Friday, February 22, 2008

It's a matter of taste...or tasting

The Man and I sort of did a little post-Valentine's Day celebration on Friday night. We made reservations at our little chi-chi chef-owned joint and set out to have a verrrrry nice dinner. This place is one of those little gems that, while expensive, has been worth it. The staff have been well trained in the art of table service, and they seem to be rather knowledgeable about their menu and the ingredients.

It's been awhile since we ate there, and I remember that I was really pleased with our meal the last time, so I was really looking forward to dinner. Now, before you settle in with the popcorn and Coke in anticipation of a spiraling downward experience that ends badly for everyone, that's not really this post. This post is going to be more of me harping about perceptions and value. It's nowhere near the scale of the un-grilled vegetable grilled vegetable panini, but it's just something that's sort of stayed with me for the last few days.

The menu was small, which I like--we can kvetch about the size of the Cheesecake Factory's menu later--and there was an option to have a 5-course tasting menu for $55/person; $85/person with wine pairings. Which sounds like a lotta moola for a meal, but is also darn cheap for a tasting menu, not to mention a tasting menu with wine. We won't even talk about how much a tasting menu at The French Laundry will run $240 for 9 courses...and no, that does not include wine pairings--that be extra.

But, even though I've never eaten at TFL, and may not ever, it's just sort of always held that penultimate place in my tiny pea brain that it would be the end all, be all of tasting menus, and by golly, it should set the standard for all other tasting menus...even though I've never tasted any of it. (I never said this was going to be a logical and rational post, but I'm hoping it sort of makes sense.)

I guess what I'm trying to get across is that I expect that a "tasting menu" will reflect the chef's philosophy on food and showcase some of the best ingredients and his or her best techniques. And, then there's the whole "you get what you pay for" idea, too.

Anyway, the food was good, but overall, it wasn't a phenomenal meal. I don't think it held a candle to the meal we had the last time we were there...I remember a phenomenal Veal Osso Buco with a blue cheese risotto that had me practically licked the plate while finishing it.

We started with Billi Bi, a lovely seafood soup, so hope was high. It was creamy, loaded with mussels, and most tasty, and came with a lovely champagne pour. It's really hard not to like champagne, and I just always feel very decadent when I drink's like the onomatopoeia for celebration. (Yeah, that was a stretch, but how often do you get to use onomatopoeia outside of an English class?)

The next course was the salad, which was nothing spectacular. Some baby greens, a few pine nuts, and a shallot-bacon dressing. Nothing memorable...just a salad.

The fish course was a roasted tilapia over some creamy grits, and it was very tasty. Tilapia always seems to be the tofu of fish--it's white, mild, and pairs well with just about any flavoring, seasoning, and cooking method. It was crispy yet flaky and moist...and the grits were divine. I love grits...I like them with a ton of butter for breakfast. Add a little bacon and cheese, and I'm in heaven. Shrimp and grits is a fine and wonderful Low Country dish, and I'm always happy to see any sort of cheesy grits as a side dish in any restaurant. I swear that I had the best breakfast grits in a Colorado Springs hotel--they were perfectly cooked, salted, and buttered. I figured they had some displaced Southern chained up in the kitchen.

The entree was pork loin....which was good, and one of the things that The Man was considering ordering to begin with, but I guess my problem with it as the entree was that it wasn't anything different from what was on the regular menu. It was one of the less expensive items on the menu, as well, so I don't feel like it was something created special for the tasting menu. And, it did not help that as the intermezzo, to cleanse the ol' palate, we were served a scoop of mango sorbet that was Haagen Daaz. Not knocking the HD, but hard is it to make your own sorbet? It was too sweet to be a palate cleanser, which is why I know darn well it was HD.

I guess I should have listened more carefully when our waiter said that they had created this tasting menu as a Valentine's special the day before. It just seemed to me that it was the tasting menu for the masses, if you know what I mean. If I had shown up on VD and gotten this as a "special" for the day, that would have been fine. I know that VD is a day that servers hate the most, because it brings everyone out of the woodwork, and they all want the mostest speshulest dining experience. Which is one of the reasons we went with the day after for our little celebration. Just a little disappointed...but it's not like I've never experienced a disappointing Valentine's holiday before...comes with the gender, I guess.

The thing that saved the evening was dessert. We got a rectangular plate of 3 mini-desserts, which is something I wish more restaurants would do. Sometimes, I want a little something sweet at the end of the meal, but I don't want to commit to the Chocolate Hurricane Avalanche Overload Surprise with 2 scoops of ice cream. Sometimes, I just want a wee tiny bite of somethin'-somethin' that's not an Andes mint. So, there was 2-3 truffles, something in the middle that I, for the life of me, cannot remember, and this little miniature Pavlova with some fresh fruit.

At the beginning of the meal, the waiter had asked if there was anything we did not like (Brussels sprouts are high on that list), and if we had any allergies. The Man is allergic to almonds and peanuts. He can eat other nuts, as in don't get in the way of him and a bag of pistachios, but those 2 give him some issues. Waiter says that he will note it on the ticket.

The Man eats the truffles, and says, "that one had peanut butter in it." I'm thinking that this might actually be the one that does send him over the edge and into an anaphylactic reaction, but thank goodness no. He does mention it to the waiter, who apologizes all over himself, but seriously, if The Man had been a person who was highly reactive, we would have finished dessert in an ambulance. And, I guess I thought that the chef or pastry chef would have come out to apologize as well.

The little individual Pavlova was a work of dessert art. It was a little meringue crown filled with whipped cream and blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries that had been macerated in something. It was sweet, crispy, and melt-in-your mouth. Quite a different experience from those goofy meringue cookies that were the fat-free rage over the last 3-4 years.

The funniest thing that happened was one of the wait staff cleared our table after the fish course...I mean completely cleared it as in the "you're done with dinner and have opted not to take dessert" kind of cleared. It was amusing to watch them scramble around to reset us for the last 2 courses.

Anyway, this has degenerated in some rambling crap now, and I think I might have totally lost the whole point of this diatribe, to boot. Oh, the kicker--we figured out that we would have been much better off ordering full apps, entrees, and desserts, price-wise. Isn't that a hoot?

1 comment:

LinC said...

It sounds like a nice dinner but not spectacular -- maybe the staff was recovering from V'day. If they are going to serve you something from the regular menu, the least they could do is to call it something different and make a sauce. But I think it's lovely that you've found a real restaurant with a real chef in your area.