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Tasting Menu Crawl – Putting on The Ritz

Krys | May 13, 200503:47 AM

The Dining Room at the Ritz Carleton is so much better than the French Laundry … so … MUCH … better.

I spent $50 less than my FL lunch and didn’t feel ripped off. I didn’t need to beg for reservations either.

The menu is at the end of this post. I won’t go into detail. What was amazing was that each ingredient in the dish had the most intense flavor. So a pea had the most intense pea flavor I ever tasted. An onion was everything that was wonderful about onions. Yet, when you put all the ingredients together they transcended their individual essences.

Yeah, that sounds snooty, but, gosh it was so true.

Also, the pairing of wine to food was just exquisite. Same thing. I’d take a sip of wine and it was wonderful. There wasn’t a single misstep. Yet, when paired with the course, it was just the most incredible partnership, bringing out even better flavors in the dish and escalating the wine into a different level.

Until tonight, the most memorable dinner I ever had was at a three star in Paris. In that restaurant only one wine stands out in my memory. At The Dining Room, all 9 (uh 11 with the cheese course and champagne) were stellar.

The Ritz is very formal. At the beginning I thought, uh, oh this is a mistake … not my style. Yet, from the first bite, I was just captivated. After a few glasses of wine, I was exchanging restaurant tips with the waiter for Berkeley eats.

There are three options. A $68 three course dinner. You have the choice of a number of first courses, second courses and desserts.

Looking at the dishes on the three course menu, not much appealed to me. It seemed fussy, there were pork bellies and yuzu involved. Warning bells were going off.

There were a few dishes that did catch my attention
- milk fed poulard with white asparagus, licorice root, artichokes and other stuff
- roast soft shell crab
- cold white asparagus soup

There was a lot of white asparagus on the menu.

However, after the tasting menu, I am betting every one of those dishes was outstanding. If I win the big prize in the next lottery, I’m moving into the Ritz and it’s dinner every night at The Dining Room.

Also, on Friday and Saturday nights, the three course dinner can be ordered as a pre-theatre dinner. You can start dinner at 5:30 and have enough time to get to a show.

You can opt for the $89 six course tasting menu. All items are listed on the menu. There is also a vegetarian version for the same price and it was very nice.

Then there is the nine course tasting menu for $115. No print out. It is up to the whim of the chef that night. When I reserved, I told them no fois gras. They were very accommodating and asked if I had any other allergies (a very diplomatic way to get around the political issues).

Although the nine course menu wasn’t written, for the few times I missed what the server said was in the dish, each taste announced very clearly what I was eating. Even the little sauces that usually just decorate a dish had intense flavors.

As a single diner, I felt very comfortable. There were other single diners there as well. I was concerned about the pacing, I thought I would be sitting and waiting. Yet after three and a half hours, I couldn’t believe I had spent that long in the dining room.

I chose the Ritz to start my tasting menu crawl because of many recent positive Chowhound posts and from what I’ve read about Ron Siegel, I like his style. He seems to be about food and not show. You can see him down at the Sunday San Rafael Civic market picking out produce for the upcoming week at the restaurant.

The evening starts with a champagne cart where you get a choice of champagnes by the glass. I was on my own here and I chose Tattinger. I’m not a fan of the less expensive bottles of this champagne. While the top of the line version was nice, I have written Tattinger off my list.

The wine pairing was $74 for 11 full pours of wine (including champagne). This has to be the all time wine bargain. The wine service was top notch. There was a little background on each wine and what flavors to expect. Many of the wines were from small boutique wineries with limited production. European and Californian wines were poured.

Wine is just not my thing, so I didn’t take notes. I just blissed out on every glass. So, sans wine, here’s the tasting menu

Small demitasse of cream of broccoli soup with that small puff with cheese inside (for get the formal name)

Choice of four dinner rolls. I went with the black current to start. Two type of butter, sweet and salty in a silver domed butter dish. At this point I was still in my, “this is just too fussy’ frame of mind.

Campache (sp) carpaccio (tuna with cubes of orange/ pepper gelle toped with a sliver of radish. This is where I started to lose my mind at the wonderfulness.

Asparagus wrapped oyster topped with caviar and cold fresh pea soup.

OK. So out comes this HUGE white covered dish. They lift the cover and there is this little teeny oyster with caviar. My eyebrow raises skeptically. Then, from a silver pitcher, they pour the soup over the oyster, submerging it. The salty, sweet, and oystery flavors just were amazing together.

Crispy sweet and sour chicken with leeks. I can never, NEVER have this dish again. All sweet and sour is ruined for me. Tiny one inch cube of the tenderest chicken with the crispiest skin.

Salmon sashimi with cubes of geoduck topped with a triangle of nori.

I had finished the current roll and moved on to the olive roll which was my favorite.

King salmon topped with calamari on a bed of melted onion with a carrot reduction.

Poached lobster, lobster cream, asparagus, caviar.

OK, I’m from New England and the lobster just couldn’t compete with one fresh off the boat and cooked at a lobster shack. It was very good though. HOWEVER, that caviar / lobster cream combo was a winner.

The wine that came with this brought out the lemony notes in the dish. The dish accentuated the lovely lemoniness of the wine.

Sweetbread ravioli in a brown chicken sauce with peas and melted onions

Squab with squab liver ravioli picked ramps, chipolini onions

Pink Bolivia rock salt sprinkled on lamb topped with sweetbreads on a bed of fava beans, morels and a thyme reduction.

Out of a list of winners, my favorite. That was the best sweetbread I have ever had, crispy on the outside and meltingly tender inside. Each ingredient fantastic, yet combined, outstanding.

I chose the optional cheese course and the port cart was wheeled out. There were six cheeses involved. None of the usual suspects. By this time, after a full glass of wine with each course, I was pretty much plastered so no details here, Not so plastered that I didn’t savor each bite of the wonderful cheeses.

Next there was a cherry sorbet with lemon verbena gelle. Again, intense, intense flavors.

Then there was a chocolate nougat dessert \with kumquat.

Finally there were a dozen mini cookies / candies paired with the final sweet wine (who knows at this point, port maybe). Most memorable was the mini canelle (Bay Breaad, bah) , passion fruit/cream cheese cookie and the passion fruit jelly (in your face, Citizen Cake). Two complementary parting caramels.

Valet parking is $12 with dinner. You give your ticket to the server and they add it to the check. OK, so I’m spending all these bucks, probably more than I’ve spent since the beginning of the year on mom and pop places and now I’m going to complain about two things.

One, I wouldn’t spend $9 for the water again. Two, I wouldn’t spend $8 for a cup of cappuccino.

After this wonderful dinner, I’m going to have to go back to farmers markets for a while and give up on the mom and pop places. It would be very hard to be objective.

Next week: You won’t believe this one.


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