Archive for October, 2009

Sanctuary – Dinner – Restaurant Week

Starter:
Crayfish cake with remoulade and daikon micro green salad

Entrée:
Smoked and braised lamb shank with white beans, chorizo, cassoulet and roasted fire tomato sauce

Dessert:
Bailey’s chocolate shake with chocolate chip cookies and berries

Maybe it was the knowledge that I was eating the last of my Restaurant Week meals -nine in six days – a protracted, rapid series of (mostly) fantastic meal experiences that, until now, I haven’t enjoyed anywhere outside of Tuscany. Maybe it was that I had just choked down that god-awful pad thai at Comsos. Maybe it was simply that Sanctuary makes exceptional food. Whatever the case, our dinner Friday night blew our respective doors off.

I know I’ve already awarded five “Oh Gods” out of five to other meals that had barely perceptible downsides, but, no disrespect to those deserving venues, when the bar gets raised such as it was at Sanctuary, you’re forced to think back and wonder if perhaps you had been a bit to hasty awarding a perfect score previously and maybe you should have allowed for a short period of contemplation before writing those reviews. Or at least waited until total sobriety. Well, the past is the past, and the present is now and the future is when alien archeologists uncover this blog post and wonder about this so-called ‘God’ that I keep referring to.

Flouting the implicit spirit of Restaurant Week, Sanctuary had only one fixed priced menu to choose from. This lack of variety probably caused some people to take pause (i.e. me, though I was coerced into going anyway), but then those people would have been tragically screwing themselves out of an outstanding dinner.

crayfishcake

The crayfish cake was, in two words, kick ass. After exactly four chews, my companion said “This is what Sea Change should have done.” (Burn!) It was meaty and held together well without being soggy and there was a pleasing little hint of spice at the end. The remoulade was just a little to mayo-y for me, though pretty much everything with mayo in it is too mayo-y for me. My companion assured me that it was superior. We both ended up eating this cake as if it were the last crayfish on earth –one sliver at a time, savoring every morsel, desperately trying to commit every facet of it to our permanent memory banks.

lambshankwhitebeans

The lamb shank was the largest either of us had ever seen. Seemingly slow cooked in something wonderful for about 12 hours, the oozing, juicy meat shredded right off the bone, without so much as a single sawing motion from a knife. This raised the question of how they were able to transfer this exceptionally delicate shank from the pan to the plate without it completely falling apart due to the force of gravity. The chorizo was a nice touch, but there wasn’t much of it and, compared to the religion-changing taste of the lamb, it really only played a minor role. I’m not a huge fan of beans, but the white beans almost completely took on the flavor of the roasted fire tomato sauce, virtually erasing my usual texture qualms.

baileyschocolateshake

The Bailey’s chocolate shake was as rich and yummy as one would expect of anything with the word ‘Bailey’s’ affixed to it, with the added advantage of the chocolate chip cookies and berries that tasted equally incredible, whether eaten on their own (me) or liberally dipped into the shake (companion).

When asked for final thoughts on the entire meal, my companion responded with an emphatic “F*ckin’ A”. Truer words have rarely been said.

Oh wait, there was one quibble people should know about when eating at Sanctuary, particularly in cold weather: the temperature in the front quarter of the restaurant temporarily, but instantly, dropped about 15 degrees every time anyone opened the door. And it was only in the 40s Friday night. Anyone unlucky enough to be seated near the door in the dead of winter had better be able to work a knife and fork while wearing their choppers.

I’m awarding this dinner the most resounding five “Oh Gods” out of five of Restaurant Week.

Restaurant Week is over, but for the record, the fixed price was $30.
Sanctuary’s Restaurant Week dinner menu is posted here.

Eating | 5.10.2009 8:55 | 1 Comment

Cosmos – Lunch – Restaurant Week

Starter:
Lobster Bisque – Chive Crème Fraîche, Red Pepper Croutons

Entrée:
Cosmos Pad Thai with Chicken – Rice Noodles, Peanuts, Cilantro, Fresh Lime

Going from the best meal of the week to the worst in a mere 16 hours was not a pleasant experience. The physical and emotional trauma was so severe that I’m now seeking treatment from both a chiropractor and a hug therapist.

shrimpamusebouche

I’ll start with what was done right. Like the dinner I’d had Sunday night, soon after arrival we were presented with an amuse-bouche of a single shrimp and penne with a dribble of a balsamic reduction. Thoughtful, cute and tasty.

lobsterbisqueduckquesadillaspicedshrimp

While considering the Restaurant Week menu, our table of four mused out loud if we could perhaps substitute a second starter in place of our entrées. Cosmos’ starters were all winners. My lobster bisque, despite the curious absence of tangible lobster, was thick, warm and spicy. Pretty much exactly what you’d like on a cold rainy day in October. Even better was the grilled quesadilla duck confit, with cilantro, mango salsa and poblano aioli. Duck confit seems to be everywhere lately and I’m not complaining. A few weeks earlier I’d had what might have been an almost identical duck quesadilla downstairs at Bradstreet Crafthouse Resaurant (Same kitchen? Anyone?). Both were commendably non-greasy and the mango and aioli were subtle, yet effective touches. However, the spiced basil shrimp with ginger garlic sauce was the hit of the table. The colors and textures were pleasing, the spice was perfect and the sauce was both distinctly Asian, but again, a perfect core-warming flavor for a cold and damp day.

Which brings us to the end of the good parts. Cue the funeral dirge.

padthaichicken

Having had both a great brunch and dinner here on previous occasions, I was more than a little disappointed at the unanimously underwhelming lunch entrées. My pad thai was almost distressingly unexciting. I’ve had better at, and I’m not kidding here, Noodles and Company. Though, my mouth was still slightly ablaze from the spice in the bisque, the noodles seemed virtually tasteless on their own. The veg had been spiced up, but there was so little of it on the plate that mouthfuls of noodle were blah more often than not. (To be fair, one companion had gotten the veggie pad thai and reported that hers was very spicy, though hers strangely didn’t have any peanuts). Finally, the chicken, matching the rest of the plate, was plain and forgettable.

walleye

The seared walleye with wheat berries, dried cranberries and goat cheese, with a champagne vinaigrette was the meager highlight. The small-portioned walleye was pan-fried and pleasingly salty. The wheat berries were light and healthy and the cheese was a paradoxical mouth-humper, tasting like a show-bred combination of brie, goat and blue cheeses. It was like an oral defibrillator, comparatively shocking to the taste buds compared to everything else on the entrée plates.

turkeyclub

Finally, the “601 Club”, a towering Dagwood Bumstead-sized sandwich with smoked turkey, smoked bacon, lettuce, tomato, mustard and mayonnaise on brioche, was declared to be “a perfectly adequate rendition of a club sandwich,” but far short of living up to the Cosmos repute for galloping excellence. Indeed, my companion confided that, while it was just fine, she probably would never order it again.

All of this disillusionment was underscored by a one-man, singing and dancing cabaret of terrible service. Our server, a native French speaker, had plainly decided to preserve his home country’s cultural fondness for bored dispositions, lackadaisical work ethics and aptitude for ignoring patrons for ridiculous periods of time. The interval between receiving our menus and actually getting the opportunity to order went on a little too long, but that paled in comparison to the marathon wait for him to collect our dishes, then again to bring our bill, and finally the futile wait for him to process the bill. After an intolerable amount of time (one person in our party had already left so as to not miss a conference call), we reluctantly collected our credit cards and ponied up the exact amount of cash just so we could get on with our lives. By the time we got out of there, we’d been sitting for nearly two hours – for a two course lunch. In a half-empty restaurant. Bloody ridiculous.

Once again, the showcasing, out-reaching spirit of Restaurant Week appears to have been completely disregard in favor of reluctant acquiescence, which, not surprisingly, led to inconsistent and lackluster food.

I’m awarding the lunch two “Oh Gods” out of five.

The fixed price lunch is a decidedly overpriced $20.
Cosmos’ full Restaurant Week lunch and dinner menus are posted here.

Eating | 2.10.2009 15:56 | 3 Comments

The Capital Grille – Dinner – Restaurant Week

Starter:
Caesar Salad

Entrée:
8 oz Porcini Filet Mignon, with Porcini Rub and 12-Year Balsamic

Dessert:
Flourless Chocolate Espresso

I have never been to The Capital Grille for dinner, only lunch. So I have never seen it in all its booming, arrogant, messily drunk, after-dark, pre-show glory. My companion reported the that the ladies room was filled with a primping, gold-digging horde, swaying so badly that they could barely wash their hands. That was amusing. The party room full of loud, fat businessmen directly across from our table was not. Every time a server went through the sliding doors, they would make sure to close them, but 30 seconds later someone from the party would stagger out to hit the head and leave the door wide open. They hooted, whooped, drank cheap domestic beer and called each other juvenile names. And that was before the tray of tequila shots arrived.

I remarked that party rooms such as these in nice restaurants should have a two door noise buffer system, like at firing ranges, to spare the well behaved folks eating high-priced meals from the commotion. My companion one-upped me, offering that perhaps the room would be better utilized if it were set up on a moving platform near an open window so people could whip stuff at its occupants, carnival game style.

Our server’s heel-clicking decorum was broken up with peculiar spurts of brute informality, which I’m sure plays well with the loud, fat businessmen, especially after the tequila, but this behavior only succeeded in unnerving us into being the most low-maintenance table in the joint. His service was indisputably beyond reproach and he checked in on us no less than five times during the meal, inquiring how he might improve upon our dining experience, but we always declined, as to do otherwise would have required him to come back and talk to us some more. He was like the love child of Lurch from the “Adam’s Family” and Frank “The Tank” Ricard from the movie “Old School.”

caesarsladfieldgreenstomatofreshherbs

Apart from these memorable distractions, this was the best meal I’ve had all week. It didn’t start off with much gusto. My Caesar salad was, you know, a Caesar salad. There’s not a whole lot one can do to make an unforgettable Caesar salad unless they top it off with gold leaf and a hearty slice of a beluga whale’s sex organ. My companion likewise reported that her “Field Greens, Tomatoes, Fresh Herbs” was perfectly competent, and the plentiful blue cheese was much appreciated, but it wasn’t spectacular.

porcinifilletmignon1procinifilletmignon2

Then all hell broke loose. Lurch-Frank handily sold me on the filet mignon, going into drooling detail about the porcini rub and 12-year old, barrel-stored balsamic. As you can see, this thing was so amazing that it needed two pictures to do it justice. It was the size of my fist. The rub and some unadvertised pepper made the edge a little tough and crispy, which briefly made the cut of beef seem less than idyllic. But as I carved ever further into the center of this beautiful mass, I found that I was dealing with beef that was the consistency of pudding. It was very nearly melt-in-your-mouth tender. Unlike the almost as excellent cut of beef from the previous evening at Cavé Vin, this hunk hadn’t been marinated in any way. It was pure beef, unadorned, standing naked for judgment. And Leif said it was good.

Complimentary sides accompanied our meals – a plate of mashed potatoes with the option of adding garlic (yes, please!) and cauliflower that had been marinated in a curious concoction that made it, as my companion eloquently put it, “more interesting than cauliflower has ever been before.”

lambchops

My companion’s lamb chops were impossibly tender. That’s right, it was tender impossible. I couldn’t have been more amazed by the texture if Ethan Hunt himself had broiled it, then delivered it to the table by crashing through the roof dangling from a helicopter rappelling rope. The cherry mostarda was a distinctive, borderline peculiar taste, but it was also an uncannily perfect pairing.

fourlesschocolateespresso

Then, the ultimate: the mother humping Flourless Chocolate Espresso. Smooth enough to polish the Hubble lenses. Rich enough to bailout AIG. Strong enough to melt lead. And taste buds. No really, I’m pretty sure it melted patches of my taste buds. But it hurt so good. The espresso and chocolate were so powerful that I, one of the world’s most chocolate fixated people, could barely finished it. I have never known anything like it and I think it is my one true love. After wine. And boobies.

cremebrulee

My companion’s distaste for coffee-flavored anything left her no choice but to order the very competently made crème brulee. About as impressive as crème brulee can be, which is to say, not that impressive. Maybe it needed more beluga vagina.

My forgivably ordinary Caesar salad aside, this meal shattered all expectations. Words failed me by the end of the meal, though this had a lot to do with my still-sizzling taste buds.

I’m awarding this dinner five “Oh Gods” out of five. And a bonus “kill me now”.

The fixed price dinner is $30.
The Capital Grille’s full Restaurant Week lunch and dinner menus are posted here.

Eating | 1.10.2009 23:02 | 3 Comments

Cavé Vin – Dinner Part Deux– Restaurant Week

Starter:
Escargot – roasted garlic cream sauce and fried parsley

Entrée:
Steak Frites Top sirloin – pommes frites, roasted shallot and veal demi glace

Dessert:
Tres Leches – three milk cake with whipped cream frosting

“You look familiar,” Cavé Vin’s owner said as we stepped up to claim our table. We love being recognized by restaurant owners, never mind that we had been standing in that exact same spot not even 48 hours earlier, with identical wide grins and googlie eyes in anticipation of his kitchen’s beguiling Restaurant Week menu. Plus, if I may say so, I have unforgettable googlie eyes. And I might have been wearing the same pants.

There were no offers of generous, free wine samples this time, but as one person in our party didn’t drink and I was still recovering from a bout of self-diagnosed ‘Wine Flu’, it really wasn’t missed. Indeed, I can’t remember the last time I had such an incredible meal that wasn’t substantially lubed up with a carefully considered wine pairing. I couldn’t have planned it better, really. Not only did I have three companions ordering cooperatively this evening so I could get a gander at most of the remainder of the menu, but pretty much everything was prepared to stuttering perfection. It was a critical mass of awesomely goodness, that one usually needs to board a transatlantic flight in order to attain.

escargot

I went for the escargot as a starter. It was by far my biggest risk of the week. I’d never had escargot before and the numerous you-love-it-or-you-hate-it stories I’d heard from other people had made me powerfully curious, yet just a touch uneasy. Well, being that there was no mustard, pickles or olives involved, I worried for nothing. It was only moderately chewy – I actually enjoyed the texture – and the singular way that it fused with the roasted garlic cream sauce incited the first audible ‘oh God’ of the evening in record time.

garlicfritesmixedgreensgoatcheese

The other starters at the table were the highly addictive and dangerously filling “Garlic Frites with aioli”, an encore appearance from the “Beet and Roasted Fennel Salad Dijon vinaigrette”, again, loved by all except me, and the “Mixed greens, warm goat cheese, roasted grapes, hazelnuts and red wine vinaigrette”, the only starter to not visibly impair the diner with transcendent pleasure.

Now if you’ve been reading carefully, you know I lean towards the meat. Any meat. If it ever ate, slept, shat, fornicated and/or moved under its own power, I eat it. Which brings us to beef, my favorite meat. What with my meager income, I don’t get to eat a lot of beef in general, so when I get beef I get excited. When I get good beef, I get euphoric. When I get great beef, well, I go straight home and I write a 100 word, babbling digression about how much I love beef.

topsirloin

Cavé Vin’s top sirloin was the motherload. Nearly two inches thick at its center, tender, juicy, meaty and perfectly prepared. The veal demi glace was one of those show-stopping concoctions that I’ve tried and failed to recreate at home countless times. I fell into a reverie at the first bite and I was nearly half way through before I snapped out of it and remembered that I had the roasted shallot and fries to attend to. I had all but stopped talking to my companions. This was the kind of beef that I only get about once a year and I wasn’t going to mess it up by trying to talk and savor at the same time.

chickenprosciutooporkloinchop

And it wasn’t just me, my companions also had all-consuming entrées that had temporarily reduced them to distracted mumbling. The “Chicken Breast Prosciutto Fontina with sautéed vegetables and tomato herb sauce”, which I sampled from liberally, poked an entirely different area of my brain’s pleasure center, but with similar gratifying effect. The wonderful sauce had saturated the juicy chicken and all the festively colored veg, so pretty much everything tasted like rapture. The “Lamb Shank Potato Puree, mirepoix, gremolata and lamb demi” reappeared and was of the same fall-off-the-bone, non-greasy perfection as Monday’s effort. Only the “Pork Loin Chop Fingerling Potatoes, roasted peaches and bacon with balsamic and orange reductions” didn’t ring bells, due mostly to, as the diner readily admitted, personal texture preferences. Though the micro bits of  bacon hidden in the sauce, the roasted peaches and the herb rub on the pork itself were all given high praise.

treslechesgingericecream

I finished with the Tres Leches cake, as did another at our table and we both agreed it was about the best we’d ever had. My other two companions ordered the plum ginger sorbet, that was loved for being “tangy, tart and gingery,” adjectives that have also, incidentally, been used to extol my exquisite booty.

I’m still a little bit in awe of the entire meal and I’m moving my stock around (I only have just the one in “Curse Words from Around the World” refrigerator magnets) so as to hopefully fund another meal at Cavé Vin in the very near future.

I’m awarding this dinner five “Oh Gods” out of five! Woo hoo!!

The fixed price dinner is $30.
Cavé Vin’s full Restaurant Week dinner menu is posted here.

Eating | 1.10.2009 11:54 | 4 Comments