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.

0609 ¡!Eve¡!

Tonight was a rare treat – a dinner out! with friends! on someone else’s dime!  Suz and Molly took me to Eve for an official dinner-type function, and we ate like, well, like some kind of A2 royalty.  I’m a little too tired to figure out what kind of royalty exactly – I suppose the sort that likes fresh and local cocktails, good bread, and appropriately extravagant entrees.

This was my first time at Eve, despite hearing only good things from friends and having our curiosity piqued by the titular Eve’s appearance on Top Chef last year.  It’s a lovely space – quiet and intimate with a lot of natural light – and the cuisine draws on North African influences.  I had the Moroccan scallops, which were dusted with a spice blend, seared, and served atop coconut rice, with seasonal grilled vegetables and some sort of creme fraiche.  They were delicious –  really a great flavor profile and texture, especially in combination with the sweet veggies, the aromatic rice, and the tart-creamy creme fraiche.  I also had a ¡LA FRESCA! cocktail – raspberries, mint, and maybe basil muddled with a vanilla-y syrup and maybe gin?  Couldn’t really tell – it was just refreshing and delicious.  Also a good excuse to remember how to make the upside-down exclamation point. Truly a wonderful dinner with great company, though quite out of our price range even for special occasions.

0504 Michael Symon’s Risotto with Bay Scallops

Tonight’s dinner was brought to you entirely by Shane. Shane, who tried to come rescue me when I was totally sacked out from a lousy run. Shane, who volunteered to make dinner when I just wanted a nap. Shane, who stood at the stove stirring the risotto for NINETY MINUTES – much longer than the recipe required – until the rice cooked down to a velvet texture.

This is the second Michael Symon recipe we’ve made, and the second one that has had serious problems, specifically with the order and the length of time for certain aspects. With the macaroni and cheese, the instructions state to start making the sauce while the water comes to a boil. It takes about 5-10 minutes for water to boil on our stove, but the sauce took upwards of half an hour. With the risotto, the instructions said that it should take about 3 minutes for each cup of liquid to be absorbed. It took more like 30 minutes per cup. Did Symon forget a zero? Or does he work in some kind of bionic kitchen that can reduce a cup of liquid in 3 minutes?

And how exactly does warm-ish velvety rice cook half a pound of scallops? We were both a little skeezed out by this particular part of the recipe, so Shane quickly browned the scallops in a little butter and olive oil, then combined them with the lovely prosciutto-filled risotto – and oh, it was lovely. Lovely and delicious, warm with a fresh crispness from the Italian parsley sprinkled over the top. Definitely not a weeknight dinner, though.

0208 Bay Scallops with Citrus and Dried Herbs

Recently I requested Mario Batali Simple Italian Food from the public library – and the thoughtful catalog suggested I might also be interested in Andrew Carmellini’s Urban Italian.  Sure, why not?  Carmellini, like Batali, preaches the gospel of stripped-down, unfussy Italian cooking – delicious, rustic stuff that make take all day, or might be thrown together in half an hour.  The book is peppered with personal anecdotes, funny in-phrases from his restaurant, and suggestions about how to make the process of making his recipes even easier.  It was in this spirit that I decided to tackle scallops for the first time ever.

0208 Bay Scallops with Citrus and Dried Herbs

At first blush, the recipe for Bay Scallops with Citrus and Dried Herbs couldn’t be much easier.  Pat the scallops dry, then dust them with a mixture of herbs and flour.  Cook them quickly with a bit of oil, then set aside.  Done and done.  It was the sauce that was a bit fancy – the Cara Cara orange had to be peeled, segmented, and supremed (which, it turns out, is easier to do prior to the peeling and segmenting), which I’d never done before and which I’m glad I noticed in the directions BEFORE I started cooking.  See, I’m learning!  After removing the scallops, the pan is deglazed with orange juice, which is reduced until thin.  Whisk in a bit of butter, add the supremed oranges, and toss the whole lot with the scallops just before serving.  I made a quick bag of edamame, which provided a nice and salty counterpoint to the sweetness of the sauce.  We both really liked the scallops, though Shane would’ve preferred a different sauce.  Next time!  This time, however, I felt pretty bad-ass for producing a totally new dish, a side (albeit a pre-fab one), and a sauce in about half an hour on a weeknight.

Recipe:
Bay Scallops with Citrus and Dried Herbs from Urban Italian