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Been there, done DAT: Rubicon. Yes!

svL | Jan 11, 200409:21 PM

I had not been at Rubicon before, but have always been attracted by reports of high quality. However I have also been slightly turned off by the celebrity-owners hype of the place. DAT gave us a good opportunity to check it out at reduced rates, so last night my wife and I and another couple went there. It turned out to be an excellent DAT.

The restaurant was completely full when we got there about 5 minutes early for our 8:15 pm reservation. We were going to order drinks while waiting for our table, but, amazingly, about 5 minutes later, they led us to our table, a very nice booth on the lower floor. And that's the way it went the entire night: unobtrusive and almost transparent and yet efficient service. It looks like they have teams of waiters and busboys servicing tables, with a waitress taking orders and coming back periodically to check on water, bread, and whatever needs customers may have. Another set of waiters bring the food when ready (no mistakes were made) and yet another waiter/busboy clears the previous plates. Worked like a clock.

I don't know how we did it, but we managed to spend over 3 hours consuming a deceptively simple three-course menu and two bottles of wine. They never rushed us, and there was little turnover in the room for the rest of the night. Looked like the customers who came for the "late shift" settled in for the night. When we left, at about 11:20 pm, the restaurant was still half full.

The three-course DAT menu looks kind of sparse on the menu and on Rubicon's website (see link below) but turned out to be very good. But first we had a tiny amuse bouche that consisted of a small (about a square inch) cracker with a good tapenade on top. The marinated olives send a nice wake-up call to your mouth.

The DAT menu has two apps, two entrees and two desserts to choose from. Unintentionally, we ordered by gender. Ladies had the mixed green salads (very simple but high quality greens and arugula, good dressing of mostly oil and vinegar with walnuts and a crostini with some melted goat cheese on top), grilled bluenose bass in lobster and cream sauce on a bed of some vegetables like celery (what I tasted was yum-yummy), and a chocolate fondant (a small wheel made from chocolate and filled with some more soft chocolate) with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream on top (intense, rich flavors; perfect for chocaholics -- which I'm not but the rest of the group are -- who kept moaning as they devoured it).

The gentlemen had a delicious chestnut soup with a piece of foie gras on a crouton in the middle of the bowl. The dish was completed at the table, with the waiter pouring the hot soup over the solids from a small pitcher. Then came the piece de resistance, duck cassoulet. The printed menu said there would be blanquette de veau, but the waitress informed us that the chef decided to offer the cassoulet instead. Well, that turned out to be superb, perhaps the best (and certainly the richest) I've ever had. A lot better than Bistro Jeanty's, and I thought that one was pretty good. (I don't know if they are going to keep doing the cassoulet or go back to the veal choice.) For deserts, we had a creme broulee with some cookies, which was very good, but after that cassoulet I just couldn't finish the broulee.

Rubicon is an expensive restaurant, with the appetizers just under $10, entrees around upper $20s and deserts all at $10. So the DAT is good value.

However, they make it all back on the wine. Rubicon has a fantastic wine list, perhaps the best in the city, and the sommelier, Larry Stone, a very unassuming fellow, is one of the most knowledgeable wine people in the world. (I asked him a question about a wine we ordered and it was like asking an encyclopedia. We even called him "the wine google.")

The wine list is enormous and it took me at least 15 minutes just to glance through it. It is also a very expensive wine list (looked like the majority of bottles were over $100), but there are a few nuggets under $50. We first had a very good 2000 Three Rivers syrah from Washington state ($49) that I had read about recently. Unlike most fruit-bomb syrahs from California, this one was like a Rhone syrah, white and bell peppers and chocolate flavors. Very nice. Then, at the suggestion of Mr. Stone, we had a 1998 Chateau d'Aiguilhe (from Cotes de Castillon in Bordeaux, $45). This was also a very good wine. Lots of gauzy dustiness on the palate that comes from a large dose of Cabernet Franc. We liked it quite a bit, but overall preferred the syrah.

Looking around the room, I noticed that people were drinking wine like fish. Lots of bottles and big wine glasses (they only use Riedel and Spiegelau, Stone told me as-a-matter-of-fact) on all the tables. By the way, corkage is $20 a bottle.

All in all, a very happy DAT. Rubicon runs like a well-oiled machine and I saw no flaws in the food nor in the service (maybe I'm easy to please). It's an expensive and clubby-looking place, but I noticed no sign of snobbery and we did not feel neglected. Unlike reports of DAT experiences in other restaurants, Rubicon did not shortchange. Of all the restaurants that are offering DAT this year, this might be the best one.

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