On Saturday, the Parzen family celebrated Tracie P’s birthday.
Maybe because we’ve been eating out a lot lately and finding a babysitter can often be a challenge, offers to take her out to dinner of her choice had been rebuffed this year, although that changed (as you’ll see below).
And so I decided to surprise her with a catered picnic at our favorite park around the corner from our house.
Tracie loves the charcuterie and cheese plates by our friend Felipe Riccio at Houston’s hippest wine bar, Camerata.
I know he does some catering work and so I discreetly contacted him and asked him if he’d be game to make us a picnic.
Man, he outdid himself! And thanks to chef Kate McLean from Tony’s (a good friend), he even managed to get his hands on a picnic basket!
Just look at that spread!
Tracie really didn’t expect a thing. But as Felipe was putting the finishing touches on the mise-en-place, a sudden Texas rainstorm arrived. After some frenetic, furtive texting (because it was a surprise), I asked him to come to the house. We decided to set it up in our girls’ playroom, which added to their excitement because food is not allowed in the playroom.
Felipe is so talented and resourceful and every dish reflected things I had told him about Tracie.
The frittata di pasta, a nod to her years in Naples (above, right), a Parthenopean classic, was rivaled only by the superb insalata di mare that he made.
Wholesome macaroni and cheese for the girls, housemade peanut butter, a berry-heavy fruit salad (they love berries)…
For mom and dad, mozzarella di bufala with a bottle of extra-virgin olive oil and fleur de sel, his expertly sliced prosciutto, his house-cured olives… And of course, it can’t be a picnic, as Nino Ferrer sings, without the cornichons!
(I highly recommend listening to the song while reading this post.)
It was outta sight! Thank you, again, Felipe! We LOVED it. And btw, the girls had more macaroni and cheese for dinner and we munched on the leftovers throughout the weekend.
I had taken the girls out all morning that day so that Tracie could sleep in and go on the nice, long run she had asked for for her birthday day. And for whatever reason, by the time they were ready for their naps, she decided that yes, after all, she did want to go to Tony’s for dinner for her birthday.
And thanks to our good friend Joanne Witt, aka “Food Princess,” a super cool lady whom I know through food writing here in town, we were able to find a last-minute baby sitter for the cost of a bottle of Venica Pinot Grigio. (THANK YOU AGAIN, Joanne! You are THE BEST!)
If you follow the harvest news from Italy, you know that this very wet vintage was extremely challenging for grape growers but outrageously good for truffle foragers.
Tony treated us to his Alba white truffle soufflé (above), which paired brilliantly with a somewhat tannic, meaty Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi by Garofoli.
But the star of the evening, among the many other wonderful dishes we did that night, was the lobster roe risotto with lobster mushrooms. Un-frigging-believably good…
Chef Kate and Tony, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Your food is truly extraordinaire. And we were thrilled by our excellent dinner. Thank you!
But nothing could compare to the kiss that we shared at the end of an unforgettable day of great food and our time together as family.