2.28.2011

I Left My Heart in San Fran-Cheesy; Part 3, The Final Chapter.


It was nice waking up in the hotel room on this morning. I love that hotel. I guess I have an affinity for it as I stayed there about five years ago and had a special time.

But, no rest for the weary – we had to hit the ground running and get to the farmers’ market at the Ferry Building.

It was a blustery day, drizzly and gray. When we arrived at the market we pretty much bee-lined for the oyster stand. I ordered three on the half shell. And, I have to admit, standing there in the weatheryness, a little groggy, staring at the bay, slurping down those oysters – there was nowhere I would have rather been. It was one of those moments that you know, right then and there, you’ll remember forever. Pretty god-damn great.

After that I hit up Roli Roti for a more substantial lunch. It was delicious. We poked around for a bit, checked out the stalls. I, of course, wanted to buy up some beautiful piece of produce from each and every stall, but I didn’t have a kitchen to race back to to flex in. So I bought a jar of pickled veggies to bring home to Maggie instead.
 
Then we went on to wander around at the Musée Mécanique, which was just down the way. By the by, anyone exploring San Francisco absolutely must check this spot out. It is great fun.


There was a lot of walking, a lot of wandering, a lot of coffee stops, and then back to the hotel to get ready for our last big night out in the city.

The strangest thing: whenever we looked out the window of our room, the city looked bright and dry. But then every time we walked out the front doors of the hotel, it was gray, blowy and rainy. Mysterious.

We hopped in a cab and set out to have a cocktail prior to dinner at a fun little bar very close to the restaurant. I really dug this bar and would like to return at some point to try the food. Onward. To Quince.

Quince was the only other I-must-eat-here spot in San Francisco other than Chez Panisse for this trip. I had heard raves about the place for years and thought Michael Tusk, who cooked extensively in Europe, and used to work at Stars, Oliveto, and Chez Panisse, had the tastiest morsel of all at La Loves Alex’s Lemonade this past November. I believe it was a quail and chickory salad with quince mostarda.


Quince’s interior was an unexpected delight. For some reason, I had predicted an environment more along the lines of Heirloom, but what I discovered was entirely a surprise. What I walked into was an elegant, formal dining room studded with chandeliers and suited staff, yet modern and hip (God, I hate using that word) with original Thomas Struth and Sally Mann prints. With exposed brick in the back and high ceilings, a large main dining space with peripheral area in the back, a long bar to the side, lounge in front, a private dining room, and a huge 10,000-bottle wine cellar, clearly this is an occasion restaurant. Thankfully, this was one (when isn’t?).


After I ordered my wine and Minty ordered her cocktail, the food began. We were first served our amuse bouche: scoop of diced big eye tuna and a shot of salsify veloute. Beautiful, fresh and inspired.


From there we ordered a few items that seemed a smart cross section of the menu, to share. They instinctively split our plates, which was tremendously generous and kind. The service was impeccable all night, actually.
 
Then came our Willet Farm Artichoke Salad with farro and burrata. This was a bewitching and graceful dish. The super fresh, creamy burrata worked beautifully with the earthiness of the artichoke and the farro and the crispies on top of it all.


The Delta Crawfish with Sonoma Coast wild mushroom, chickweed and cipollini onion was up next and was also exemplary. Those crawfish were cooked perfectly and were promoted to a surprisingly elegant status, yet maintained true-to their-roots in both presentation and taste.


I am on an extreme pasta kick right now so the Tagliolini with smoked eel and fava beans was an obvious choice. The pasta was done just right and the smoked eel was a creative and welcome companion. The fava element added a nice coarseness to such an otherwise refined dish. I could have eaten my body weight in this one.


And then we were served our Atlantic Cod with celery root, Meyer lemon and black truffle. I’m such a lucky girl to have so much truffle in so little time. And we all know about my current celery root fixation. This was one of those dishes. One of those perfectly composed, well thought out and well executed dishes. This dish was not unlike some of the beautiful photographs hanging on the very walls in front of my eyes that night. It was a piece of art.


I was doubtful that our dessert would rival the previous night’s at Chez Panisse. While they were not to be compared – apples and oranges, if you will – the Meyer Lemon Tart was pornographic in decadence, richness and buttery goodness. And, yet, somehow maintained a refined freshness.


Jeez.

So.

This was my favorite meal on our little journey.

Then we went and closed down a bar with another cute bartender to flirt with. Then there was lunch the next day. Then, after an overwhelmingly delicious coffee, we hit the road.


And, after a long drive (sans speeding ticket) with a beautiful sunset and then horrific weather, I greeted my little family up in the canyon, put on my pine cone jammies, poured a glass of wine, and snuggled into my couch to contemplate how I left my heart in San Fran-Cheesy.

2.22.2011

Clash of the Titans


Sometimes I don’t know if I like having crushes – or the whole dating universe. I mean, it’s great to have someone to play with, but it’s also jarring to begin sweating all the stupid girly shit when you were doing just fine before, on your own.

Something is overwhelmingly disturbing about having one’s confidence shaken to the point of paralysis as the result of not getting a phone call (or, more often than not these days, a text) about a plan that was vague at best, anyway. A plan you didn’t even really know if you wanted to be a part of anyway.

Suddenly one’s skin and emotions are all gossamery and stuff.

But then, it’s also really important to try to remember that this is supposed to be the funnest part, the neatest part. The totally not boring part.

But then, of course, the inevitable big battle begins: ego and jealousy always jump in and try to wreak havoc on the butterflies and giggles parade.

It must be worth it because we all return for it, over and over again. Hell, we hunger for it. We pay good money to see God-awful movies and wildly successful TV shows (that became God-awful movies) about it.

Funny thing: I have been doling out dating “advice” to my friends a lot lately, it seems. But I just realized, as it’s been so long since I’ve been on more than a couple dates with any one person that said advice is infinitely easier said than done.

I guess this is the part where I tell you that my first date, about which I shared some neurosis with you very recently, went really well. I had a lot of fun. And I didn’t expect to. And yes, there has since been a second (and maybe a third!) date. Also fun.

So this brings us to the now – the time when I have to work really hard – wait for it – to enjoy everything. Oxymoronic, no?

And so, as I reflect on these thoughts, and try to recall and feel the fun sillies from the weekend, and try not to project on how many ways either he or I or the universe could possibly make it all dissolve into thin air, I, as usual, found my zen in my kitchen. Making soup.

This is a beautiful and delicate soup. It’s one I had a lot growing up in Richmond. There was (and still is) a little Greek spot called Athens Tavern that served it. That was the only place I ever had it until somewhat recently. It’s like chicken and noodles, but it somehow manages to be a lot more complex and bold while simultaneously being delicate and diaphanous upon hitting the tongue. These supposed elemental mismatches end up making perfect sense - they just are - not unlike the ego versus butterfly battle. The clash of the Titans.

I also gave a certain someone a big bowl of this soup to have for lunch at work today…



Avgolemono Soup

6-8 servings

2 quarts strong chicken stock (preferably home-made)
1 cup chopped up chicken pieces (preferably from the meat of the chicken used for the stock)
½ cup raw orzo
4 eggs
Juice of 4 Meyer lemons
Kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper

Bring stock to a boil and add the orzo. Cook until orzo is tender, about twenty minutes. Add chicken.
Remove the stock from the heat. Just before serving, beat the eggs until they are light and frothy. Slowly beat in the lemon juice and dilute the mixture with two cups of the hot soup, beating constantly until well mixed.
Add the diluted egg-lemon mixture to the rest of the soup, beating constantly. Bring almost to the boiling point, but do not boil or the soup will curdle.
Salt and pepper to taste.
Serve immediately.

Printable Recipe

2.18.2011

I Left My Heart in San Fran-Cheesy; Part 2, Friday


This day started a bit late. But we did get up and running, packed our stuff to move on from Carina’s, loaded the car and decided to amble around the city and find some lunch before we could check into our hotel in the mid-afternoon.

This landed us at Tony’s Pizza Napoletana. I think I may have heard Donovan and Minty talking about this place the night before, but I wasn’t certain. Regardless, what I thought was a stumble-onto kind of deal was that sneaky Minty’s plan all along.


I’m not historically a big pizza person, athough I do appreciate a good pie from time to time. Perhaps you may recall my Pizzeria Bianco adventure not too long ago. Tony's was actually not altogether unlike Bianco’s style. In fact, Tony Gemignani is no slouch – he is a nine time World Pizza Champion. All ingredients are authentic, and imported from the Pizza Capital of the World, Napoli.



We ordered the 2007 World Pizza Cup Winner, 900 degree wood fired margherita (limit 73 per day). It was beautiful. It was up there in the tops for me, but I still don’t think I’ve tasted better than Chris Bianco’s margherita.


Tony was on site and smack in front of that 900 degree wood fired oven, right in front of us. He is a great guy who deeply cares for his craft and his restaurant, and as a result, a man I have deep respect for.

We spent the next couple of hours driving and wandering around the city, killing a little time prior to check-in at the hotel. Minty even led us down Lombard Street for some touristy fun.

And then we checked into the hotel. And then Minty got her nap on while I wandered out into the city on foot for a few hours. And in my solo meandering, I accidentally dropped way too much money on face wash. Well, no massage for me. Lesson learned. And then I stopped into our hotel bar for a glass of prosecco before going back up to the room to rouse Minty so we could get all gussied up.

And then it was time. It was time to drive to Berkeley for our dinner at Chez Panisse.


On the drive there I commented on the fact that I was more than a little scared. I mean, I had been waiting years for this dinner. I had rented a car and driven up the coast for this dinner. How could any dinner live up to what my expectations had grown into?

The building is quaint and rustic with soft, yellowy lighting and is absolutely beautiful. Walking inside one immediately feels warm and welcome with its lodge-like ambiance, bustling energy and magnificent arrangements of seasonal fruits, vegetables and flowers. We checked our coats and went upstairs to the café for a glass of wine before dinner.


The café was crackling with activity and had a much more casual vibe to it. As I sipped my glass of lillet and perused the café menu, I sort of wished we could dine up there. But I was quickly reminded that after all this time, and it being my first experience, I really needed to experience that which was the genesis of Chez Panisse. Or I would always wonder. And we were committed. The $95 tasting menu it was.


And so, after our drink, we descended the stairs and were seated in the front room in a corner with windows all around. It was the exact table I was hoping for. The downstairs, while maintaining a consistence aesthetically, had a much calmer, more mature, refined vibe than the upstairs. More formal. Our server promptly served us our aperitif along with an amuse bouche, some gougéres and fresh bread and butter. Holy, little, baby Jesus – that bread was outstanding, as was the butter. Both so fresh and delicate and perfect in every way.


For our first course we were served the warm chicory salad with goose proscuitto, mustard flowers and orange vinaigrette. We paired this with a light, crisp white upon the suggestion of our tremendously gracious and helpful sommelier. This was a simply beautiful salad. It was exactly what Alice Waters and Chez Panisse are. It was vibrant, fresh, savory, sweet, vivid and replete with varying textures to play on one’s tongue. I pretty much licked my plate clean.


Next came the Pacific cod with potato puree and black truffle butter. A simple dish, a clean dish. My cod was a hair overcooked and the taste of truffle a bit faint, though I could see a gracious plenty with my eyes. I also wanted a little salt.


The Grilled Paine Farm squab with dates, butternut squash blinis, braised endives and watercress was on point. I adored this dish. So many robust flavors married perfectly. The squab was meaty and plentiful, and I can’t wait to start playing with braised endive in my own kitchen. We had a beautiful, light, smart red with this dish that went brilliantly. I called this a “Jill” wine. And again, here, I was a member of the clean plate club.


My prize for such a lauded membership was the chocolate fondant with bourbon ice cream and espresso caramel. Now, I’m not a dessert person, nor am I a chocoholic, but the dessert was heavenly. The cake was moist, the little pecan on top was the ideal accoutrement, and the ice cream and caramel were mouth watering. 


Howie, our sommelier, continued to offer us various sips and tastes for each course, which was great fun. Actually, all elements of service were impeccable. We were even welcomed into the kitchen to poke around and explore the driving force behind Chez Panisse.


We had a beautiful night. We were full of good food and good wine. Was it everything I had ever hoped and dreamed for? That I cannot say. I am eager to return, however. I am mostly excited to experience the café, upstairs where I can pick and choose this and that, sip wines, and graze in a more casual environment.


I have absolutely nothing but mad respect for Alice Waters and everything she has done for food and for us over the decades.

The drive back to the hotel was mostly quiet and thoughtful. Time to ruminate, I suppose. Which was nice as our next adventure involved tremendously loud, abrasive music in an overcrowded hotel bar filled with convention-goers and busted hookers.


And then there was sleep.



Stay tuned for part three, the final chapter in my culinary adventures and various other mis-adventures in the City by the Bay, coming soon…


2.13.2011

Eduardo Facebook Saverin Shaffbar


For about a year or so, quite a few of my close friends have told me I should write a dating blog, or something along those lines. I find this to be borderline hysterical, as I have not even been in a relationship since season four of The Wire began. I suppose I have had some interesting adventures in the love and/or dating sphere since then, but absolutely nothing has stuck. Well, except Besito Ysidro, of course. And food.

For the past two or three winters I have been having a lot of fun playing with sunchokes. Prior to that they were relatively unknown to me. They are really very interesting, however, and their unusual texture and flavor make for fun and experimental dishes – but for me, mostly soups, purees, mashes and hashes.

Sunchokes

This winter I have been all about celery root, or celeriac. I have had all sorts of celery root things before, but I don’t think I ever stopped to consider that celery root was any different than celery. Who knows why that would be. And, in case you didn't know, celery and celery root are not the same thing. It is a kind of celery, grown as a root vegetable for its large and bulbous hypocotyl rather than for its stem and leaves.
 
At the end of January I had a lovely celery root soup at The Mercantile. This inspired me.

The sunchoke and celery root appeal to me in similar ways, ways not unlike the artichoke. I mean, who ever looked at any of these items and thought, “I wonder if I should try to eat this gross, and imposing vegetation?" These are ugly and unwelcoming looking shapes. But I'm glad someone did. Because they turned out to be so interesting – so complex, multi-layered, delicious, and fun to cook with. Actually, kind of like the men I am often attracted to. And dogs, for that matter. 

Mise en Place - Celery Root is on bottom right.

This brings me to Eduardo. The latest man in my life. I met Eduardo about a week and a half ago. He was being fostered by an incredibly sweet, and humanitarian, couple in West Hollywood. Regardless of the fact that they own four cats, some feral and with health problems (and none that care for dogs), they still managed to save Eduardo from a certain death at a shelter on the very day he was to be put down. They asked me to take care of him for a few days while they went out of town and it was love at first snuggle. I adopted him. Well, to be clear, Maggie and I adopted him.

Eduardo Facebook Saverin Shaffbar and his Twin.

Not unlike the celery root or the sunchoke, or the men I often find myself attracted to, Eduardo is not without his unattractive qualities. He can be quite the surly little man at times. But ultimately, when he's not growling at you for trying to pick him up, or put him down, he is beautiful, complicated, multi-dimensional, snuggly, goofy and well, pretty damned sweet. He sort-of dares you to love him. And he has the funniest little teeth. They are more like tiny human teeth than doggie teeth. Like tiny, little pieces of rice.

That being said, ironically, I have a date tonight. Not with a root vegetable or a dog. Or Maggie. But with a boy. Oof. Wish me luck. I will now leave you all with that recipe I know you've been waiting for - the soup I promised in the last post.


Celeraic Soup with Sunchoke "Croutons"

Serves 6

2 medium celery roots (celeriac; 1 3/4 pounds total), trimmed, peeled, cut into 1-inch cubes (about 8 cups)
1 pound russet potatoes, peeled, cut into 3/4-inch cubes (about 3 cups)
3 cups chicken stock
2 cups whole milk
3 garlic cloves, peeled
3 fresh thyme sprigs
1 fresh bay leaf
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, divided
3/4 cup heavy cream
8 ounces sunchokes, scrubbed
1/2 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil 
chopped fresh fennel fronds (for garnish)

Combine first 7 ingredients in heavy large pot. Add enough water to cover. Sprinkle with salt. Bring to boil, reduce heat to medium, and simmer with lid slightly ajar until vegetables are tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Drain; return to pot. Discard thyme sprigs and bay leaf. Stir over medium heat to dry vegetables. Using immersion blender, blend vegetables until coarsely pureed. Add cream. Stir in 3 1/2 tablespoons butter. Season with salt and pepper. DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead. 

Preheat oven to 425°F. Cut sunchokes into 1/2-inch cubes. Place in medium bowl; add oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and toss to coat. Dot with remaining 1/2 tablespoon butter. 
Transfer to rimmed baking sheet; roast until tender and golden brown, turning occasionally, about 25 minutes.
Place celery root and potato puree in serving bowl. Sprinkle sunhokes and chopped fennel over and serve.

Printable Recipe

2.10.2011

I Left My Heart in San Fran-Cheesy; Part 1, Thursday.


Although I am itching to deviate, temporarily – as I do – from the restaurant writings, as there seem to be a few in a row at present, and I know everyone is just waiting with bated breath for my next story about how some very personal chunk of my life relates to one of my recipes, which I then share, I would be remiss if I didn’t discuss my recent trip to San Francisco and some dining out experiences with you.

Was that run on sentence?

Anyway, that being said, you will all have to wait a bit longer for my celery root soup with sunchoke “croutons” recipe.

Ever since food found such a prominent, and dominant, part of my life, I have wanted to go to Chez Panisse. But, as I have been able to travel little in the past seven or so years, it has not been checked off the list. Until very recently, that is.

A month or so ago I decided I was going to bust a move up the coast for one of my culinary adventures. I had fully intended to go at it alone until one night, after blathering on about my plan to Minty, it was decided: we were going to team up and conquer the food and cocktail scene in San Francisco together.

And so, two weeks ago, in my rented Toyota Corolla (my car would never make the journey, nor would anyone want to spend that much time in it), Minty and I hit the road. She, with her weekend bag. Me, with the suitcase I used when I spent two weeks in Europe – full. I am the world’s most horrible packer.

We were all set, cruising up the I-5N, had my iPod playing tunes, us, chatting away. About an hour and a half to two hours in, I look down and notice A. I’m going about 90 miles per hour, B. I have no actual clue what the speed limit is, and C. Regardless of the speed limit it is almost certain that I am speeding. And, D. right at that crucial moment, I also decide to pass the car in front of me. That car was a cop. First speeding ticket ever, check.

The remainder of the drive was glitch free with the exception of coming frighteningly close to running out of gas only moments after the whole ticket affair. Hey, I don’t proclaim to being that awesome of a driver. Just take a look at my car sometime.

The view from Carina's.

Well, rest easy, we made it there alive – and in amazing time! Upon arrival, I wanted coffee. Minty led us to wine. Oh, I suppose I can have a glass of wine. Or two.

You gotta love The Castro.

After settling in at our host, (and Minty’s friend) Carina’s place and having a little time to freshen up, the three of us headed out, on foot, to dinner. It was a beautiful, crisp night and I thoroughly enjoyed every second of soaking in the air and the city during our walk. 

That night we dined at Heirloom Cafe. The girls wanted to go to Frances, but as the wait was a bit, ahem, excessive we continued walking until we arrived at Heirloom. The girls were sweet. They knew my style was along the lines of sustainable, local, simple food – and they wanted to cater to it. Again, very conscientious of the ladies.

Heirloom was right up my alley. It actually reminded me, aesthetically, of a lot of the restaurants/cafes/bistros I grew up eating in back in Richmond. Small, and intimate, with wooden floors, vintage wall-paper, high, tin-stamped ceilings, and an airy, rustic feel. It also felt like Richmond in that we were the only guests under 50 years-old in the house. Interestingly, I discovered later that Heirloom, which opened up in the Mission District less than a year ago, is the brainflower of Matt Straus, former wine director at Wilshire and Grace, right here in sunny Los Angeles.


We were seated at a long, communal farm table that extended along the length of the middle of the room.  The wine list was tremendously impressive and about as big as a Tolstoy novel. After some dialogue with our affable server, we selected a beautiful, warm and rounded 2001 Savennieres, Baumard, which ended up pairing very nicely with everything we had to eat.

I thought the menu was small and precise. I always appreciate a tight, confident menu. We started with the Dungeness crab, endive, brioche croutons, lemon emulsion ($14), and a fresh linguine with shaved black truffles (I don’t recall the price). I was tremendously fond of the fresh, tart, and spritely salad. Those buttery, brioche croutons made me smiley from the inside out.


I am on an extreme pasta kick right now, and this was pretty great. The noodles were delicate and sanguine. And who can argue with a shaved, black truffle, especially in January! I could have had these two dishes all to myself, with that bottle of Savennieres and been fully sated and absolutely happy.


We then each ordered an entrée and sampled one another’s choices. Carina opted for the Maine sea scallops, sweet mashers, frisee, brown butter, currants ($22), Minty went with the fish soup, PEI mussels, manila clams, roasted fennel, saffron broth ($20), and I had the sliced duck breast, farro, carrots, confit cabbage, port sauce ($22). Minty also ordered the roasted yam risotto, chanterelles, crispy shallots, pistou ($15). She just couldn’t resist.


The duck, sadly, was a little disappointing in that it was under-seasoned. It was, however, cooked to perfection and its accoutrements were delightful. I loved the farro and port. Minty’s fish soup had a bold, beautiful broth and was chock full of fruits of the sea. I love fennel. I love saffron. I love seafood. I don’t normally opt for Bouillabaisse-like dishes (you never know what might float to the top), but I enjoyed my tastes of this dish. The risotto was outstanding. It was perfectly toothsome, slightly sweet, earthy and incorporated a perfect ceremony of color, taste and texture. I enjoyed Carina’s scallop dish as well. The scallops were spot on, but while I appreciated the brown butter, I was not necessarily a fan of the currants and sweet mash as plate partners. I realize I am a bit of a nut with the fruity stuff and my sweet and savory getting too muddled, but I honestly was just unsure about this dish conceptually, as a whole. I will add that I was alone with this opinion.


And this brings us to dessert – not something I normally indulge in, but what the hell - it was vacation. We got the apple and pear butter cake and a play on the Oreo, a cake-like concoction called o Ree Oh Or ee oHH cake. I loved the actual cake part of the pear and butter cake. The chocolate-y o Ree Oh Or ee oHH cake was fun, but by this time I needed a wheelbarrow to roll me out. Stick a fork in me, I’m done – you know?


Good stuff, Heirloom. If and when I return to San Francisco, I will return to you.

After dinner we met up with Donovan, a friend of Carina and Minty’s, and headed to a couple of bars where we bellied up and finished out the night. I recall a cute bartender at our second stop. I recall a cab ride home. I recall a sound night of sleep after a long drive and our first night of our adventure. I recall a couple of girls with tiny (ahem) hangovers the next morning.




More exciting San Francisco culinary adventures coming tout suite – including the eagerly anticipated Chez Panisse story, so stay tuned…


2.04.2011

Relating to Relate with the Relationchef.


Y’all know I love a little food adventure. But, admittedly, after my culinary extravaganza in San Francisco a mere forty-eight hours prior, I was slightly daunted to travel to San Diego and back in one evening for dinner this past Wednesday night. And my car is scary.

But I said I would do it, and do it I would.

This meal of which I speak was a special preview dinner for Chef Dan Moody’s new pop up, Relate (opening night was Thursday). Yes, he hath flown from the nest of Chef Ludo and jumped into his very own venture, serving up his contemporary French-influenced fare, peppered with a bit of classic American and Asian. I enjoyed his dishes from the Sous Chef night at Test Kitchen – particularly the foie gras- powdered donuts, and was eager to see what he would do with an entire food-cosm all his own.

And so, at 4:30, I hopped in the car with high hopes of not breaking down and arriving at Bistro St. Germain’s by 7:00pm.

And then there was traffic. And then there was more traffic. And then there was none. And then I flew down the I-5S like a bat out of hell to arrive a little before 7:30, right in the middle of Dan addressing the room prior to the first course. I felt a little like a jerk. I so hate being late. Then I saw the waving hands and smiling faces of Kevin and Holly beckoning me to join them and I felt a little better.

Not unlike the Ludobites model, Dan chose Bistro St. Germain’s as it's more of a breakfast and lunch spot, quaint, very casual and looking to explore new roads. I would have liked the lights a little bit dimmer (night-time make-up and all), and perhaps some music, but I appreciated the original paintings on the walls and found the spot to be comfortable and welcoming.


The menu is around five courses at $55 with an additional $15 for pairings (that night from the Mount Palomar Winery). The French Onion Soup course and the Beet Chip in the lobster course were absent due to first night hitches in the giddyup, but this was certainly not a hill to die on.


So let us begin with our amuse; a Carrot Consommé Shooter. The shooter was soft, supple, slightly chilled and topped with a bold ginger foam. I really liked the subtlety of the consommé matched with the zing of the ginger. Pop goes the palate!


Next up we were poured a glass of 2007 viognier (thank baby Jesus, it was finally Wine O'Clock) to ride along with the Roasted Baby Beet Salad, Golden Beet Vinaigrette. Historically, I’m not big on viogniers, but have been opening up to them a bit more recently. This was very buttery and reminiscent of a chardonnay in that it seemed to have that double malolactic quality. Conceptually a good choice for the beets. This salad was beautiful, colorful and innovative – and, while executing itself simply, had a lot going on. I adored the crisp, earthy addition of the baby purple radish in the dish. The lettuce leaves on which all rested were somewhat difficult to conquer without a knife. I just used my hands.


Our next wine was the 2008 cortese, and was not unlike the viognier, but perhaps a bit milder, more minerally. This went with the Butter Poached Lobster, Warm Egg & Caviar Salad, Leeks with Fennel Jam, Onion Froth. Again, this dish was beautiful both aesthetically and conceptually. Holly loved the fennel jam, Kevin did not. I found all of the elements involved in the dish to be surprising and of interest, if not sewn together ideally. I really appreciated the challah underneath it all - it’s crispness adding a nice contrast in texture. The 63 degree egg was also a lovely element. The laced magenta micro-greens were a perfect touch as well.


I was super excited about the next dish, the Rabbit Cassoulet, as I am a huge cassoulet fan and always order it when I spy it on a menu. This, paired with the 2006 merlot, was absolutely my favorite dish of the evening. And I believe Kevin and Holly felt the same. My only beef with the dish is I wanted a hundred more bites of it! I really appreciated the shout out to the Chinese New Year and the advent of the Year of the Rabbit. Again, Moody’s use of the garnish in the micro bull blood ended up being a star element of the dish, bringing that snappy freshness in. While not being what I would want as a tremendously drinkable wine, the merlot ended up working quite well with the dish.


Moody’s calling card, if you will, the Spiced Beef, Spinach Avocado Puree, Crispy Porcini Spaetzle, Black Truffle, Guiness Gastrique was up next, paired with a 2007 meritage. This dish reminded me of a perfectly composed photograph: when the viewer’s eye lands at a precise (and intended) spot on the image and travels around for a while along the artist’s map, so to speak. This, too, had a successful (and intentional) trajectory. The beef was beautifully cooked and its spice was quite the eye-opener – BLAM! But then it was slightly neutralized by the avocado, reawakened with the gastrique and toned back down with the spaetzle. While I doubt anyone was complaining, the truffle seemed little more than an afterthought. This paring, I felt, was the most successful.


After a brief intermission for the resident artist, Christopher M., to present Moody with a portrait, we were served our final course: Smoked S’mores, House-Made Graham Crackers, Agave Marshmallow, Chipotle-Orange Ganache, Tequila Créme Anglaise (a dish of his appearing hitherto at Ludobites), paired with a port. I’m not a huge sweets gal, but I enjoyed this dish. The marshmallow embodied a succinctly campfire smoked quality that, Moody explained, was created with a smoking gun (no, not a real gun, of course). A port was the right choice, but I found this particular one to be too young and thin to even come close to standing up to the dish.


I enjoyed my meal. I related to my meal. If this pop up was, in this, my City of Angels, I would return to see how it morphs throughout the month. I am curious to see a few things pushed and pulled this way and that, and I would like to see much more innovative and daring pairings. But hot damn, Mr. Moody, big ups!


So, and then, I drove home at warp speed while listening to Mogwai’s Mr. Beast at an Earth-shattering volume, to crawl into my jammies, pour a glass of cabernet, and watch the latest episode Jersey Shore (yeah... so shoot me) with Maggie and the pups as I ruminated on yet another foodventure.


Relate at Bistro St. Germain's
1010 S Coast Highway 101, Encinitas, CA 92024
858.367.3709
www.relaterestaurant.com
Tuesday through Saturday 2/3/11 – 2/26/11, 6:00 PM – 10:00 PM