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Funny how the tastiest dishes are often the simplest.
Last summer, my wife and I invited two couples over for what we hoped would be a fun backyard dinner. I splurged on a dry-aged, bone-in rib eye as well as a whole branzino. Our friend Matt, an enthusiastic—and rather particular—mixer of vodka Martinis, promised that he'd take care of the cocktails.
But just before the guests arrived, I realized I hadn't thought about what to serve before dinner. I scanned the kitchen and zeroed in on a few ripe avocados and half a loaf of rustic bread.
Once the coals were blazing hot (but still about 15 minutes from being ready for the steak and fish), I threw eight slices of bread on the grill. When they began to take a char, I plucked them off and rubbed one side of each with a cut clove of garlic. I then layered the toasts with buttery avocado slices, doused them with good extra-virgin olive oil, and finished them with a sprinkling of sea salt and crushed red pepper flakes.
Now, I'm hardly the first guy to serve avocado toast. In New York, you can always order it at Cafe Gitane, which is famous for its cool clientele and even cooler waitstaff. And a few months back, our art director, Elizabeth Spiridakis, instagrammed a beautiful shot of the avocado toast she'd had for breakfast while on vacation in Tulum, Mexico.
Yet our guests went bananas. It was as if Thomas Keller were manning the cutting board.
"Oh my God, this is so good!"
"How did you make this? What did you do?"
I didn't do much, obviously. But there we were, standing around the kitchen island, munching and drinking and smiling--things couldn't have been any easier or tasted any better. The moment was a testament to simplicity.
By the time we finished dinner, it was pretty clear what the highlight of the evening had been. (Did I mention that I'd failed to buy enough steak and that I'd forgotten to start the garlic-and-rosemary potatoes till way too late in the game?) And essentially, the only building blocks we'd really needed were vodka and vermouth, and bread and avocado.
I'm pretty sure there's a lesson in there somewhere.
Four (more) ways to gussy up grilled bread
1. Top with fresh ricotta and lemon zest or a drizzle of honey.
2. Rub with garlic, then with the cut side of half a tomato. Top with olive oil and salt.
3. Chop ripe tomatoes; marinate with basil, garlic, olive oil, and salt for 20 minutes. Spoon over toast.
4. Smear with butter; top with thinly sliced radish and sea salt.