We have been meaning to try this place for some time, and on Saturday night four of us finally got the opportunity -- what a treat!
We had to wait about 20 minutes for our table, although we arrived only 5 minutes past our 8:15pm reservation. This wasn't a problem, though, as the amicable host kept coming outside to check on us. He mentioned that about 8 different tables had their desserts and/or checks and were just looking at them (!), and that any moment we would be seated. The place was packed, and everyone seemed to be taking a leisurely place. I don't blame them.
The interior of the restaurant is dimly lit, with a nice warm glow that makes you feel warm and relaxed the minute you step foot inside. Ok, ok, on to the chow.
We brought our appetites and decided to order 3 courses and stay awhile! A carafe of iced tap water was brought to our table, along with a basket of a very good, yeasty, soft, sliced white italian loaf and sweet butter. Also, the requisite tiny dish of olives.
For appetizers, two of our group chose the Salad of White Shrimp, Avocado, and Fava Beans. I had the Roasted Asparagus in Brown Butter with Shavings of Hard Cooked Egg. The last appetizer was a plate of roasted beets (and something else, but the menu has ALREADY changed since Saturday, and my memory is fuzzy here) My asparagus was scrumptious -- large spears, roasted until tender, swimming in a shallow pool of perfectly browned butter with dark flecks. The butter sauce was the stuff of fond memories. My godmother used to make me brown butter scrambled eggs that her French granny made her has a girl, and these really took me back. The crumbled egg whites were almost cheese-like, and a very nice touch to a very comforting dish. This dish was served warm. The shrimp salad was amazing! Perfectly cool, but not cold, the textural menage was excellent. 10-12 medium-sized white shrimp, just barely cooked, interspersed between tangles of watercress (possibly another green, but I believe it was watercress) with large slices of artichoke and lots of beautiful fava beans. We love fava beans. The dressing was a lovely peachy pink color... not sure what was in it, but I've always said that anything that color usually tastes great. The whole thing really worked, and was very light and refreshing. We had wanted to try the sformatino with caramelized onions and parmesan, but, unfortunately, by the time the waitress returned to take our order, they had run out of the dish. Incidentally, when we arrived, we were told they were already out of the stuffed pigeon, which I had been eyeing. Moral of the story, an earlier seating may be preferable at this place. Also, don't count on the waitress coming back in exactly two minutes, even when you specify that that is all the extra time you'll need! (g) The beets were golden, lovely, and very sweet. Nice caramelization.
On to the Primi Piatti. I'm so glad we brought our appetites, because the pasta is not meant to be missed. Appropriately-sized, we got two orders of the lobster ravioli. 12-14 of these pillows of goodness came out, with simply cooked, tender lobster. Not overstuffed, a perfect filling to pasta ratio. Lightly dressed in yet another slightly creamy orange-ish sauce. Yummy. I can only think that it was some lobster stock thickened with a little cream. Although everyone raved about dish, I would say that I thought it was just a tad salty. Others would probably shoot me for saying anything even slightly negative about this dish, but there it is. I happened to notice it. This is from one who believes that food should be well-seasoned, so I'm not afraid of salt. I would still order it again in a heartbeat. Another in the group got the
the Carrot Soup. I didn't have a taste of it, but was told that it was very good. It had a beautiful hue of pale orange, and didn't have a very thick consistency. I had the fettucine with braised oxtail. Ahhh, what a masterpiece. I often order oxtails because they're so rich and delicious. Although perhaps a bit wintery to be on the spring menu, I was really glad I ordered it. The homemade fettucine was wide and tender ribbons, and the small chunks of oxtail with the just-thickened wine sauce clinging to the pasta was heaven. Again, perfectly hot from the kitchen. If you haven't already picked up on it, I was AMAZED by how much I noticed the temperature of the food, and how much the temperature the food was served at complimented the flavors and textures. Some things were cool, some warm, some piping hot, and it was all very deliberate. I'm not sure why this was so important to this meal, but thanks to Oliveto for showing me the light!
The entrees. Two in the group got the Monkfish with Spinach and Chanterelles. The waitress wanted to alert us that the monkfish was dusted with porcini powder, and asked whether this would be a problem. (vbg) Of course, that only made us want it more! I had the Charcoal-Grilled Lamb Chops scottadino (burn-your-fingers!) The final entree was a charcoal grilled Niman Ranch steak (I want to say it was filet, but it hopefully was a ribeye or a different cut... I'm not a big fan of filets) with fried potatoes and a tarragon/red wine reduction. I didn't get a taste of that one, but was told it was awesome. It was served with what looked like very crispy shoestring frites. My lamb chops were fantastic. Very simply prepared, three plump chops grilled over the coals, with long bone "handles" which reminded me of the Flintsones. The meat was cooked on the rare side of medium-rare, which was just fine. The waitress didn't ask me how I wanted my meat cooked-- I would have said rare-- but I wasn't worried as I figured a restaurant of this caliber ought to know how to cook the meat! ;) It was served with lightly smashed garbanzo beans. Very tasty. Our friend had never had monkfish before, although he has tried to to order it many times, but strangely, the restaurants he frequents are always out of it. I was so pleased that this was his first monkfish encounter, although I'm a bit afraid that he may be ruined for all other renditions. This one was awesome, with 6-7 good sized pieces of fish, dark from the powder and the pan, with ever so light a crust that comes from the pan. The chanterelles were tender and flavorful, the sauce rich, yet light at the same time. The fish itself was more tender than monkfish normally is and in thinner pieces than the usual chunks. Everything in this course was really simply prepared, and the fresh ingredients really spoke for themselves.
Incidentally, many of you are probably wondering what we were drinking all this time... don't freak out, but we brought our own Turleys (Pesanti and Old Vines Zins)... THIS WAS NOT *OUR* CHOICE!! :) I was really hoping to have some nice Italian reds with our meal, but our dear friends really wanted to drink Turleys. We deferred to them... THIS TIME! Some hounds may get the idea that I am a Turley freak. I really am not. ;) Thankfully, the wines worked well with the meal, but I know, I know!! Their wine list is amazing...
O.k., still a little bit of room left for a shared dessert and the cheese plate. The cheeses were a semi-soft cow's milk cheese that I don't remember the name of (it was very good, but not particularly memorable), Toma Fontinata (if I'm remembering correctly, this was the gooey cheese with an ashy/herby rind and it was YUMMY), and a Pecorino di Filana fresco (yawn). We also had the bittersweet chocolate cake. This wasn't anything special, very powdery and subtle. I liked the fresh whipped cream served along-side. Again, nothing that special. We had tawny port and whiskey along side.
By then it was 11:30pm -- where did the time go -- and we were across the street at the BART station waiting to catch the very last train back to the City. It was a very leisurely, relaxed meal. Our waitress was pleasant and answered all our questions (we had a lot!) I will definitely be returning. I didn't get to try the housemade salumi plate, nor did we try their balsamico. I'm glad there's always a next time.
The total for four people was just over $300, inclusive of $18 corkage (x 2), exclusive of tip.