My journey to the heart of the muskmelon cult started with a strawberry. A few years ago, I was in a dimly lit Tokyo restaurant that served more courses than it had seats, where I dined on anatomical selections I couldn’t name belonging to species I didn’t know existed, prepared by a chef whose elegance with a knife resembled ballet more than cooking. Back home, an American version of this feast might have ended with a procession of desserts: a palate cleanser of grapefruit semi-freddo; a heftier dessert entrée of coffee buttercream with dark chocolate ganache; then a post-dessert dessert of truffles and sugar-coated jellies, plus a pastry to take home for later. But at my dinner in Tokyo, when the chef presented my dessert, I found a single, sliced strawberry, served alone on a plate.
Biting into one sliver of the fruit, I had the sense I was tasting in color for the first time. The strawberry was perfumed. It tasted of roses, honey, and a kiss. And it made absolutely no sense. Where did it come from? What made it special? Why only one?