant. In terms of decor, it was more ice-cream shop than Italian restaurant. I recall it being very white. The doors were open to allow the breeze to blow through and the name was painted in large, black letters along one wall amidst other elements also in black.
I walked in and took a seat at the counter. A very nice gentleman welcomed me and handed me a menu. I glanced over it and everything was described using ethnic language. There was no lasagna and I barely found spaghetti. When the 'waiter' came back and asked me if I knew what I wanted I had to confess that I didn't recognize anything.
They must get that a lot because he was all too happy to help me navigate the offerings. He explained that the owners/chefs had trained in Italy and wanted to offer actual Italian dishes rather than the standard lasagna and spaghetti and meatballs.
The first couple of dishes still didn't register even with explanation. We then got to the farfale which he explained was bow-tie pasta. I said, "Bow-tie pasta. I know what that is. I'll have that." In short order he brought me a bowl and I started eating.
With the first bite I tasted the pasta and the tomatoes and then all of the other spices started blooming against my taste buds. Each and every ingredient had its own place and came through in its own time like a perfectly directed symphony. I had never before in my life tasted anything with so much flavor (and have never since). The German restaurant came in a close second but I have never had a more enjoyable culinary experience.