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If we are to believe Elon Musk, the single biggest threat to humanity is artificial intelligence. If unchecked, he and other visionaries claim we could build an intelligence that will be a threat to our very existence. This is not new. We came up with ways to burn fossils and power our cars and our homes and it is now a threat to our existence. We decided that sugar would be a cornerstone of manufactured nutrition and look at us now.
I don’t want to burden you with apocalyptic visions. This is where you read nonsense about food and the experience that surrounds it. There are other pages of this newspaper to terrify you. Check out the sports pages. They’re filled with tales of young people who ran around a bit and wound up exactly where they started.
I pondered artificial intelligence this week when Spotify tried to figure out what I’d be interested in based on my listening patterns. In its mildly excited tone, it informed me that there was new music for me to listen to! If there was such a thing as half an exclamation mark, Spotify would work it into every one of their notifications.
Paul Simon dropped a new album. So did Paul McCartney. Well, I grew up listening to both The Beatles and Simon & Garfunkel in the car on our way to school and I have my dad to thank for that. He might have weird tastes (he watches football) but he passed on solid music to his unruly progeny.
Here is the issue with AI. It links these men to music I listen to and assumes I will like their new albums. One of the Pauls simply re-recorded a bunch of his old songs. Luckily, the re-recording of The Sound of Silence didn’t make the cut. If he’d touched that song there would have been trouble. The other Paul wrote a bunch of new music that sounds very much like his last few albums. There was also a new album by Eminem. At least Eminem is still very, very angry with absolutely everything. I wonder what he’ll do when he’s as old as the Pauls.
I want an AI that works for me. I’d like to be able to feed it, if you’ll pardon the pun, every single experience I have while eating out or the food I’ve cooked at home. It would learn about the things I like and hate to a very high degree of specificity. It will know my little peeves so it will never suggest I eat a pizza that has pineapple on it. But it will have enough information to let me know that there’s a new pasta dish on the board at Danny’s that’s got meat, tomato, chilli, and a seasoned cheese. It will, slowly and surely, read my mind until it can send me to the right place for lunch, every day.
One of my current issues with the whole food circus is that, no matter the season, most fish that’s available for me to cook at home has been caught practically everywhere except for our own shoreline. That, or it’s farmed. Unless I want something exotic that just doesn’t grow in the Mediterranean, then I prefer locally sourced, and sustainably fished produce. This has become a nightmare.
The AI, that so far exists only in my imagination, could have sent me to Terrone in Marsaxlokk a few weeks back. I went there and they had fresh mackerel that was served grilled. I understand that it’s not the easiest fish to eat. If you’re the swordfish steak kind of person you’ll take some time to pick a mackerel apart. But believe me, the rewards are worth the extra effort.
I had a half disappointing week – some fresh, local squid on one day making up for the tragic selection of the day before – so I was left with the desire for a fish-driven lunch. I decided to revisit Terrone. I’ve been there a couple of times and had a mixed bag of experiences that were, however, mostly positive.
Big smiles, a memorable experience, and every intention to return
It’s tucked away at the quieter end of the seafront and has a little terrace so you pick the cool interior or the hotter and more picturesque exterior. Menus are printed daily and this reflects their desire for a kitchen that’s based on what’s fresh rather than the safety of a few familiar dishes.
Even more interesting is their approach to portion sizes. Practically everything on the menu is available as both starter and main course portions. This encourages patrons to experience more flavours and ingredients than the customary two courses would permit. I happen to love this. I get bored of large dishes and am happier picking at a variety of flavours.
I was the hungry one at table so I scoured the menu for items I would leave out. I was in the mood for fish so I quickly glossed over the salumi and the meats. Practically everything else was screaming my name. I finally made my selection and added a half-bottle of Sicilian white. I was the only one drinking alcohol and couldn’t just discard the rest of my afternoon.
The ladies who saw to us knew the food well and were happy to discuss it. They were a bit hurried, having plenty of tables to see to, but they did give us the time we needed when we needed it.
We started with dishes that were served cold so that we wouldn’t have too long a wait. One was a seafood salad, with octopus, prawn, clams, and mussels that had been seasoned simply with fresh thyme and an excellent olive oil so the dish was aromatic and refreshing. The presentation is a little cluttered but it does the trick.
Topping this I’d ordered four oysters – two of the tiny variety that’s curiously named ‘Dainty’ and the other two were the significantly meatier, and creamier, Gilardeau species. There’s nothing much to say about the beauty of fresh oysters. The lady who served them asked if we’d want Tabasco. I know this is customary but I find the vinegar base too overpowering. I once ate oysters with the formidable Richard Corrigan. He suggested bread (that he’d baked) and butter (that he’d churned). I was sceptical but I tried it. One does not say no to that man. The unlikely combination ran rings around Tabasco so I suppose I’m spoiled.
The trifecta was completed with a blue marlin carpaccio served with chopped tomato, flower petals, fresh thyme, rock salt and smoked chilli. It looked like a painting and tasted outstanding. This fish is an Atlantic species but it’s not every day that you see it on a menu so I suppressed my desire for a more local catch, especially since I knew John Dory was on its way soon.
As I ate, one of those little factoids that I unwittingly ferret away into memory crevice surfaced. The male blue marlin rarely lives longer than 18 years. That’s a lot for a fish. The female hangs around for another decade, with adults hitting 30. I wonder what survival trick enabled the females to ditch their men and live a third of their lives without them but it seems like a happy arrangement.
The next course, that I could call a main course but that I’d ordered as starter portions, came in two parts. One was a zuppetta with clams and mussels in an Nduja sauce, laden with the spicy, spreadable salami from Calabria. It is served with a hunk of toasted, Maltese bread. There is something incredibly clever about the rich, salty, spicy Nduja that is simply a sensation with the bivalves. I dispatched the shellfish quite quickly and then tore away at the bread, dipping it into the sauce and loving every bite in the Italian tradition known as fare la scarpetta.
Finally, it was time for the John Dory. The fish fillet had been wood-fire roasted and served on a slippery pile of fresh spinach. Alongside the spinach were unbelievably meaty black olives, potato crisps, and halved cherry tomatoes. The fish was good but, as is often the case with roasting, it had been done just past the point where it retains all its moisture. It was good but not as great as fish I’d eaten previously at this very table.
We paid €80 for the lot. It’s not a little to pay for lunch but then we’d eaten some pretty pricey ingredients that had been thoughtfully and meticulously prepared. We’d also been treated kindly so we walked away with big smiles, a memorable experience, and every intention to return.
So bring it on, Artificial Intelligence, and destroy our species. I’ll go with a smile on my face and a belly full of excellent food.
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