...and I'm still feeling alit from our experience. Like the Zuni cookbook that I've been devoutly cooking from and praising on the HC board, I fell hard for the place on our first visit. I knew that I'd enjoy the style of food, but I wasn't prepared to have as much FUN as I did during our 3-hr. long adventure there (1 hr. wait since we didn't have reservations). Reminded me of dining experiences I've had in NYC. The kind of fun that makes you feel playful, smart, and maybe even a little sexy. A gal (who doesn't feel like a young chickie anymore) needs that now and then...
There's def. a distinct "scene" and system at Zuni, so if any of those aspects rubs you the wrong way, Zuni would probably disappoint and annoy, even be maddening. I now understand why Zuni gets mixed reviews here. For me, it naturally fit so I could go w/ the flow. Husband warmed up to it after his balsamic Bloody Mary. By the end, he was enchanted and had a crush on the guy prepping the chickens and manning the oven. He only had one glass of tempranillo (a generous pour!) during dinner, I swear.
True to Judy Rodgers' recipes and writing style, being at the cafe was a multi-sensory experience that left me w/ a jeweled memory box of images, sounds, smells, tastes, and emotions. I do think that being intimately familiar w/ the book and having a deep respect for Ms. Rodgers enhanced my experience at the restaurant. My photo album below doesn't quite capture our evening as vividly, but I will always have my memories.
Dining there was like being brought into a theatre performance filled w/ lustrous props and improvisation. I will never forget the warm aroma from outside the doors...that basket of persimmons, the sage-colored backsplash in the kitchen, the row of rustic Acme bread along the brick oven, the dazzling copper plated bar, the shimmering ice mingling w/ unshucked oysters, the sensual painting on the wall...the comforting buzz of voices, orders printing, quick and controlled activity in the kitchen and on the floor. The delightful nooks and crannies of the angular space and being seated at a great table overlooking the main dining room and kitchen.
And the food. It was all lovely and thoughtful and tasty, but honestly, it wasn't the best part of the experience for me. The anchovies, Manila clams, romesco sauce, and tender perfect lamb were highlights, but I have easily made meals of this caliber (thanks in part to Ms. Rodgers) so nothing was mind-blowing and I was equipped to be critical. For me, Zuni Cafe was about having a very passionate and competent team do the decorating, shopping, cooking, plating, and serving in a way that matched my sensibilities and what I deem to be important when playing hostess to others. In this context, imperfection can be a symbol of character, intimacy, and a unique time and place that only those present are privy to. Specific comments about the food are included in my album.
Total cost: 1 app, 1 salad, 2 entrees, 1 dessert, 2 glasses wine, 2 cocktails, 1 coffee came to around $140 including tip. While the food and wine that we recently had at Cetrella were better at a similar price point, Zuni was about the whole package. Not a great value based on food and drink alone, but worth it to me for the great service (no problems at all!) and live theatre atmosphere. I can't wait to return for raw oysters and a taste of that burger and shoestring fries and eventually the roast chicken and bread salad and to see the sunlight stream in during the day, and be part of a new story w/ a different cast of characters. Thanks for bearing more of my Zuni gushing...
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