Celery kindly organized a chowhound dinner at Grashopper, on College Ave. (on the border of Oakland and Berkeley). Melanie, Jennifer, JB & Judy, Anne, Stella, Janet, and I were the lucky hounds she enticed along for this evening.
Grasshopper serves Asian-inspired "small plates" -- perfect for sharing. In addition, Grasshopper has an extensive menu of sakes, including a three-sake tasting flight. Because of this, no one brought wine this time, and the tab was a little higher than usual: $34/person.
We were seated at a long table, and the restaurant is fashionably noisy, which made general conversation difficult. I was sitting on the end, so I'm not sure who ordered what or why ... I just happily ate what was passed to me!
We started with: nibbles of fried and seasoned cashews, followed by a mizuna, tatsoi, tomato and diced avocado salad; fried calamari with lime sambal; rock shrimp and rice noodle salad; grilled yellow finn potatoes with sake soaked pearl onions; miso marinated bluenose bass with cabbage relish and tuna tataki (slices of seared rare tuna) with daikon relish.
After we inhaled these, we went had a second round of dishes including sauteed scallops with scallion pancake and ginger beurre blanc; beef ribeye grilled with miso glaze and broccoli rabe; roasted gyspy peppers stuffed with curried sticky rice; and panko fried stuffed shitake mushrooms with tofu and scallions.
We ended up tasting about 2/3 of the dishes on the menu (not including dessert -- although most of us were stuffed, we did get one order the trio of mango, lychee and passion fruit sorbets, which must not have been exciting, since they went unfinished).
The consensus (at least at my end of the table) was that only a couple of the dishes -- the tatsoi salad ("nothing special") and the stuffed peppers (the stuffing didn't meld well with the peppers) -- were mildly disappointing. Even these were well-prepared using excellent ingredients: they just suffered in comparison with the truly stellar items.
Everything was perfectly executed -- the scallops and the bass were impressively cooked just to the point of doneness and not a second more -- and the flavors really sparkled.
It was hard to pick favorites, but when asked to name a couple, the dishes people mentioned most frequently were the calamari (lightly battered, delicately fried and amazingly tender), the rock shrimp and rice noodles (with clean, bright flavors), the stuffed shitake mushrooms (a wonderful combination of flavors and textures, with the crunchy fried coating, chewy mushroom and finely minced filling creating a meaty effect -- Janet said it "tastes like chicken" (g)), and the beef ribeye (this carnivore moaned when she bit into the perfectly grilled rare meat ... the skewers ordered medium were also meltingly tender and cooked to a uniform pink inside). The secondary items on several dishes also garnered praise: the peppery broccoli rabe with the rib eye, the scallion pancake with the scallops, and the onions with the grilled potatoes.
The dished ranged from $5.75 (the calamari, a real bargain) to $7.50 (the bass and the scallops).
The sake flight was an interesting experience, but I have nothing intelligent to say about it!
As always, it was wonderful to get together with other chowhounds and talk chow. I'm looking forward to both another trip to Grasshopper and another chowhound dinner.
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