With friends visiting from SoCal, the time seemed perfect as we made late reservations for a dinner for four. I managed to talk my friends into the $39 per person Chef's Five Course Tasting. I am terribly sorry that there are no pictures of the appetizer courses. The restaurant is suitably darkened with atmospheric hurricane candles scattered all around. The flash from the camera would have been terribly intrusive to the other diners. However, by the time our entrées were presented, we were the only ones in the front room and I felt more at ease to flash away. I'll state up front that every single dish was stunningly plated and presented. It will seem terribly redundant of me to exclaim just how beautiful every dish was -- you'll see in the entrée photos.
The meal started with a choice of soup. Three of us chose the soup of the day -- a creamy sunchoke soup with crème fraîche a few scattered pink peppercorns. Friend Heather chose a Ras el Hanout soup which threatened a spice on the nose but settled into a simple warm goodness on the mouth with ample flavor from the aromatics.
Then a selection of starters began to arrive; Mediterranean spreads -- aged balsamic eggplant mouse, roasted pepper and pomegranate, and a yogurt-dill all served with grilled flat breads. These spreads were amazing in their creamy texture and layered flavors. Next came skewers of Kefta intersperced with succulent grapes "Grilled Grasslands Kefta Skewers and grapes over cucumber and torpedo onion salad with black sesame vinaigrette." There was a clay pot of roasted goat cheese surrounded with an enriched tomato sauce. I have had a similar dish in several tapas restaurant and of all the dishes offered this evening, this was the most mundane. It was good and flavorful, but hardly innovative. Lastly was my favorite, Wild Mushroom in Phyllo Ravioli - Napa valley's wine forest shiitake, hen-of-the-woods, chanterelles, and Manouri cheese.
Next we had an additional course which we orderd, a Bastilla; baked phyllo pie with a filling of saffron-braised chicken and spiced almonds, draped in sugar and cinnamon. This was a pretty standard bastilla recipe, but it was perfectly prepared and served with the filling tender and perfectly spiced (some can be over-saffroned for a bitter taste).
The entrees arrived. Now you can see the beauty in the presentation. Also, I'd like to note here that the descriptions on the menus hardly did justice to what was on the plate. Friend Heather ordered Hungarian Paprika-smothered Cloverdale Rabbit with Parsnip Purée, Organic Tomatoes, and Alfonso Olives:
Buddy Travis had the Saffron-infused Hoffman Ranch Cornish Hen capped with House-Preserved Meyer Lemons and Purple Potato Mash.
I was thrilled with the Braised Paine Farm Squab with Wine Forest Black Trumpet and Hedgehog Mushrooms on a Thyme-Ras el Hanout Reduction:
And Shawn's was the most mundane-sounding, but hands-down the most impressive in the layered complexity of flavors; Stewed Lamb crowned with Charred Eggplant in a Ginger Saffron Broth, Sun-Dried Point Reyes Tomatoes, and Sudaniya Oil:
We paired all this with a 2002 Strub Riesling Kabinett, Niersteiner Brückchen, Rheinhessen. As I anticipated the food being spicier than it was, the wine worked fine, but I think occasionally was a tad too sweet. I'm really glad that I ordered that however, as I was tending towards a Merkelbach Riesling Spätlese which really would have been too sweet. Mark Ellenbogen who has also put together the famous Slanted Door wine list developed Aziza's and I wouldn't hesitate to go more towards a medium-bodied red or a Vouvray next time.
But on to the desserts... As full as we were, the desserts were part of the tasting menu and we couldn't resist trying some.
The not-well photographed Sorbet of Wild Huckleberries sweetened with a sauce of Laura Chenel's Chèvre (the flash washes out the sauce):
Crème Brulée served with a Crispy Anise Cookie:
Topped Chocolate Pot - Suave chocolate and Scharffen Berger cocoa nibs topped with a delicate cookie and a side of whipped cream:
"The Most Popular Fruit" - Layers of phyllo spread with Granny Smith and Sierra Beauty apple cubes and whipped cream cheese, touched with cinnamon - baked to a perfect crisp and a scoop of turkish coffee ice cream:
What else can I say? I can't wait to go back...
Edited by Carolyn Tillie, 01 January 2005 - 01:07 PM.