My very good friend who divides his lunch outings between Joe's in Venice and Mondays at Il Grano, invited me to join him yesterday for one of Sal Marino's increasingly heralded tasting menus. Having noticed repeated reports on this board as well, I looked forward to this dining experience. I must confess that I have moved away from such meals at most restaurants because, although often dazzled by a chef's prowess, I have found many of the selections not fitting to my mood or appetite. I'm glad I gave in yesterday. The lunch was as impressive for the over all balance as for the individual quality of each course. So, here goes:
After showing us two varieties of heirloom tomatoes on the vine from his own garden, the virtuosity began with a selection of no less than a dozen raw fresh fish from that morning's fish market. Fantasia Crudo was aptly named and this simple presentation of delicate oil on delicate fish, with the buttery Mackarel and Yellowtail a great counterpoint to the Japanese Wild Snapper and Black Snapper. Sole melted in the mouth and a Lobster Gelee burst with texture and flavor.
The second course was the promised Heirloom Tomato Salad with nine varieties anchored by a rich Burrata cheese and a fine extra virgin olive oil. Again, purety of product was beautifully presented.
Course three was a single slice of Leek Pizza which was quickly augmented with fresh shaved Black Truffle. This was the height of decadence and the few bites made an impact. This is when a single refreshing glass of 2002 Steinberger Kabinett Reisling arrived.
The fish course that followed was the dish that cemented the meal in my opinion and made me want to know what was on the dinner menu and long for future visits. The Mackarel was repeated, this time about a 6 oz. filet, lightly sauteed and served with a light jus with Golden Raisins and Spring Onions. The sweetness of both was offset by the bite of the onion and perfectly complemented the Mackarel.
A tagliatelle with fresh crab followed with basil and more Heirloom Cherry Tomatoes that had just the right salty flavors.
I've never been one to finish a meal with a salad but the sixth couse of fresh figs with watercress and frisee, Gorgonzola and Balsamic could not have been more satisfying. The small scoop of Peach Ice Cram that ended the meal was a perfect coolant.
For us, this meal competed with the best of L.A. and I will go back very soon for the Copper River Salmon and Short Ribs on the regular dinner menu. Another friend is always asking me where to go for interesting vegetarian meals and I noticed that Sal does a vegetarian tasting for $45. Up to now, I've only been a delivery customer for the adjoining Botega and been quite happy with their offerings of traditional Italian cooking. And although I was a guest, this lunch at $55 a person was worth every penny.
I remember going to Valentino's with my folks when I was in high school and to this day remember Piero's hospitality. Sal is the vary incarnation of that host sensibility greeting every table in the room. It's nice to know that you don't have to go just to hallowed halls to be treated like a king.