Friday, December 30, 2005
Cheater Pasta Carbonara:
Boil single serving of dry spaghetti (or capellini or linguine or fettucine) until al dente. Time these next steps so that they can be combined while the pasta is hot.
Cut three or four slices of bacon into small pieces (not too small as they will shrink) and pan-fry to desired crispness (I have a tendency to overcook, which turns them into bacon bits, which also is not bad but the dish is better if you can leave a little chewiness in the bacon pieces). Remove cooked bacon but leave the residual bacon fat in the pan (about 2-3 tablespoons). Add a generous pad of butter on low heat and fry an egg sunny side up.
Combine bacon and egg, including all of the butter and fat left in the pan, with the cooked, drained pasta. Sprinkle salt and pepper to taste. Zest a bit of lemon rind on top and shards of parmesan cheese (the real stuff please). A bit of chopped chives are good too. Break the yolk, mix, and eat!
Salad as an Entree:
Same steps as above for cooking egg* and bacon. In lieu of spaghetti, place them on bed of frisee lettuce. Drizzle balsamic vinaigrette. I also like to add chopped chives and/or cubed fresh tomato. A slice of toasted La Brea French Bread (see below) with butter and a glass of sauvignon blanc completes the meal.
*If you want to be more elegant, instead of frying the egg, poach it (3 inches of boiling water in a pan with white vinegar added; break egg into low bubbling water next to side of pan; cook for 3 minutes). Or if you don't want to bother with frying or poaching an egg, you can also boil it and chop it up.
Chef Thomas Keller's Sandwich:
If you rent the DVD of the Adam Sandler/Tea Leoni movie, Spanglish, the directions on how to make this sandwich are one of the special features. The movie was okay, but this sandwich is spectacular. It's basically a BLT with a fried egg but until you taste it, using the busted egg yolk as the sauce to dip the sandwich in as you eat, you won't fully understand how good it really is. I like to use La Brea Bakery French Bread (available, often hot, from Whole Foods, Molly Stone's, and other gourmet grocery stores) sliced into large sandwich size slices. Again fry the egg in the bacon fat leftover in the pan from cooking the bacon. Grill the bread and brush with melted butter if you want extra luxury (but if you use La Brea bread, the bread alone is so chewy and flavorful that just toasting is fine). Assemble sandwich with mayonnaise, cold iceberg lettuce, tomato slices, bacon slices, and slide egg in last. Cut in half and watch the egg yolk drizzle down the side of the sandwich halves. With a handful of Cape Cod potato chips* and a glass of champagne (in the movie, Adam Sandler who is playing a chef, has a beer with this sandwich), this is indeed the "World's Greatest Sandwich."
*This brand was recently discontinued from distribution in San Francisco. So I ordered No Kai Oi brand Maui style potato chips online.
Saturday, December 24, 2005
Chicago, IL 60614
Closed Sunday and Monday
Last tried: August 2007
Charlie Trotter's is celebrating its 20th anniversary. Its consistency in quality and standards over such a prolonged period of time is just as impressive as its always perfectly executed tasting menu that is constantly adapting and updating, incorporating new flavors and techniques, without ever veering too far from its classic French base. How reassuring and magnificent...
Previously tried: January 2007
The first time I dined at Charlie Trotter's was over ten years ago. As I contemplated returning this year, I must admit I was worried that Charlie Trotter's might have become like some other fine dining establishments where the reputation of the chef continues to lure diners but the quality is intermittent, if not a distant memory. My recent meal proved that my concerns were unfounded, despite the fact that Chef Trotter was not personally at the helm that evening (notwithstanding this deviation, I continue in my firm belief that the chef's presence in the kitchen makes a difference-- I have been disappointed too many times with the quality of the food when the chef is absent, which has occurred even during the course of a single meal. Once the chef has left the building, the finesse also retires for the evening, and the quality of subsequent courses drastically diminishes). The fact that my meal was so magnificent made me wonder exactly how much of a perfectionist Chef Trotter must be that his kitchen functions at this level even in his absence.
The restaurant was as elegantly appointed as I remembered, with comfortably sized tables that were strategically spaced to create spacious yet romantic dining areas (I was seated in the upstairs mezzanine on this visit), resulting in a quietly animated atmosphere. I felt all of the stress of the day melting away as I reclined into the cushiony upholstered seat and perused the menu and the thick binder of wines.
The first course brought to the table was Tasmanian ocean trout poached in olive oil, sitting atop a yin-yang design of hijiki (seaweed) puree and parsnip puree. The fish looked and tasted like the freshest salmon sashimi, except softer and somewhat saltier, and the flavors imparted by the two purees were delicate and delicious. With it, I enjoyed an Alsatian Riesling, 2001 Rosenbourg Domain Paul Blanck, from the restaurant's extensive list of wines by the glass.
Next came a rectangular platter composed of slices of bright red tuna sashimi, bright yellow uni, and opaque succulent sweet mussels, interwoven with white strands of raw coconut in the shape and texture of freshly made spaghetti. Vibrantly green and white blanched tender bok choy and drizzles of mustard-colored curry sauce were placed across the platter, with a sesame tuile perched in the center, on top of a quenelle of beige-pink shellfish puree. The dish looked like a Jackson Pollack painting, with all of these different colors, flavors, and textures slashed and draped across the plate. Yet each element complemented and highlighted all of the various flavors, unifying the dish into a satisfying and thoroughly modern taste. I had heard that Charlie Trotter had recently gotten into the raw food movement. Instead of the bland flavors I had previously experienced in raw food offerings, Chef Trotter's kitchen skillfully blended the clean elements of raw food with sashimi quality seafood and flawlessly cooked vegetables, utilizing French and Asian techniques. This is what fusion cooking aspires to be.
The next course still retained the lightness of seafood in the form of cooked hamachi but with added dimensions of richness. By virtue of cooking the fish, the hamachi had become meatier in taste and texture, similar to swordfish, which complemented the crisp yet chewy pieces of shredded pork on top and the sweet potato ravioli and leek puree underneath. The surrounding valencia orange foam tied everything together masterfully. The sommelier's recommendation, the 2000 Domaine Jean Grivot Vosne-Romanee, matched perfectly with this dish, as well as with the remaining savory courses.
Elevating the intensity of flavors, the next dish was rabbit with chewy wheatberries, braised escarole, and pickled dried chanterelle mushrooms, all bathed in thyme consomme. The rabbit was as supple and tender as poached chicken, and having absorbed the thyme consomme, it was resplendent. I had also noticed that on every dish, there were tiny piquant greens perched on top. Upon inquiring as to what they were, I was informed that they were different micro-herbs that Chef Trotter had specially grown for him.
The next course was squab with beets and mushrooms presented three ways. The beets and mushrooms were sliced, pureed (garlic, cumin, and rosemary), and fried like potato chips. The squab was tender and flavorful, and mixing and matching with the different mushrooms and beets was fun as well as tasty.
The last savory course, bison with blood sausage sauce, surrounded by sweetbread, white beans, trumpet mushrooms, brussel sprouts, and huckleberries, was the only composition that I felt was not quite as finely tuned as the previous dishes. Although still a lovely preparation, this one plateaued from the lofty expectations that the rest of the menu kept raising with each course. The brussel sprouts and huckleberries blurred together without distinction, and the sweetbread was lost among the white beans, mushrooms, and blood sausage sauce. Nonetheless, each of the elements separately were perfectly prepared, especially the bison which almost did not require the use of a knife.
With the desserts, the excellence returned, particularly the panna cotta topped with wild grape jelly. The thin layer of tart jelly was an excellent contrast to the eggy, sweet custard. I finished the entire bowl in less than thirty seconds. (I raved about it so much that one of the servers brought me an extra one-- unfortunately I was too full by this point and had to turn it down.) I was also quite impressed by the transition dish, served after the savory courses and before desserts. It was a unique take on the traditional prosciutto with melon-- balls of melon sorbet sprinkled with tiny bits of fried lardons and garnished with tiny mint leaves from Chef Trotter's miniature herb garden. The last dessert was roasted fig glazed with a merlot reduction, on top of a spicy chocolate cream mixed with bits of crushed toffee and garnished with mini-rosemary. As full as I was, I could not resist from polishing off every bite. There is a reason that every trip I make to Chicago, I make a point to free up an evening to get up to Lincoln Park.
Thursday, December 22, 2005
San Francisco, CA 94108
Current Chef Peter Rudolph (formerly Navio)
Last tried: December 2005
As soon as I heard that Daniel Humm was leaving Campton Place to head up a restaurant* in Manhattan, my first thought was, "Wait! You were just getting interesting. You can't leave now!" I had tried Campton Place twice previously during his tenure, and each time I thought that his cuisine, although rough in some spots, held the promise of something great. Which led directly to my second thought-- to get a reservation one more time before he leaves, anticipating that I will have to pay even more to taste his cooking in New York. I was able to squeeze into Campton Place the week before Christmas and had the chef's tasting menu with wine pairing:
The meal started with an amuse consisting of an array of single bite tastes: Raw oyster with sweet mignonette sauce, Grilled monterey sardine, Goat cheese Neapolitan, Savory puff pastry with cream, Layered salmon terrine square, Big eye tuna and halibut sashimi sandwich with dill, and a tempura fried green vegetable (unidentified). Of these, I had the savory puff and the big eye tuna. The fish was not quite fresh enough and the dill was overpowering, but the savory puff was sublime in both flavor and texture.
The first course was a cold nage of wellfleet oysters in cream sauce with tapioca, sprinkled with red pepper powder. The cream was a little overwhelming but the oysters were fresh and succulent.
- Krug brut 1990 (unfortunately oxidized)
Next came Foie gras creme brulee. I could not decide whether this dish was too salty or too sweet. In any event, it gets the "Most Interesting Dish" award.
The rich and intense flavors of the foie gras brulee were cleansed by the next dish, Osetra caviar two ways: (1) on top of scallops in sea urchin foam, served in a scallop shell; (2) on top of scallops surrounded by cucumber. I love sea urchin. I love scallops. And I can never get enough caviar. But here, it seemed the specialness of each ingredient was somehow subordinated in the combinations. Nonetheless, this was a nicely executed presentation.
- Dewazakura, Dewasansan Nama Genshu Junmai Ginjo Sake, Yamagata Prefecture (delicate and fragrant but got lost in the pairing)
The next course was a ceviche of lobster, scallops, and clam with blood orange and fennel. The blood orange was a bit too sweet, and the citrus juices fought with the seafood a bit. This was still a clean and refreshing dish.
- Livio Felluga, Terre alte, Colli Orientali del Friuli 2002 (crisp and fruity)
Then the menu veered back to richness with a stick of foie gras terrine underneath a buttery gaufrette, accompanied by butternut squash butter and cranberry compote, and a large slice of toasted brioche.
- Chateau Raymond-Lafon Sauternes 1986 (also oxidized)
Next came a steamed tube of dover sole with a caramelized strip of parmesan cheese on top, accompanied by a leek and cream "salad" and a quenelle of truffle potato mousse. The sole was a bit rubbery but the leeks were tender and melted in my mouth. The truffled potato was what you'd expect-- two perfectly yummy things mashed together to create a tasty treat.
- Chenin Blanc, Huet, Le Mont, Moelleux, Vouvray 2002 (pretty wine)
The next course was DIVINE: Herbed pasta layered with lobster, in a sauce that tasted like heavenly lobster bisque, with shaved white truffles. The white truffles worked their magic on the tender morsels of lobster in the velvety sauce, which complemented the herbed ribbons of pasta as though they were soul mates.
- Aloxe Corton, Corton-Charlemagne, Grand Cru 2002 (this was my favorite wine of the evening)
The last savory course was Chartreuse of Berkshire pork with black truffles. The pork was steamed, wrapped in spinach, and topped with crisp pieces of Berkshire bacon-- those were yummy bits of salty crunchiness. The black truffle sauce tied the dish together quite well.
- Les Vins de Vienne, Saint Joseph, Northern Rhone 2001 (best wine pairing of the evening; perfect complement to the pork and the truffles)
I did not try the andante dairy goat cheese that came next because I have not yet acquired a taste for goat cheese, but others seemed to enjoy it.
- Manzanilla Sherry, Emilio Lustau, Papirusa Sanlucar de Barrameda (personal preference-- not crazy about sherry, particularly those as high alcohol as this one)
Next came a palate cleanser-- a cold foamy jasmine orange granita/tea cappucino. The cool sweetness definitely served to cleanse the palate but I found the jasmine orange to be kind of soapy in taste.
The desserts included a pear fondant with rooibos sorbet, valrhona chocolate pastilla topped with orange guajillo confit (tasted like sweet chocolate egg rolls-- yes, they were that good), and fried beignets the size of small donut holes, dusted with granulated sugar. The beignets were my favorite sweet of the evening.
- Kiralyudvar, Cuvee Hona, 5 Puttonyos, Aszu, Tokaj 1999 (did not taste as sweet as I would have expected for 5; the orange flavors were balanced and pretty)
At times I found the wine pairing to be a bit on the weak side, both in terms of the wines individually and in matching. While the pacing dragged somewhat, the overall cadence of the menu was delightful. The courses were elegant and presented a pleasant array of different tastes. As I was leaving with my complementary box of homemade candy and nuts, I was glad that I had gotten to try Campton Place one more time. I believe Chef Humm will do great things in his career and wish him well in New York.
Tuesday, December 20, 2005
Beverly Glen Deli
Bob's Big Boy
California Pizza Kitchen
China Grill Bistro
Engine Co. No. 28
Larry Parker's Diner*
Lawry's Prime Rib
Nate'n Al's Delicatessen
Nick & Stef's
Pacific Dining Car
RJ's Rib Joint
Ruth's Chris Steak House
Shik Do Rak
Woo Lae Oak
Au bon pain
Ben's Chili Bowl
Brasserie Les Halles*
Capital City Brewing
Ella's Wood Fired Pizza
Johnny's Half Shell
Laboratorio del Galileo*
Old Ebbitt Grill
A16 (Hille; Appleman)
Ace of Sandwiches
Aqua* (Mina; Manrique)
Asia de Cuba*
Baker Street Bistro
Bob's Steak and Chop House
La Bodeguita del Medio
Buca di Beppo
Cafe de la Presse (Manrique)
Cafe des Amis
Caffe Delle Stelle
California Pizza Kitchen
California Street Deli*
Campton Place (Humm)
CAV Wine Bar* (Mullen)
Cha Cha Cha
Charles Nob Hill* (Siegel)
Chez Panisse Cafe
Chez TJ (Skenes; Kostow)
Citizen Thai and the Monkey*
C and L Steakhouse*
Cortez* (Hatfields; Maldonado; Puccio)
Crescent Park Grill*
Dottie's True Blue Cafe
East Coast West Deli
Empire Tap Room
Emporio Rulli Caffe
E and O Trading Company
Fifth Floor (Morrone; Gras; Perello; Lorenzo)
Fish and Farm
The Fish Market
Fleur de Lys
Flour + Water
Flying Pan Bistro*
Fog City Diner*
Frisson* (Patterson; Schafer)
The Front Room
Golden Gate Bakery
Hayes Street Grill
Hog Island Oyster Company
Hong Kong Flower Lounge*
House of Prime Rib
Hyde Street Bistro
Julie's Supper Club*
Kelly's Mission Rock
Ken Ken Ramen
Lark Creek Steak
Left at Albuquerque
Let's Be Frank
Little Skillet (Ciscle)
The Lucky Penny
Max's Opera Cafe
La Mar Cebicheria Peruana
Michael Mina* (Lloyd; L'Hommedieu)
Michael Mina 2.0
Mission Chinese Food
Moss Beach Distillery
Mozzarella di Bufala*
Nectar Wine Lounge (Moniz)
Nick's Crispy Tacos
North Beach Pizza
Old Port Lobster Shack
One Market (Morrone; Dommen)
Pane e Vino
Le Petit Robert
Pho Vi Hoa
Piccadilly Fish and Chips
Pizza My Heart
Ramen House Ryowa
Ritz Carlton Dining Room* (Siegel)
R and G Lounge
Rosamunde Sausage Grill
Sam's Anchor Cafe
Sons and Daughters
Spago Palo Alto*
SPQR (Appleman; Accarrino)
Station 1 (Freitas)
Stella Pastry Caffe
St. Michael's Alley
Sushi Sam's Edomata
Swan Oyster Depot
El Tonayense Taco Truck
Tony's Pizza Napoletana
Una Pizza Napoletana
Vivande Porta Via*
Washington Square Bar and Grill*
What's Up Dog
Woodhouse Fish Company
15 East (Shimizu)
Alain Ducasse Essex House*
L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon*
Cafe Un Deux Trois
La Cote Basque*
db Bistro Moderne
Eleven Madison Park (Humm)
Gordon Ramsay at the London*
Grand Central Oyster Bar
Hallo Berlin Sausage Cart
H and H Bagels
Hole in One
Momofuku (Noodle and Ssam)
El Quinto Pino
Restaurant Jean Georges
Sushi of Gari
Sushi Yasuda (Yasuda)
Yakitori Tori Shin
Al's Italian Beef
Billy Goat Tavern
Chicago Chop House
Dick's Last Resort
Gene & Georgetti
Green Dolphin Street
Hubbard Street Grill
Lawry's Prime Rib
Mrs. Park's Tavern
Shaw's Crab House
Sweets & Savories
Monday, December 19, 2005
Whisk together 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, and 2 teaspoons salt.
Blend 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, 1/2 cup granulated sugar, 1 cup packed light brown sugar, 1 tablespoon vanilla extract, 2 eggs until smooth
Mix dry and wet mixtures together. Add about 2 cups (12-ounce package) chocolate chips (semi-sweet, milk, swirl, peanut butter, whatever) then refrigerate dough for at least 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees for at least 30 minutes. Drop spoonfuls of dough about 2 inches apart on cookie sheet, and bake for 10-12 minutes. Do NOT let them brown at all. Take them out when they still look somewhat raw but have taken cookie shape (i.e., does not look like melting dough). Try not to eat them for at least 2 hours (they are actually the best the next day).
Sunday, December 18, 2005
1 chicken breast (frozen or fresh)
1 russet potato
1 small white onion
3-4 stalks celery
1/4 cup white wine
1/8 tsp. basil
1/8 tsp. thyme
1 bay leaf
about 3 or 4 cans of chicken stock (enough to cover ingredients)
Chop everything (except chicken breast) into bite size pieces (not too small as they shrink after cooking). Dump in chicken breast (add another chicken breast if you like more meat in your soup), add white wine, cover with chicken stock (I use Swanson's, which is available at Costco in cases), drop in bay leaf, and bring to boil then simmer until all of the vegetables are soft (about 45 minutes). Pull out chicken breast and shred meat with forks then return to soup. Add herbs and salt and pepper to taste. You can add noodles at the end, although I find that they get soggy if you are making this quantity (enough for leftovers to reheat on the stove or in the microwave). You can also add whatever vegetables you like. The ones listed here are just the ones I like. Same with herbs. Sprinkle in whatever you like or whatever smells good. Since dried herbs are not anywhere near as pungent as fresh ones, they are really convenient for this soup (and you can get rid of some of those herbs that have been sitting around in your cupboard longer than you would ever admit to anyone else). Smell, add, taste, change, repeat (or not). You can also omit the chicken breast, add some broccoli, a little cream (or not), and then puree with a hand blender, and get a richer, creamy version (don't add noodles if you do this).
San Francisco, CA 94102
Last tried: June 2007
Cortez had closed for a few weeks to be remodeled. Although I did not notice anything new in the decor, I saw that the menu had been restyled to turn half-- the half with the more interesting proteins-- into full size plates. With my short attention span, I missed the greater variety of small plates from the previous menu. I also found that the individual components of the dishes did not come together as cohesively as before. For example, the sweetbreads and Monterey squid were each beautifully prepared, but the combination was odd, and the romesco sauce was a jarring addition.
I miss the original incarnation.
Previously tried: December 2005
Apparently Chefs Quinn and Karen Hatfield have gone back to Los Angeles. The new executive chef is the former sous chef, Louis Moldinado. Has this change affected the quality of the innovative small plate cuisine of Cortez? I can't decide...
The cream of cauliflower soup shots were sweet, rich, and delicious. The featured crudo was hamachi with sweet pink grapefruit wedges and a citrus vinaigrette. The fish was fresh and creamy in texture and matched quite well with the citrus.
Next we had the warm octopus salad, which still had the yummy hearts of palm that added a slightly vinegary and crunchy accent, but this time it was resting on a bed of red wine olive fennel puree instead of wild salad greens with garlic foam. This version was richer and more filling but not as refined or flavorful as the previous version.
My favorite dish, the Cortez BLT, was absent from the menu this time. We ordered the pork tortellini with mushrooms instead. The pasta was cooked precisely al dente, and the mushrooms were large, tender, and flavorful, matching well with the brown butter sauce. The pork element of the dish, however, was missing in action. The last savory dish we had, the duck breast with Michigan cherries on a bed of pureed salsify, was cooked perfectly with crispy skin and the meat a moist medium rare. To close, we had the greek yogurt panna cotta, with grapefruit wedges and a candied lemon slice.
We also received complimentary two sticks of chocolate hazelnut homemade "Kit Kats." I tried to convince the restaurant to sell me a box of them. Our server said those homemade Kit Kats were the reason why he worked there. I believe him. Wonder if they'll give me a job.
This was our fourth visit to Cortez, and the first time without the Chefs Hatfield. I thought the flavors in the dishes were not as well-articulated as on previous visits, just richer with more liberal use of cream and butter. But was it just this visit or is it a sign of things to come? Will need to go back again to investigate further.
Burgundy Stars by William Echikson:
The drama of the evolution of La Cote d'Or in the late Bernard Loiseau's quest for the third Michelin Star, interwoven with the history of the Michelin and Gault Millau guides. As satisfyingly indulgent as watching a good soap opera with a carton of Haagen-Dazs.
Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl:
If you enjoyed her reviews in the New York Times, you will eat up this book. Mouthwatering food descriptions, entertaining restaurant adventures, some easy recipes, and how she came to and ended up leaving the New York Times. (Tender at the Bone and Comfort Me With Apples are much more enjoyable if you read this first.)
The Soul of a Chef by Michael Ruhlman:
An up-close-and-personal look into the dedication, madness, and passion of three chefs-- Brian Polcyn, Michael Symon, and Thomas Keller. Ruhlman is both knowledgeable and entertaining (when he's not repeatedly asserting his CIA background or being too starstruck with the subject matter).
The Emperor of Wine: The Rise of Robert M. Parker, Jr. and the Reign of American Taste by Elin McCoy:
Wine gossip. Pour yourself a glass of wine and enjoy (also check out Mondovino on DVD).
Eating My Words by Mimi Sheraton:
A bit pedantic but still enjoyable. So was it Mimi Sheraton or Ruth Reichl who had a run-in with royalty while dining at Le Cirque? It's good reading either way.
It Must Have Been Something I Ate by Jeffrey Steingarten:
Science, logic, bread baking, being poisoned by inedible garnishes, and taste tests of salt/water/ketchup. The humorous lengths to which Jeffrey Steingarten, The Man Who Ate Everything, will go in search of the best food make for a great read.
A Cook's Tour by Anthony Bourdain:
The behind the scenes of his travels around the world for the series that was on Food Network. Even better than Kitchen Confidential.
Cooking for Mr. Latte by Amanda Hesser:
Chick Lit meets a slightly (very) neurotic Betty Crocker.
Super Chef by Juliette Rossant:
The making of chef empires featuring Wolfgang Puck, Charlie Palmer, Todd English, Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger, and Tom Colicchio.
House Husband by Ad Hudler:
A humorous look into a man's transition from the business world to the domestic world, with a number of easy and quite decent recipes he has created en route.
Death by Pad Thai edited by Douglas Bauer:
Short stories by various authors about their memories associated with food, good and bad, with some truly standout poignant essays.
More Food Reading:
- Alone in the Kitchen With an Eggplant: Confessions of Cooking for One and Dining Alone edited by Jenni Ferrari-Adler
- Service Included by Phoebe Damrosch
- A Meal Observed by Andrew Todhunter
- Don't Try This At Home by Kimberly Witherspoon
- California Dish by Jeremiah Tower
- Waiting: True Confessions of a Waitress by Debra Ginsberg
- Turning the Tables by Steven Shaw
- Fork It Over by Alan Richman
- Feeding a Yen by Calvin Trillin
- Julie and Julia by Julie Powell
- The Fourth Star by Leslie Brenner
- Vintage Caper by Peter Mayle
Friday, December 16, 2005
Chef Mark Sullivan (previously PlumpJack Squaw Valley; Slow Club; 42 Degrees)
Lunch weekdays only
Last tried: August 2008
Previously tried: August 2006
Given the per capita income in the Silicon Valley region, I have always wondered about the surprising paucity of good restaurants in the area. Thank goodness for the Village Pub, which I would count among the few in the area to which I would feel comfortable taking food-snobby New Yorkers to dine. In addition to an impressive and varied wine list, the restaurant also has a full bar.
Although this was my third visit to the restaurant, it was my first time to try the wine pairing there. Our server had just recently completed the introductory phase of the Master Sommelier series, and her suggested wine pairings were excellent. (Apparently the restaurant pays for all servers to become certified. Our server used to manage a restaurant in Southern California but came up here to work at The Village Pub for the wine training opportunity.) The wine of the evening was a 2003 Morgon Beaujolais-- an earthy wine with great minerality and nicely chiseled fruit, reminiscent of a Nuit St. Georges.
As an amuse, the chef sent out tiny brioche tartlettes dotted with smoked trout and mini salmon roe on a swirl of creme fraiche. The combination of buttery, salty, and creamy tastes in one bite jump started our tastebuds and appetites. Our server also brought us a glass of a 2002 Alsatian pinot gris to go with them. This is the first time I can ever recall a restaurant serving a glass of wine along with an amuse, and it was a lovely treat, especially since it paired so well.
Our first course was a half portion ($45 instead of $90; they also have a larger portion for $140) of the whole roasted foie gras on a bed of wilted swiss chard cooked with shallots and olive oil, with buttery brioche toast points on the side. The foie gras was served on a plate that looked like a painter's palette, containing a swirl of almond butter, a quenelle of braised red cabbage, a wedge of caramelized quince, tiny white grapes in a sweet and tart green paste (in the midst of enjoying the flavors, I forgot what that paste was), and a sweet and savory mustard. Each of these tastes added deliciously different flavors, highlighting different dimensions of the perfectly cooked foie gras, with its lightly crunchy caramelized crust and pinkish, caramel-colored center. The wine pairing was a 2001 sauterne (the restaurant offers d'Yquem by the glass, but we opted for a less expensive alternative, as it seemed a waste to drink a d'Yquem so young and secondary to all of the other flavors going on, instead of featured solo).
Next, we had a half portion of the pumpkin soup with candied pecan pieces and the sweetbread frisee salad. Although the soup was a bit too custardy for my taste, I still appreciated the sweet and creamy flavor of the pureed pumpkin, and the pecan pieces added a nice crunch. The sweetbread frisee salad with balsamic vinaigrette and pan-fried lardons was also nicely prepared. However, I would have preferred to enjoy the elements of this dish separately. The exterior of the sweetbread was perfectly crisp and the interior was tender and sweet, but these delicate flavors were lost among the vinaigrette and lardons. The frisee salad with the lardons might have been quite satisfying alone (perhaps with a poached egg on top).
All of the dishes, despite our server being kind enough to provide most of them in half-portions, were ample in size. Given the richness of most of the dishes we had selected, we were completedly stuffed at this point. It seems I am not all that different from my four-year-old nephew, who if left to his own devices would eat nothing but chocolate. In the absence of a chef's tasting menu option, I have been known to order several foie gras dishes in a row. We nonetheless forged ahead with the main entrees: butterfish (tasted like it sounds) with crispy skin and yukon gold potato coins; and duck confit with parsnips, escarole and candied walnuts. Although the duck was a bit salty, eaten together with the sides and combined with the wine pairing, it was quite tasty.
We could not, however, manage to squeeze in any dessert. Perhaps next time.