I am almost entirely sure that Killen’s has not always been Killen’s. I have a distinct memory of going there for a special French dinner with my mother a few weeks before I left on a school trip to Europe. Our teacher was friends with the executive chef and somehow talked him into making a special meal for the group and their families before departure. This was before I cared about food—or anything, really, in typical sixteen-year-old style—but I was still impressed with what I ate. I remember thinking that if the food in Paris was half as good our meal that I would be quite pleased. (Oh, and it was, right down to the croque monsieur in the Louvre.)
Since my eight-year absence, Killen’s has gotten fancy. Zagat ratings, Ronnie Killen was almost named the Executive Chef for the White House in 2005. You know, the usual. No biggie. It’s definitely a special occasion place, and luckily for me, I happened to be in town* for one: my mother’s birthday.
I’ve been on a salad kick lately, so the wedge salad caught my eye as a starter. You can’t really go wrong with something fresh and crispy bathed in Roquefort dressing and apple wood smoked bacon bits. It was fantastic and, for a wedge of lettuce, surprisingly filling. (I also had a revelation when my mother offered me a bite of her crab cake. One of those, “Oh, this is what crab is supposed to taste like. No wonder everyone loves it so much!” kind of moments.)
I haven’t had a single steak since I left Texas on June 1st, so there was really no question that I was going to remedy that. The question was how was I going to remedy that. I scanned the menu looking for something small—I’ve been out for dinner twice since I got in and have since discovered that my talent for stuffing myself with huge amounts of food has worn off a bit. I was just about to order the wet-aged six-ounce center-cut filet when our waiter came to the table to recite the specials and said a magical phrase: “…a minimum of three ounces.” Three ounces sounded like the perfect amount.
This was not three ounces of just anything, mind you. It was hand cut to order from beef from Mishima Ranch in Northern California. Kobe style. They actually export meat to Japan. It had a rating of 12 on the beef marbling scale, which is the highest rating available.
It was comically tiny on my plate, but I ate it in small bites. Every bite was as good as the first, and by the time I was finished I honestly don’t think I could have had any more of it. With all the marbling, it was the richest steak I’d ever tasted. It was like they’d taken a twelve-ounce steak and shrunk it down to three-ounces without losing any of the flavor. I left a square of vertical lines on the plate where I swiped my last bite of steak to pick up every little molecule that was left. My plate looked like a Japanese rock garden when I was finished with it. It was almost a Zen experience.
For dessert, I had crème brûlée because I can never really resist it. My mother ordered a piece of carrot cake three times bigger than my steak that had fantastic icing, and my step-father ordered a chocolate mousse cake that was even bigger than that. My mother said it was the best birthday dinner she could have asked for. We all left with very full and happy stomachs. (And some leftover carrot cake, too.)
*If you recall, in May, after I graduated, this really cute boy in Raleigh asked me to move in with him. So, in June, I did. Then the same really cute boy in Raleigh asked me if I wanted to marry him. So, in July, I did. You know, the usual. No biggie.