A Tale of Two Dinners

My birthday was this past weekend, and I am now 31.  As you may recall, last year’s birthday celebration involved a lot of free things and the construction of a croquembouche, the latter of which kicked off a year of baking adventures with new A2 friends.  While we did go for a few free things, the main plan for the day was a fancy dinner, the destination of which was unknown to me until Friday, when an errant emailer let it slip that we were going to Eve, and then would be meeting friends for drinks after.

It is at this point that I should fill you in on a few extenuating circumstances.  First, on Friday night we ate all the food and drank all the drinks – specifically wine and fondue at Shana’s, followed by a round of drinks at Eve, followed by another round at Alley Bar, followed by the sort of drunken falling over antics more befitting nearly-21 than nearly-31.  Needless to say, the idea of eating and drinking to excess made me a little queasy.  It’s been almost a week, and it still makes me a little queasy.

Second, Eve is closing – well, has closed at this point.  Sunday night was going to be their last night of service ever, which meant all manner of potential hitches: stuff missing from the menu, poor service because they were too busy, etc.  Both were the case when we were in for drinks on Friday.  Shane had made his reservation before they announced the closure, wanting to treat me to a nice dinner at one of A2’s fanciest restaurants.

With these things in mind, I asked Shane if he would mind terribly if we went elsewhere for dinner? Specifically possibly maybe Vinology, where we had a really excellent meal over the summer.  Except! Vinology wasn’t taking reservations because of Restaurant Week, and when we called at 6pm, there was a two hour wait for a table for two.  So we carried on with the original plan.

Except that we arrived late for our reservation (6pm, not 6:30).  And we were seated at a two top where we would’ve been more intimate dining companions with our neighbors than with each other.  Every time the door opened, Shane was treated to a gust of very cold air.  The server greeted us with the offer of a cocktail, but the warning that they’d had an open house that afternoon and sold off most of their bar.  They had one of thirty bottles available from the lower end of the wine list – the rest were sold out.  The bread came out without the wonderful butters promised by nearly every reviewer on Yelp, and at that point we decided to throw in the towel.

So we left, with me nearly in tears, feeling so guilty for being disappointed and wanting to go elsewhere when Shane had tried to make the evening so nice.  Shane asked what I thought we should do, and I asked if we could try Vinology?  He dropped me off, and I went in prepared to cry if it would get us a table.

Except that they’d had a cancellation, and so had a table for two available immediately!  I gushed to the host that he’d just made our evening, and we were tucked away in a cozy booth with gauze curtains separating us from our neighbors.  My stress and guilt melted away with Shane’s obvious enthusiasm for the menu: ample options for sharing and indulging in both wine and food, plus dessert on the house in honor of my birthday.  Over the course of the next two hours, we shared:

  • a sweet and savory salad of beets prepared with sherry vinegar and goat cheese
  • a plate of olives and assorted pickled vegetables, half of which I took home for later snacking
  • a half portion of the scallops – so one perfect buttery porcini-dusted scallop each, along with boursin whipped potatoes, mushroom ragout, french beans, and an  impossibly delicate vinaigrette
  • a half portion of grilled sirloin with a coffee-pepperberry rub, creamed swiss chard, and adequate sweet potato ravioli in a ginger soy butter sauce
  • a half portion of the same wonderful venison we enjoyed in june

We each enjoyed a wine flight with our meals, the result of which was a veritable wall of wine across our little table:

Wall of wine
For Shane, the Big Red, featuring a small pour each of Garnacha, Merlot, Malbec, and Cabernet Sauvignon. I had the Fruit Bomb: Pinot Noir, Petite Sirah, Zinfandel, and a Shiraz that ranks among the best wines I’ve ever tried. We finished the meal with “Captain Crunch” ice cream, which tastes even better than you could possibly imagine:

Captain Crunch Ice Cream

While our meal wasn’t prepared by a former Top Chef contestant (or her staff), I’m confident when I say that this was one of the best meals we’ve enjoyed together.  Thank you, Vinology, for redeeming what could have been a very disappointing birthday evening, and thank you, Shane, for the treat, your company, and your patience and love.

Braised Ligurian Chicken

Braised Ligurian Chicken

Second recipe from Essential New York Times Cookbook: Braised Ligurian Chicken, which I swear was in one of my Jamie Oliver cookbooks.  Maybe Jamie’s Kitchen, which I swapped away due to lack of use?  Maybe there was a good reason for that.

The chicken looks like hummus in this picture, right?  I don’t think it was supposed to look like that.  Granted, this is half of one breast, sliced in half again to make sure it was cooked again.  But honestly, I might have preferred two scoops of hummus, a couple of olives, and some tomatoes to the amount of effort required to produce this dish.

The chicken, thawed all day on the counter yesterday, was still partially frozen, and I had a hell of a time breaking it down – to the point that I gave up on separating the wings and just dumped the entirety of the remaining carcass into the stock pot.  I used our 5 quart cast iron enamel pot, but there wasn’t enough room to brown the chicken and also fry the garlic.  The liquid would not reduce.  It absolutely would not.

In the end, dinner was good – satisfying – but not great.  The sauce was packed with flavor, and I ate all of the olives, but the chicken was unremarkable.  I suppose that’s OK, as we’re going to eat the leftovers with Smitten Kitchen’s tomato sauce with onion and butter tomorrow, and I’d rather let the sauce be the star.

Braised Ligurian Chicken from The Essential New York Times Cookbook

0308 Snacks for Dinner

You know, in my early 20s, it seemed like the best way to get a lot of alcohol was to throw a party.  Some kind of drink – often jello shots or a keg MGD – would be on the house, but most people would also BYOB, and by the end of the night, the fridge would be full of assorted booze – the seeds of the next party.  I once had a party where I explicitly said no beer, only to end up with 27 cans of Miller High Life.  Not sure how that one worked out.

In the last few years, though, the post-party trend has steered towards food – delicious homemade treats, side dishes for the entree, a bottle of wine or two – the sorts of things that are perfect for an impromptu meal after a bad day.  What a coincidence, then that I came home with a headache and a terrible mood after spending all day restarting my computer in 30 minute intervals.  There was not a chance of me cooking, despite having a delicious meal planned.  Instead, after my nap, we had snacks for dinner.  And oh, did we have snacks: olives, two kinds of cheese, two kinds of crackers, two kinds of berries, and two kinds of dips, made up on the spot out of plain Greek yogurt and savory/sweets from the spice cabinet.  Some Ole Salty’s that we’ve impossibly kept ourselves from eating for 2 months.  Not a high-brow meal by any means, but a good one, and one that hit all the right flavors.