Caught completely off-guard on Friday night, following hot on the heels of a giant unnerving surprise, I was asked to choose a destination for a birthday dinner. Locke-Ober somehow popped up as a possibility. I've wanted to try it for quite a while but somehow it always gets bumped in favor of somewhere newer, trendier or more hyped. I'm glad I finally got there. The food was unbelievably rich (lots of cream sauces) and the portions steak-house-sized. (I wish I'd known about that so that I could have avoided the tummy ache from overindulging.) Several dishes paired sweet and savory to tasty effect. I particularly enjoyed the JFK lobster stew and the soft shell crab appetizer special. Be forewarned that the Intense Artichoke Soup is precisely that - the strongest artichoke flavor I've ever tasted.
Somehow in my mind I had imagined that Locke-Ober would be a lot like the Oak Room: traditionally elegant, slightly stuffy décor, impeccable but somewhat distant service, well-executed but boring menu. All they really have in common is the atmosphere, and that's the thing I adore about the Oak Room/Bar. I was surprised by the friendliness of the service at L-O - the waiters feel delightfully like co-conspirators - and also by the creativity of the menu. It's still pricey-meat-and-sides but the combinations are more eclectic than at the OR. I'd love to go back, sit the in the bar area and just get a drink and something off the appetizer or soup list.
Had another birthday dinner Saturday night at Meritage. Really gracious, attentive service and three rounds of small plates plus dessert. I stuck with my usual light sweet white (Sancerre this time), my DCs went for a less sweet white and then a Pinot Noir. We were all happy with our wines.
Round One: Maple smoked salmon toasts, cream of fiddlehead soup, almond-crusted sole in a curry cream sauce. Smoked salmon was basic and competent - I like that it's on the drier side - nicely paired with caramelized fennel. Despite being fiddlehead-averse, the soup hit the spot and was topped with some kind of interesting mushrooms that looked like little lacy Elizabethan collars. I loved the heartiness of the crust on the sole and the delicacy of the curry flavor in the sauce.
Round Two: Scallops and pureed turnip, foie gras with cranberries, ravioli filled with wild mushrooms and ricotta. Sweet, sweet scallops whose tender texture was made even more soothing by the puree. The slightly bitter cranberries cut the unctuousness of the foie gras well. Ravioli was raved about by my DCs, and was enjoyable, though I'm really not a big ravioli fan.
Round Three: Seared yellowfin tuna, pork tenderloin with cabbage, duo of steak tartare and carpaccio. The one of these I was most reluctant to order was actually my favorite: the steak. First of all, the presentation was stunning. Whisper-thin carpaccio spread over most of the plate, topped with minced beef studded with green herbs, with a huge, very lacy potato chip placed laid flat on top and covering at least half of the plate. Who would have though raw meat could actually look pretty on a plate? Loved the flavors too: light-tasting, like a meat salad. The tuna was meltingly tender, just barely seared and perked up by the flavor from the coriander. Pork was also cooked perfectly to remain moist and tender, but the flavors weren't particularly memorable.
For dessert we shared the chocolate tasting. The warm and intense dark chocolate pot was the standout. The delicate, slightly crumbly texture of the tuile part of the white chocolate tart amused by reminding us of the cigar-shaped cookies that come in those giant boxed cookie assortments. The milk chocolate component was disappointingly insipid.
All in all, a fabulous meal at one of my favorite straightforward occasion places in town. The view of the ocean doesn't hurt, either.
Sunday brought a birthday picnic, courtesy of May's Cake House, Flour and Formaggio. We picked up an egg custard and little curried beef puffs at May's, then stopped at Flour for their absurdly buttery croissants, a lemon-lime shortbread tart and a lemon curd/genoise affair. Finally, we hit Formaggio for organic cherry tomatoes, Muscat grapes, fresh blood orange juice, a mini baguette, Hubbardston (?) blue goat cheese, a strong but creamier Swiss cow's milk cheese, rabbit pate, prosciutto di Parma and some kind of spicy salami. Together with some left over champagne for mimosas and a sunny day right beside the water, it would have been hard to imagine how we could have had a more enjoyable picnic. My resolution for this summer: more picnics!
After so much indulgent eating all weekend, I nearly bucked my tradition of ending each birthday by consuming ice cream in a bubble bath. Instead, I opted for a compromise position: JP Licks' Low Fat Peanut Butter Hard Yogurt. It's like the inside of Reese's Pieces only cold, creamy and there's more of it, plus you can feel virtuous because of the low fat part.