We haven't been in Commons since our freshman spring. Back then, our palates couldn't distinguish between the spongy earth of a cafeteria veggie burger and Trader Joe's tofu marinade.
In May 2016, Colin still ate plain grilled chicken breast on a sesame bagel. Julia bought a case of Soylent. Freshman year was before cacao nibs. Before we knew how to pronounce "soigné." Before mouthfeel and mouthcoat and particulate density. Before we learned the singular visual delight that only a tuft of microgreens or a sliver of lemongrass can bring. Before the satisfying Pangea of a well–plated dinner.
Going to Commons as a senior is an exercise in nostalgia, recollection, and possibly appetite suppression. After a helpful freshman swipes us in, we climb the linoleum stairs and the omelette bar smell smacks us in the face. Four years older and now equipped with a gourmand's palette, we return with a specific purpose in mind: with the porcelain plates of 1920 Commons as our canvas, we attempt to make a three–course meal fit for our new, refined tastes.
Geography informs our practice: archipelago, peninsula, sunken island. The plate is a desert, an ocean. Here: a scattering of summer stone fruit macerated in lemon juice. They sit crag–like, each prism of plum, on a circle of dehydrated radish. Paired with the crunch of a red Froot Loop, every mouthful is reminiscent of the auspices from a childhood you wish you had. The overripe fruit feels sinful, but the peppery young arugula brings you back. Finished with a slick of olive oil.
Hand–torn cheese and a segmented hot dog are complemented by the lettuce spray and sexy onion. A circumference of hot chili sauce offers the promise of danger. But not real danger. Contained danger, like the threat of contracting campylobacter at a child’s birthday party. The hot dog is charred at the sides, signifying a fire long cooled. By contrast, the nascent fire in the hot chili sauce burns without flame.
Circles evoke an embrace: a mother’s intuition, a warm room on a cold day, the floral note in the perfume on the neck of your lover. Poppyseeds (culled from a stale bagel) form the boundary, within it: dribbles of a tomato consomme, pulverized cacao, a pool of wildflower honey. The preserved carrot, when sliced and skewered, evokes penetration. But only subtly. Remember that motifs can make or break a well–thought dinner. The blue Froot Loops, suspended in the gold of the honey, stun. If they were any other color, all would be lost.
A boat of fried rice buoys vegan coconut milk tofu. The delicate arrangement is ballasted by radishes. Carrot pads collaborate with celery shafts and a dab of sauce. Do not use a fork to eat this dish. The tofu’s supple curvature is best left unprobed before consumption.
And now: the wedding kiss. Rose petals pulled from a summer’s end garden loosely scattered in a ring. They protect the tangerine and sage sorbetto that lays melting softly into a pool of lemon curd tinged with raspberry. A half-moon of dried cranberries contributes a tartness that lingers and contrasts with the crunch of pink marshmallow amulets.
Dessert should be forgiving, yet self–aware. Coffee ice cream quenelle atop a bed of Cap'n Crunch. Bless the ice cream with blue Froot Loop dust and three elegant Lucky Charms. A streak of marshmallow fluff is a good omen. Whispering “I’m sorry,” while eating is a bad omen. After eating, bid goodnight and retreat back with the soiled plates and bowls. Deposit them on the rotating dish rack, that endless conveyance. Leave Commons.