Wednesday, February 14, 2007

What time is it? It's Valentimes!

Once again, it's V-Day, perhaps the most overrated food day of the year. Besotted (or perhaps just obligated-feeling) couples trek to fancy restaurants, where they are forced to order inflation-priced tasting menus full of expensive ingredients like caviar and truffles. When I'm out for a special meal, I want to be able to pick what I want off the full menu (or at least have the option), not have what the restaurant thinks is "romantic" forced upon me. But oh well. I like the chance to try somewhere new. I'm pleased that Adam made time to have dinner with me on a random Wednesday, which happens to have been the worst weather day of the winter so far. We awoke to a blanket of fluffy, white snow (yay!), only to have it turn into wind-driven, freezing rain by the time I headed to class around 1:00 (pain!), only to turn once again into rain and the accompanying slush by about 4:30 (gross!). Perhaps the most romantic thing to be done on a day like this is to curl up somewhere inside, but that's not really celebratory, is it?

Anyway. Adam and I made a last minute reservation at Craigie Street Bistro, which we've been meaning to try for awhile. Typically, their regular menu was replaced by a $130, "5-course" menu. Although some of the courses only had one fish course (we checked the menu online), I assumed before going that they would also have a vegetarian alternative. What restaurant, in this vegi-friendly day, doesn't? Craigie Street Bistro. The chipper waitress informed me vaguely apologetically that they no, they didn't really. She seemed momentarily worried that this would be a problem for me, but since I'd eat the fish, I let it go.

I listed the number of courses is quotes because this count included the amuse (who does that?), which the waitress did not warn me (after having told her I didn't eat meat!) was sliced duck breast and lardo. We discovered this when someone else put it down on our table, and we sent it back. No effort was made to apologize, substitute something we would eat, or discount the cost of our meal for the missing course. The glasses of wine we'd ordered both arrived too cold, though Adam's red was noticeably less cold than my white, as though an attempt was made to chill them differently. Weird. My white was fine, nothing distinctive (though it was described as similar to a Reisling w/ a hint of nutmeg), but Adam actively disliked his. Not off to a great start.
The "second" course was the only one in which there were two seafood dishes. Adam ordered the "Pastis- and Citrus-Cured Salmon: baby potatoes, fennel, preserved lemon, mache." The combination was good but nothing at all original. I would have preferred something light and creamy in the dish to lighten the flavors. If you're going to serve me a cliched combination of flavors, go for all the elements of the cliche. In fairness, Adam thought it was fine as is. I ordered the "Just Warm Wiley Maine Oysters: oyster and oyster mushroom veloute, American Osestra caviar." This was probably my favorite dish of the meal. While that's not exactly high praise, this was genuinely very enjoyable. I normally don't love oysters (except for Keller's heavenly Oysters and Pearls), but this was essentially a lovely, smooth, rich mushroom soup w/ an appropriately salty, sea flavor from the oysters and caviar. We wiped the bowl w/ the bread.

The next course was "Curry-Poached Dayboat Cod Cheeks: fresh Maine shrimp, celery cauliflower, blood orange emulsion." I think I liked this one more than Adam, though neither of us loved it. I'm just not a fan of poached fish in general (it's a flavorless texture thing, I think), unless the sauce is really something special to compensate. This combination reminded me a bit of a sort of sour, citrusy relish. Eh.

The final savory dish was "Butter-Poached Nova Scotia Lobster: pink peppercorns, radishes, Macomber turnip puree." I enjoyed this dish, as it was as rich and buttery as one would expect. It was very classic French, nothing new there. While it was delicious to eat, it was disappointing in its lack of any originality. When we'd first ordered, the waitress had extolled the virtues of the black truffles (available on this course for a $25 supplement), which apparently had been flown in from Italy, having been collected the day before. Adam ordered the supplement, and his lobster arrived with three or four slices of black truffle on the top. The truffles were disappointingly mild, having almost no discernible aroma or flavor. Emblematic of the overpriced blahness of this meal, perhaps?

I ordered the "CSB Profiteroles: maple sugar ice cream, red chile-Valrhona chocolate sauce," mostly because I figured it was a waste not to try both options and it generally falls to me to order the chocolate option in such cases w/ Adam. I couldn't taste any particular flavor in the ice cream, despite my efforts to isolate the maple flavor. The chocolate sauce did have a discernible hint of chile, which was a welcomed contrast to its otherwise overwhelming richness. Fine as profiteroles go, I just don't tend to love them (or really any overly chocolate dessert). Adam got the "Organic Sour Milk Panna Cotta: blood oranges, candied fennel, raspberry coulis." The panna cotta, while lacking the normal elegance of presentation (rather than a nicely-shaped sloping cone, it was a square cut out of a larger pan), was very delicious. I do like a nice berry coulis.

After some unmemorable "mignardises" and the presentation of a single red rose w/ the check, Adam and I headed back to Gannet. Sadly, class work doesn't respect Vday. While this whole post might make it seem as though I had a horrible Valentine's Day, I actually didn't. I love having dinner with Adam. The food and service weren't bad, just disappointing in its expensive uncreativity and the general feeling of lack of eagerness to accommodate, respectively. It just goes to show how disappointed expectations can leave a bad taste (no pun intended) in one's mouth w/ regard to what's otherwise a perfectly adequate experience.


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