“Your dinner this evening is on Bastide”. That’s how the meal began. Was I on something? What was the catch? Did he really say what I thought he said? We kept going back to that the entire meal. What were we in for?
We had just hit the Chowhound lottery, and it would last three hours.
A fixe meal (no prix, so can’t really use the term) which included wine pairings. I rarely indulge in wine flights (I think the exception was Osteria Via Stato in Chicago) because one glass for an entire meal is usually enough. You’ll see why later on. After two years of anticipating the reopening, we were beyond anxious.
We start in the courtyard, where we were presented with divine bubbly, ‘bar’ snacks (Amuse 1), and a peek at tonight’s menu:
* Amuse 1.2.3. – Champagne, Jacquesson Avize Grand Cru, 1996 and Cogno Anas-Cetta, 2005
* Pomodoro – Louro do Bolo, 2005
* Crab – Rudi Pichler Wosendorfer Kollmutz Smaragd Weissenburgunder, 2004
* Fish – Volnay ier cru Santenots Nicolas Rossignol, 2002
* Meat & Potatoes – Zanut Brjac Merlot, 1999
* Cheeses – Weingut Rosenhof Welschriesling Trockenbeerenauslese, 2001
* Sweets – Banyuls Domaine du Mas Blanc, 1969
After reveling in the peaceful setting, we were asked if there were any dietary restrictions. Nope? Then let’s continue the festivities inside. We were the first seated, and the second party to arrive for the 7 o’clock seating.
Amuse 2 – lobster taco
Going from right to left (the preferred direction of the evening) we have a salsa ‘shot’ with a sliver of tortilla chip. Next, a tea spoon of lobster morsel, and lastly a strong tequila/salt shot. It was my favorite of the three amuses, but I needed more sparkling water, stat.
Amuse 3 – oyster shooter
This shot came with a fruity granita tucked under. Oh yes, and more wine.
Pomodoro – Three types of tomatoes with the milkiest mozzarella and micro basil. Every bite was velvety (yet crisp from the fresh fruit).
Crab – Fresh Alaskan mounded, with a French press (!) of lemongrass and corn white sauce poured over for good measure. I spied a skewer of lobster making a repeat performance, and a refreshing papaya salad to round it all out.
At this point, I must make a point of describing our surroundings. There’s the Chimney Room closest to us. Black/white checkerboard carpet is the one standout detail I can view from my seat. At the other end is the Chef’s Table, where a single party can sit and have an excellent vantage point of the expediting area and even the sous chef. We are in the Garden Room. Separating us from the other two spaces are clear beaded glass curtains which are open ‘just so’ so that they do not intrude when passed thru. We have this unbelievable wall of lush greenery covering the back. It is silently dripping water into a small feature built into the floor, which is lit from below. I know little about trees, but there were slender trunks meandering the space. Perched high onto each one was something quirky: a bust of someone famous, an old portable radio, a board with pen & chain. Insane, but wildly amusing.
Service was top notch. Our sommelier was informative and efficient (but not snooty). The bread boy (I’m sorry I lack a kinder moniker) kept us happy with such goodies as basil focaccia and grilled cheese popovers. Water was constantly being checked and poured. Silverware was appropriately placed and removed as each course progressed. It was like a beautifully choreographed dance. We even drew the attention of a photographer from the LA Times. You can bet I’ll be scoping that Food section for the next several weeks.
As we approached the next course, I found my intoxication getting the best of me. The wine was slowly taking its toll. I began to fumble with my sparkling water, and eventually made a mess of myself by dessert. Fortunately, our room was dim with only candles (and that water feature) distinguishing light from dark. And I wore black. And I was in layers. Ok, let’s keep going.
We were up to the Hawaiian seabass. It is a hearty and flavorful cut, enhanced further by the sake sauce, and more lobster. There was also a delicate side of tempura seafood (calamari) and vegetables (green beans and zucchini). How were they going to outdo this?
Beef short ribs were the star performer. A bit of roasted salt was at our disposal to use sparingly. A creamy béarnaise allowed for some outstanding bites. Our starch was a bunch of thick cut (‘like 2x4s’) baked fries - firm on the outside, and dense within. I was surprised at how it complemented the beef.
Cheese was a blur of five varieties, each with a bit of something sweet: pear, honey, blackberry preserve. We were more enamored by the familiar Riesling. It was like seeing an old friend.
Finally, the one course not described until after we had already consumed it. A chocolate panna cotta pudding with a sprinkling of coffee for some kick. Next to it was a shot of espresso. We considered it some of the best cocoa ever imagined (akin to SF’s Town Hall). Filled truffles rounded out the sweets. I went for the hazelnut and the cinnamon.
We requested a signed menu (not realizing one was presented on the way out) from Walter Manzke. It did not occur to us that we would be invited to the back of the house for an introduction. He was an amiable, calm gentleman who made sure he spelled our names correctly before flourishing his signature. He even spotted our digital and asked if we would like a photo. How kind of him to instigate! For those who do not know his culinary background, here’s an excerpt from Eater LA:
“….Walter Manzke, who helmed three top restaurants on the Monterey peninsula---Bouchee, L'Auberge Carmel, and Cantinetta Luca---but just moved on. (The writer laments: "This void is the sports equivalent of Joe Montana leaving the San Francisco 49ers for the Kansas City Chiefs.") Manzke's resume is impressive, having worked with top chefs like Alain Ducasse, Octavio Becerra, Ferran Adria, and Joachim Splichal.”
Our payment for the evening was the $3 given to our valet and the gas incurred from the 105 mile roundtrip in MINI. We were prepared to pay for whatever cost (minus the wine). Our best guesstimate was that it would’ve, could’ve, should’ve been about $175 per person, including tax and gratuity. At 10 o’clock, we called it a night.
By far the most impressive and intimate dining experience I’ve had since Per Se.