When Idie asked how many years we'd been married, I teased, "How old is your restaurant?"
"Um, fourteen, we think?"
"Our marriage is just six weeks older than your restaurant."
The Hot and Hot Fish Club would be one of our favorite restaurants even if we didn't almost share an anniversary date, but the coincidence of its opening just weeks after I moved here has always made us feel particularly affectionate toward it and Chris & Idie. It's always near the top of our list for a place to take visitors, or if we want to do something special for ourselves.
A few years after they opened, they participated in a charity action at which most of the leading chefs in town offered something special -- dinner at your house for twelve of your closest friends, for example. What Chris & Idie put up was four seasonal tasting dinners for two. We were able to get it, and over the course of the next year, about every three months, I'd call Chris and we'd talk about what he was fixing that was particularly suited to that season, and then he'd put together a seven course menu for us, with paired wines. Each meal was spectacular -- and the fact that it was all prepaid, so that we never had to look at a bill, made it even more fun.
At the last of the four, we were chatting with Chris and I was bemoaning the fact that we'd come to the end of it, and joking that I'd like to take out another year's subscription. He shrugged and said, "I'd be happy to do it anytime. Just give me a call." And we did. Many times.
Given our travel schedule in the fall, we're just as likely to be in some other city on our wedding anniversary as we are to be home, so when I realized that we'd be in Birmingham this year, and that it was a Saturday night, a tasting menu at Hot and Hot seemed like the perfect thing to do. And just to make it a little extra special, I booked a suite for us at the Hotel Highland so we could walk to the restaurant and not have to worry about driving home afterwards.
Bill, the sous chef, was in charge and after asking us if there was anything in particular we were interested in, and hearing that we wanted to leave it entirely up to him, he came up with this menu (bear in mind that each course is half or less than half the size of the normal portion):
- Tomato Soup with Cream and Truffled Grilled Cheese
- Hot and Hot Tomato Salad with Applewood Smoked Bacon, Fresh Peas, Corn, Fried Okra and Chive Aioli
- Cauliflower and Chestnut Gratin with Herb Breadcrumbs and Truffle Oil
- Grilled Mississippi Shrimp with Local Golden Kiwi and Shaved Fennel Salad
- Garganelli Pasta and Homemade Guanciale with Wild Mushrooms, Parmesan Cheese and Truffle Oil
- Charcuterie plate with Pickled Veal Tongue and Homemade Souse Meat
- Hickory Grilled Beef Tournedos on Blue Cheese Potato Gratin, Chef's Garden Spinach and Wild Mushroom Jus
- Cheese plate of Thomasville Tomme from Sweet Grass Dairy, with Persimmon & Toasted Walnuts
- Trio of Sorbet with Homemade Cookies
John did a spectacular job of matching the wines to each course. We sat at the chef's counter where we could watch the cooks put it all together. It's an amazing show.
The new cookbook is just out, so we bought a copy, and Idie inscribed it for us. When we finally waddled back to the hotel three hours after arriving at the restaurant, we sat on the couch and leafed through. Wonderful pictures and stories, and the recipes of some of the dishes we'd eaten that very evening.
It was a truly splendid anniversary. May we, and the Hot and Hot Fish Club, have many, many more.