On my 16th birthday my sister left for her freshman year of college. I stood in our kitchen at six o'clock in the morning, surrounded by her packed bags, with the members of my family rushing around the house to make sure nothing was left behind, and it didn't feel like a birthday to me. Of course, it wasn't the norm for how my birthdays were spent, but it can be hard to have a birthday so close to the back-to-school rush. Even now that I'm out of school, I still sometimes want to tell everyone to wait-just-a-minute and stop rushing through August! because I've got a birthday to celebrate.
Tim understands this because his birthday falls near Labor Day so there is the same guilt associated with wanting to make a to-do about getting a year older. There are always friends on weekend trips away or spending time with family. It's hard for either of us to assert ourselves and ask for attention. So we do that for each other. We get how the other feels.
For my birthday, Tim went overboard. He bought me a beautiful fragrance to replace the one I broke (dropped it on the bathroom tile) and he made dinner reservations somewhere he knew I'd want to go. He didn't tell me at first where we were going, but he's terrible at keeping a secret and eventually confessed. We were going to Jean-Robert's Table, and I was so excited. Back when I worked in wine sales, I met Jean-Robert de Cavel at a few parties a mutual friend hosted. He is jovial and interesting to talk to and everyone flocked to him. That kind of personality can draw a crowd at a party or to his restaurants, and it makes you wonder why this French ex-pat has chosen Cincinnati as his home. But he came here along while ago and never left. I'm especially grateful now that I've eaten at Table. I will go back there again and again.
We had an excellent dinner, and perhaps Tim encouraging me to finish the bottle of wine is partly to blame for no documentation of our food. Everything we ate was fantastic (Tim had steak and I had duck), but trust me when I say, I didn't need pictures to remember our Heirloom Tomato Salad appetizer. It was a special, not on the regular menu, and as soon as our waitress began to describe it I had already decided to order it.
I recreated it at home simply because I needed to eat it again. The soft cheese served with the salad was the perfect foil to the acid. This salad is for all of the summer-tomato-lovers out there, and tomato discrimination is not allowed; you'll need a good mix of types and sizes to capture the essence of it. Also, everything added to the tomatoes is merely there to make it all more tomato-ey. It's simple. It's fresh. It's summer. Tomatoes will now always make me think of my birthday.
I owe Tim for helping me create new, positive birthday memories--it's harder to do than it seems and he excels tremendously at it.
Heirloom Tomato Salad
inspired by Jean-Robert's Table
serves 4-6, depending if it is served as a light lunch or an appetizer/side dish
I purchased all of the tomatoes for this salad from the Landen Deerfield Township farmer's market, which is held every Saturday during the summer and continues on occasionally throughout the winter. For heirloom tomatoes, I am particularly drawn to booth hosted by That Guy's Family Farm. Guy seems to have the biggest variety of heirlooms, including little yellow plum tomatoes, beautiful multi-colored cherry tomatoes, and an incredible green-striped salad tomato that I wish I could remember the name of. We also sliced up a big Mr. Stripey from our garden for even more size variance and sweeter flavor.
If you can't find herb goat cheese at your local market, you can always chop up fresh herbs and mix them in with plain goat cheese. I'd recommend soft-leaf herbs like parsley, dill, basil, and oregano; add no more than a tablespoon total of herbs.
At Table we had this salad with French bread but at home I decided to make Flatbread with Honey, Thyme, and Sea Salt from a recipe I found on Smitten Kitchen. It was really simple to make and I highly recommend it.
~3 lbs of heirloom tomatoes, a variety of sizes and colors
1/2 tsp kosher salt
fresh ground black pepper
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
4-5 leaves of fresh basil
3 oz soft herb goat cheese
crusty bread like baguette or flatbread
Slice the largest tomatoes across like thick sandwich slices. Cut the medium size tomatoes into quarters or sixths so that you have wedges. Depending on the size, halve cherry tomatoes or leave the littlest ones whole. Put all tomatoes in a medium size bowl and toss with the salt and pepper. Allow to sit for 10minutes to draw out some of the juice of the tomatoes.
Add the olive oil and vinegar and lightly toss. Transfer mixture, including accumulated juices onto a serving tray. Chiffonade the basil and sprinkle over salad. Serve the herb goat cheese on the side with bread.
Build the best bite by putting a smudge of the goat cheese the bread with a juicy tomato on top.