Sunday, January 07, 2007

The yummiest of birthdays

This week I got to celebrate my birthday with two very fab, and very different, meals.

On Thursday, the actual day of my birthday, we ate at
Sel de la Terre, the more affordable sister of L'Espalier, with seven of our closest friends. It's rare that we do dinner with such a large group, and it was fun to hang out, pass around bottles of Pinot Noir and Viognier, and sneak tastes from everyone's plates.

Sel de la Terre does possibly the best french fries in the city, subtly fragrant with rosemary. But frankly, everything that comes out of the kitchen is great: the charcuterie plate, the fork-tender beef short ribs, the venison with foie-gras bread pudding.

A finger-lickin' good time, right up there with our other most memorable meal at Sel: dinner with TimandPeter and KathyandRobert on the day the US declared war on Iraq. It was a small, symbolic act of protest to go to a French restaurant that night ...

On Saturday, we went to
Radius, which has been on our list for a while. At first I was going to order off the regular menu (how could I not? They had an appetizer of asparagus, Scotch egg and caviar!) but then our waitron told us about the tasting menu, in which the chef throws dishes together based on the ingredients available that day. Ooo, adventure!

So we opted for the four-course menu with wine pairings, which were poured and introduced by the hip young English-Tuscan sommelier. The waitron checked for allergies (crustaceans for The Boy) and aversions (mushrooms for me), and then it began.

First, a couple of amuse-bouches: fried tofu with soy sauce and ponzu (crispy and delicious!) followed by a single, fabulously fresh oyster with Lillet mignonette.

And then on to the main event. As each dish hit the table, it was described in detail by our friendly waitron. Of course, by the end of the night, our memories were dulled slightly by taste overload (oh, and wine), so it's a really good thing they gave us a menu to take home:

Gently cooked ono (with marinated golden beets, red beet puree, crispy potato, green tobiko)
A relative of the mackerel but less oily, ono is big in Hawaii, so the brightly colored presentation and the blend of Eastern and Western ingredients worked really well.
The potato was like God's own Tater Tots.
Served with a glass of 2005 Nyakas Olivier (Hungary), a light, crisp Muscat varietal.

Smoked scallops (with roasted cauliflower puree and black truffles)
A really nice combination of textures and flavors: the smokiness of the scallops and the creaminess of the puree.
Served with a glass of 2004 Olivier Leflaive Bourgogne Blanc

Loin of venison (with braised red cabbage, chorizo, spiced spaetzle and green peppercorn sauce)
The meat was firm and tender, and the spicy sides matched well. Here we had a slightly different presentation: The Boy's came with roasted maiitake mushrooms, while mine had haricots verts.
Served with a glass of 2004 Borsao Garnacha Tres Picos (Spain)--deep and plummy.

Then a mouthful of Asian pear sorbet, and then dessert: goat-cheese cheesecake with huckleberry ice-cream, served with a glass of 2002 Chateau Bel Air St. Croix du Mont Bordeaux--rich and Sauternes-y, and a good match for the creamy cake.

Because Radius has such a focus on seasonal ingredients and market-available produce, it's the kind of place that's worth going back to a few times a year; late summer is doubtless fabulous.

A happy birthday? The happiest!

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