Sunday, June 17, 2007

The Boy's birthday (of course there's food!)

Saturday was The Boy's birthday. My gifts to him were basketballs, as ever: a '94 Urbina Gran Reserva Rioja and some cedar sheets to wrap around food before grilling (I got him cedar planks a couple of years ago, but they're too damn long to fit on our tiny Weber).

We had breakfast at the
Diesel Cafe in Davis Square (the original plan was Tu y Yo, but they were closed, doubtless having figured out that most people aren't looking for a mountain of eggs and chorizo before 10am). I used to work next door to the Diesel, but hadn't been in a while, and I'd forgotten what a funky, colorful, bright space it is.

The Boy ordered an iced lemon scone and a tall glass of painfully sweet Vietnamese coffee, and was happy. I went with a toasted bagel and a soy latte, and we sat and watched the regulars come in with newspapers, ironic t-shirts, laptops and the high-tech stroller that The Boy calls "the Baby Segway."

There's a preponderance of independent coffee shops in our neighborhood, and we decided we should go out for breakfast on a weekend more often, and try a different cafe each time. The people-watching is fabulous.

In the afternoon (once The Boy had come down from his sugar high) we went back into Davis to see Hot Fuzz at the Somerville Theatre. It's a worthy follow-up to Shaun of the Dead and a lovely homage/parody of the best and worst of cop-buddy movies. It also does a great job of capturing the essence of life in the less-urban areas of England; I particularly appreciated the scene in which Simon Pegg's character goes into a village pub and asks what wines they have.

"Well," says the landlord, "we've got red, and ... uh ... white ..."


(I swear I've had that exact exchange before ...)

After the movie, we just had enough time to go home and freshen up before the day's big event: dinner at Craigie Street Bistrot.

CSB is known for sticking to locally sourced ingredients as much as possible. Our previous trips there had been for winter celebrations (my birthday, our anniversary), so we were excited to see how seasonal changes in produce selections would affect the menu.

The first thing we noticed, aside from the food, was that the waitstaff seemed ... out of synch is the best way I can describe it. We had a 20-minute wait before anyone took our order, and another 45 minutes passed before the amuse-bouches arrived. In the meantime, one waitron sternly, silently marched another by the forearm back to the kitchen (the cause of this was unclear) and a rather fussy couple stormed out because there was a bug on their tablecloth.

Eh. Everyone has an off night once in a while.

The food, of course, was just fine. I started with squid noodles (tender, thinly sliced rings of squid) in a cilantro sauce with grains of paradise. The squid and sauce were light and lively--a refreshing intro to the evening's meal--but the spice was a little too generous, a bold, peppery bite that overwhelmed the delicacy of the rest.

The Boy went for the tiny taster of cured meats: duck and lardo.

"Lardo?" I asked the waiter.

"It's fatback," he said, "cured with fennel and pepper, and sliced real thin--"

The Boy held up his hand. "You had me at 'fatback'," he said.

I hate to overuse gastronomic clichés like "melt in the mouth," but when it comes to lardo, I really have no choice. Insansely good.

And then the apps: a generous green salad for The Boy, garnished (as all good salads should be) with a crisp slice of bacon. I had fricasée of lamb's tongue with homemade merguez, morels and poached egg in a green-pea sauce.

The plating was beautiful; almost an oil painting in rich, vibrant jewel tones, with grilled asparagus and a scattering of edible flowers. The waitress explained that the dish was best enjoyed by breaking the egg yolk into the sauce.

Another cliché ahoy: it brought tears to my eyes. Seriously. Literally. The tongue was soft, like pâté, with a flavor somewhere between chicken oysters and ostrich: dark and complex, but not fatty or heavy. The sauce, now blended with egg yolk, was rich but still with the lightness of spring vegetables. I mopped up the last drops with a chunk of bread, feeling a twinge of guilt at my bad table manners but not wanting to leave anything behind.

When it came to entrées, The Boy really only had one choice, it being his birthday and all: pan-fried hangar steak with bone marrow, snails and shiitake mushrooms. A very manly, meaty dish, deep and rich and flavorful. I opted for the pork "two ways": a generous chunk of juicy, salty suckling pig confit, topped with crispy skin, and a deep-fried cake of fromage de tête, which I later realized was very similar to the entrée I'd ordered on our previous visit (I guess head-cheese is never out of season).

By this point we were decidedly full, but yet too comatose to not order dessert. Come on, you've been there. So The Boy went for cornbread pain perdu (a very cool take on French toast, which I'm gonna haveta make for breakfast one day) and I had the seasonal fruit crisp, topped with walnuts and served with hyssop ice cream.

The crisp was great. The recipe is easy
(this one is for winter fruits, but really it's the topping that makes it).

Apart from the staffing stutters, a lovely meal. Now we need an excuse to go back sometime in late summer for the best of the tomato crop ...

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