Thursday night we few, we blessed few, gathered at Baywolf on Piedmont Avenue in Oakland for Limsterfest Event 12, or maybe 17. Everybody managed to park within an easy cab ride of the place, and we were seated at a long table in a long narrow room which apparently was created by enclosing a porch. Lots of wood, plenty of light but not too bright, and although mostly full, not too noisy.
Melanie Wong provided our wines; her theme was The 1990 Vintage From Many Lands, and I hope she will give us a little detail on her selections, since I left my list in somebody's car. We started with a 1990 Dom Perignon, presented to Limster in its box with the cellar mold still on it; a strong gesture, and we were all pretty much impressed. We sipped this fine toasty champagne, noshed from the generous baskets of sourdough baguettes, chatted and laughed, and ordered when we were good and ready.
(I attach below a link to the dinner menu, since my memory is remarkably bad. And I only really picked up what happened at my end of the table, so I hope others add their accounts.)
The most-popular appetizer selection was the trout salad, somewhat thin pieces of fish that seemed to me something between smoked and poached, on toasted slices of baguette, in a nest of cress and endive and crunchy sweet-sour onions and chewy salty chunks of bacon, in a dressing that seemed a little on the sweet side to me. The surprise hit was the stuffed calamari, plump tender tubes filled with the flavorful tuna mixture. I'm a chump for capers and olives, and so I guess was everybody else who tried this dish. I could have made a meal out of it, in its dark sauce that seemed mainly a reduced olive juice. Limster, opting for an all-duck evening, got the duck liver flan, a large slab of airy pate served with a stack of grilled toast slices. As he generously shared with everyone, I got a substantial taste; the flavor and texture were both pretty delicate, even a non-liver-fan would have enjoyed it. I saw Cheryl had, I believe, the minestrone, but those trout salads were all around the table.
In good time came the entrees, as the server poured a trio of reds; Melanie had selected a California Pinot Noir, a Cotes de Rhone, and a Chianti Classico, all '90s, to compare & contrast. The Pinot really picked up the fish, the Rhone I thought was a little more luscious, more fruity to my taste; but I liked the Chianti best, for some reason. Jeez, Melanie, jump in here whenever you want.
Raised on hamburgers, I naturally went for the mixed grill. The strips of skirt steak came seared almost black and bright red inside; they were wonderfully tender, but tell the truth, too lean to have enough satisfying beef taste for me. The quail was nicely boned and flattened, its little legs sticking up, a nice four-bite morsel. It was juicy, tasted a little of grille smoke, and the skin had a nice bite to it, though not crispy. The big winner was the chicken sausage. Chicken sausage is, too often, boringly fine-ground; these had a filling that was pleasingly coarse, lot of texture going on, so that different tastes occured at different places in the sausage; one bite wasn't necessarily the same as the previous one. I could have made a meal of a couple of these, at the same price, and felt satisfied.
Limster got the duck, a good sized serving with both leg and breast. I tasted a sample of breast, with the ragout and the fennel, and enjoyed the richness of the duck; thought the fennel a little undercooked.
Melanie's lamb shoulder benefited from long careful cooking, flavorful of lamb but not strong, and perfectly tender. The sides there really looked good, especially the mashed potatoes and lemon gremolata.
The Pinot, said Melanie, should be really good for fish with the grill marks on it. Sandy's swordfish had grillmarks seared well onto it. I shy away from swordfish because it often seems, I don't know, wet, too juicy, some fish liquid I don't understand. This fish had none of that; it was substantial, meaty, tender and tasty, again with a bit of the grill smoke to it. This swordfish and this Pinot Noir should move in together.
I got a bite of Kenny's risotto, with a big fat prawn. Both the prawn and the rice seemed a little too firm, like one was overcooked and the other undercooked. The basil and lemon flavoring was great, though, and the peas were fat and sweet.
Don't remember who else had what else; maybe somebody will chime in.
Dessert time, we're all groaning and moaning, but nobody's saying no. So Limster says, we'll just get a couple and share, then orders one dessert for each person and a couple extras. I tasted the chocolate torte, crumbly and dense and not too sweet, it called for dessert wine rather than coffee; the lemon tart, this visually the most delightful with its little peaks of browned, textured meringue and streaks of bright raspberry sauce, although I'd have liked the lemon a little more tart (yuk); what I presume was the golden-raisin turnover, a rich little morsel with a light orange cream sauce; and Earl's Sweet Treats. This last is a plate with eight different sweets on it, among them a mint truffle, a cluster of dark-chocolate-covered tiny macadamias, a bit of apple pastry, another chocolate with toasted coconut, and more, Dorothy. All these treats were bound by Melanie's closer, a chilled Chateau Megyer Tokaji Aszu 5 Puttonyos. This lush, apricot-tasting Hungarian dessert wine had us all nodding and smiling and sighing.
The service at all times was pleasant and professional, attentive without hovering, friendly but not intrusive. The meal flowed well, everything seemed to me to come at just the right time, aside from a slight delay for Sandy's swordfish. An 18% gratuity was pre-programmed for partys of more than six; too bad, they'd probably have gotten more from us than that. Food and tip came to under $60 a head; the wine you know was worth a good deal more; the company was priceless.
Cheers to Cheryl Pochapin, our hostess and organizer; to Melanie Wong, for again going to her cellar to treat us in rare fashion; and to Limster, the guest of honor and inspairation for the party. As I write, there are still openings for remaining Limsterfest events in a venue near you; any one could be the meal of the year.
Scroll on down the board to the thread about Limsterfest events still open, to find an event to your liking.