Tuesday, December 02, 2008

catching up on food outings

There are definitely been some blog-worthy food outings in the last month, but for some reason I haven't found the time to write about them. I'm going to start with the non-photo ones, since those go faster...

A few weeks ago, OpenTable ran an "Appetite Stimulus" promotion, during which many Bay Area restaurants offered a three-course, $35 prix fixe menu, from Monday to Thursday. Most of the restaurants were in the city, but fortunately for me, San Mateo's Lure was on the list. I'd been wanting to go all year due to a recommendation from a chef at work, so I quickly scrounged up some dining companions and made a Thursday reservation.

Ironically, none of the four of us ordered the prix fixe; instead we chose to order lots of appetizers, side dishes, and I think one main course. We were a bit stunned by the portion sizes for the appetizers; they were extremely generous! After eating my "Chestnut Spaetzle, Speck and White Truffle Oil", and sharing an order of "Butternut Squash Griddle Cakes, Apple Sauce", I was only able to eat half of my "Steamed Mussels, Lemon Grass, Galangal, Green Curry Cream". I did manage to try one dumpling from the "Butternut Squash Dumplings, Milk and Honey Sauce, Fried Sage" dish, as well, but it was only so-so.

My overall impression was that the food was above average, with some "good but not great" dishes and some really excellent dishes (for me, it was the spaetzle and the griddle cakes). However, given the generous servings, the value for money was very good indeed.

Two days later, some friends treated us to dinner at their favorite restaurant, Rivoli, in Albany. The front of the restaurant was rather smaller than I had expected, but once we were seated, it felt relaxed and spacious. The whole back wall of the dining room was a large window looking into a verdant garden, which was a nice touch.

For appetizers, we shared the "Buttered Lobster Napoleon with Braised Leeks, Carrots and Peas, Lobster Butter, and Chervil Vinaigrette", and the "Goat Cheese Soufflé with Proscuitto di Parma, Grilled Persimmons, Roast Chesnuts, and Arugula". The souffle was nicely done but I've had more interesting cheese souffles before. The Napoleon was excellent; the lobster was fresh and the pastry crust was light and flaky. I definitely could have eaten a whole portion, but didn't want to miss out on dessert.

For my entree, I chose the "Sonoma Liberty Duck Cooked Two Ways on a Wild Rice Pancake with Buttered Chard, Cooked Whipped Mascarpone and an Apple, Pecan and Grilled Radicchio Salad". The duck was tender, well flavored, and delicious, and the salad was creative and yummy, but I was most impressed with the wild rice pancake. I'm a sucker for unusual grains, though.

For dessert, we shared a "Hot Fudge Sundae with Whipped Cream and Toasted Nuts", which was good and all but not very interesting. I think I should have gone with my first instinct, the "Warm Chocolate Caramel Tart with Whipped Crème Fraîche and Chocolate and Caramel Sauces". That was my bad, though.

Finally, on Sunday, I wrapped up the excellent food weekend at another restaurant that I'd been eyeing for ages: Evvia, in Palo Alto. The decor was surprisingly homey and charming, and the fireplace was inviting on a cold night, so I seated myself next to it.

We went with some friends who had been there before, and they highly recommended the "Greek Spreads" appetizer, which consisted of three types of spread: roasted eggplant, yogurt and cucumber, and cod roe puree, served with homemade pita bread and what appeared to be dolmathes with raisins and nuts. I'm not fond of eggplant and I've had the yogurt cucumber spread before, so at first I liked the cod roe the best, but then it became too fishy for me. Both the pita bread and the dolmathes were excellent, although I may be biased, having recently had some very bad (tough and greasy) dolmathes.

I chose the "Lamb Chops" as my entree, and they were amazing; crusted with some kind of nutty sauce, perfectly medium rare, and very flavorful. They came with some roasted potatoes which were unremarkable, but I was too busy enjoying my lamb to care. Finally, I split an order of the "Rizogalo" (rice pudding) for dessert. My only complaint was that the menu had listed "honey roasted pears" as the accompaniment and the pudding came with only half of one pear. The pudding itself was well-textured and delicious.

It was interesting comparing the three restaurants in such a short timeframe; they were all in the same general price range, and each offered a different type of cuisine. I felt Evvia was the most consistent in terms of quality, but it was also had the least risky menu; Lure has a fusion-y flavor that is hard to get right, and Rivoli also has a strong Californian influence, even though it's advertised as Italian (kind of). I'm not sure I would make a special effort for a repeat visit, given all the other unexplored restaurants around here, but all three are worth checking out at least once!

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