Best. Night. Ever.

By: Heather Somaini

A friend of mine was telling me recently of the great detail and excitement that another friend was providing about a dinner she had at The French Laundry, the famed restaurant in Yountville, CA. I listened as my friend seemed in awe of how amazing the food was, the excitement that each course was explained to her in words that seemed otherworldly. I could see that my friend was lost in this dreamland of amazing food, great wine, and brilliant surroundings.

I hated to disappoint her but then again I wasn’t – sometimes it is fun to have the upper hand. I told her the food wasn’t THAT great. She looked at me and kept talking. I said, “I’ve eaten there three times. It’s very good but it’s not rave-about-every-morsel good.” My friend seemed somewhat disappointed. She sort of didn’t want to believe me but then she had to; she knows me well enough. I wouldn’t lie to her and I know my food.

It made me think about experiences, expectations, and memory. Why are some experiences better than others? Why is one event more memorable than the one before? How is it that a Dodger dog on a hot summer night for a young boy might be the meal of a lifetime? But a pizza near the train station in Venice, Italy has kept me chasing the dragon for years?

I had grand expectations of my first dinner at French Laundry and it was great. I loved it. It was delightful. But the dinner I had at my own house a week ago was truly amazing. The wine was flowing. The food was excellent. Our surroundings were lovely. The people were delightful. The conversation was exceptional. We laughed all night long telling stories most of us had never heard before. I haven’t laughed that hard or had as much fun in a long time.

So what makes one dinner over another so amazing? What is that elusive quality or set of qualities that turns an ordinary evening into something special, even spectacular? What is the secret ingredient? Are we even looking for it, trying to recreate it? Do we have expectations and do they color our memory of an event? Do our memories even match up to what actually happened?

I think my favorite memories were all unexpected. It was a restaurant we just stopped in to because we needed to kill some time before a train (that amazing pizza in Venice). It was people I didn’t realize I would like so much or have so much in common with. It was a feeling I didn’t know existed let alone I could have.

It was the woman that emailed me a very funny, flirty line, the wine I just ‘stopped in’ to try, the kiss that was suddenly happening, the tiny arms wrapped around my neck whispering goodnight before they run to their beds.

When I think back to the things I love, they’re always unexpected.


  1. says

    I agree Heather. I have had two parties that were filled with almost total strangers and they were the best to date. The people came with the expectation that they were celebrating one special person and ended up all celebrating each other. It was unexpected and worked both times.

  2. Tanya Dodd-Hise says

    Very well said (and written) Heather! I’m a foodie, and it’s true – food mixed with circumstances can create the best memories that can almost invoke smell and taste to go with them. One of my best and most favorite memories of the simplest meals? Our honeymoon trip…that first slice of New York pizza after we rode in on the train. Best slice of pizza ever, as far as I’m concerned 😉

  3. says

    Isabella – That was a good night! And we tried to recreate it with my parents this past December and boom, it just wasn’t the same. Very disappointing! :)

  4. Joey says

    This is great Heather! I love it when you read something and it brings back a great memory.

    I was traveling in Europe with a friend. We were in Stockholm, Sweden and heard of this ship on the waterfront that was converted into a restaurant that we had to go to. We made our reservations and when we go to the dining area we got a big surprise. There were no separate tables, each table was very long and seated about 40 people each. The host did not sit us together, he sat us across from each other (almost, not directly) and we sat next to strangers. We did not order wine, it was there already. I remember sitting next to this Brazilian couple, a lady from Japan, an Australian guy next her. My friend had a Dutch lady next to him and an Indian couple on the other side. They brought out the food and it was family style dinning. This dinner ended up being one of my greatest dining experience ever and it was because of all those world strangers who shared it with me. And, the food and wine were amazing!

    Thanks for bringing back such a great memory!… haven’t thought about it in a few years.

  5. says

    I too have eaten at that restaurant. My wife and I had a wondeful weekend in Stockholm a few years ago and loved every minute of it. Su and I have allways enjoyed good food, but good friends, and family, make it much more enjoyable.

    Jack, Heathers Dad.

  6. Joey says

    @Jack – Hi! Very cool! You are right; friends and family make all the difference. It was great to have my good friend with me to enjoy that experience, we forever share that together.

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