We arrived at Tapenade promptly for our 7:30 reservation to find the place packed to the rafters and a couple of large parties waiting in the small vestibule area. Our table for two, however, was ready and waiting for us.
It looked like Tapenade had (as we used to say in the navy) cancelled all liberty for the wait staff. There were a lot of waiters and bussers, and they were *all* moving at warp speed. While we were eating, the couple at the table next to ours finished and left, and in less than two minutes, the table was cleaned, table cloths and linens replaced and reset, and the hostess was seating a new couple there. It was practically breathtaking. For all that, however, I never felt like they were rushing the diners, but it was clear that the restaurant wasn't keen on wasting valuable table space.
Everybody was given the Restaurant Week menu. I don't even know if the regular menu was available; at least I never saw anything other than the RW items being served. It was $40 for the meal, but for $50 you could get the meal with separate wine pairings for each course. I checked out the wine list (generally expensive) and found a bottle of French Vouvray for $36 that Di adored and I thought was pretty good, too. There was a tiny Amuse Bouche that I believe was a very thinly sliced bread topped with tomato and herbs. A nice bite. They also served the restaurant's signature tapenade (which I love), but last night it came with chewy round rolls instead of the excellent bread of memory.
For our first course, Di had the "Johna" crab salad, a small round confection with a crispy "hat" that looked like a homemade potato chip, but tasted like it might have been a turnip or radish. It was pretty good. Since I was sort of in a "trust the chef" mood, I ordered something called a "Petatou" that consisted of a little round mold of warm fingerling potato salad topped with a generous layer of warm goat cheese. Next to it on the plate was a nice pile of dressed greens (arugula). This potato salad (flavored with tarragon?) and goat cheese proved to be one of the best things I've ever eaten. I honestly don't know how I managed to restrain myself from licking the plate. To me, it was the highlight of the meal.
Entrees were a braised short rib (big hunk of flavorful meat a la beouf bourguignon) which was really nicely done. I had the mushroom raviolis in white truffle sauce, which was topped with a festive scattering of Parmigiano Reggiano curls. It was soooo rich, it was almost (but not quite) too much. I used some of my leftover roll to mop up the remaining sauce when I finished it.
My dessert was "Chocolate Marquise" which proved to be a slice of what I'd describe as a dense and very firm mousse. On the plate was a vanilla creme anglaise. If I'd made this dessert, I would've considered it a tour de force, with its perfect understated balance of sweetness and chocolate flavor -- very French. While it was in sharp contrast to the chipotle chocolate cake from Sunday night's dinner at the Del, it was fascinating to see how the two approaches, so different from each other, could both yield something so good.
For her dessert choice, and against my advice, Di ordered something that was unfortunately described as, "Dry Fruit & Nut" with nougat glacé and cocoa bean sauce. I was imagining a prune and a pile of cashews, but it turned out to be a superb dessert that, to me, resembled a cream pie. I only got a small bite, but would've cheerfully traded with her. So much for my advice.
As I mentioned above, there was never any overt sense of being hurried, but no one offered us coffee, and I had to ask a bus boy to round some up. The pacing of the dinner was very professional, but very efficient. The check came unbidden, and was whisked away within seconds of my putting my credit card in the folder. I don't know if Tapenade made any money on the Restaurant Week operation or not, but they certainly put on a demonstration of how to feed a large number of people in a big hurry but without seeming like it. Tapenade remains one of my top five in San Diego County and Jean-Michel Diot rates a place in my food pantheon -- he's a freakin' god.
Tomorrow we do El Adobe at La Estancia.
. . . jim strain in san diego.
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