I finally, finally, FINALLY made it into Zuni. And yes, I regret not going sooner.
Before I go anywhere to this post...Chowhounds rock. Thank you to everyone who was there--you know why you each respectively are totally awesome. Now, for the parade of food (and a quick note that there was not a clunker in the parade)...
Oysters on the half shell: kumamotos, sweetwaters, and miyagis (in order of my personal preference).
A lovely white wine from France, suggested by our server to pair with the oysters. Lovely, light, fragrant, and minerally. All I remember is Sancerre.
Rare beef salad: wow. Everything cold rare beef should be, with tasty dressing. Satisfied my lust for red meat, even though I only had a bite.
Salad with endives, asparagus, watercress and tangerines: there was just an article in the Los Angeles Times about shaved salads. Basically, their point was that salads can get tired, but shaving vegetables very thinly can change both the taste and texture of vegetables into something new and interesting. This salad made me think of that. It wasn't quite a shaved salad, but everything was in very small delicate slices, and the clean flavors really shone with the light dressing.
Caesar salad: people rave about it all the time, and it deserves every compliment. Extra-fishy caesar dressing with great anchovy flavor, and plenty of good Parmesan.
Squid stew: the best part of this was the soggy bread that had sopped up all the sauce. Not pretty, but so tasty. The squid iteslf was good. This dish would have wowed me were it not in the company of so many other fantastic appetizers.
Polenta: mmmm...corn. The polenta itself was thin. Not as thin as gravy, but not as thick as oatmeal. The corn bits, however, were on the larger side. Very tasty, not too salty, plenty of mascarpone, but not too much butter flavor. It was a very different polenta from the one at Oliveto, which is more finely ground and cooked thicker, with more butter flavor than cheese flavor. Both good, but very different. If forced to choose I'd go with Oliveto's.
The rabbit salad was my least favorite appetizer. The salad itself was fresh and tasty, with a nice dressing. The rabbit just tasted like chicken. Nothing special, though very well prepared.
The Main Courses
A very unusual Italian wine, courtesy of A (who always brings the most interesting Italian wines). Beautiful light red that made me simultaneously gasp and go "mmm" upon first sip. The wine makes people defy the laws of physics! Halfway through dinner the wine began to really open up and soften, becoming even more beautiful.
The chicken! The star of the meal, of course. It was served with frisee today instead of the traditional arugula. Hey, you go with what's at the market, right? Otherwise why go to Zuni? The chicken lived up to the hype: juicy inside, crispy outside, lovely salad dressing. I just wish they'd put a little more dressing on the bread salad, because that soggy bread and champagne vinegar sauce thing was really working for me.
Breaded halibut: beautiful fish in light panko-like (but not panko) crumbs. So good, with good olive oil and little baby vegetables on the side.
Someone please remind me what this pasta was, because it was good but I can't for the life of me remember what was in it. Some kind of green vegetable chopped into small pieces. Artichokes?
Ricotta gnocchi: so good. I may never eat another potato gnocchi again, having become increasingly disillusioned by them over the past few months. I think evanescent is a good word for these. They have a cohesive shape and you can stab one with a fork and pick it up, but once you put it in your mouth it completely melts. I think the menu says they use Belleweather ricotta for this, and the milky flavor really shines.
Pork chop: a two-inch thick pork chop cooked until just pink in the middle, with a side of polenta and collards. The collards, cooked with a red pepper or two in the liquor, had a little spicy kick to it that we enjoyed. The seared polenta was every bit as good as the one in a bowl, and the pork chop was well done but I didn't think I'd be able to eat the whole thing without getting very bored.
Three dessert wines to share at the table: A Beaume de Venise, which I thought was absolutely lovely. Sweet but not cloying, with an ambrosial mouthfeel. Next was an Italian aqcua de cerdo (citrus water) dessert wine, which packed quite a punch. Sort of a cross between Grand Marnier (in flavor) and vodka (in color and texture). Nice, but strong. Finally, Bonny Doon's "Ice Box" Wine, which is a play on ice wine. Instead of harvesting grapes naturally frozen on the vine, Bonny Doon takes grapes and throws them in the freezer before making wine. Hence, "Ice Box" Wine.
Espresso granita: house classic. I've always thought of granita as hard frozen chards, but this is really fluffy and light, like just barely frozen sweet coffee. Refreshing, and pretty unique.
Strawberry rhubarb tart with vanilla ice cream: both good, but to me the vanilla ice cream was out of this world. People who don't like dense eggy vanilla should stay away from this, but for me it was perfect. The tart, while delicious, was a mere vehicle by which the vanilla was transported to my mouth. The pairing was wonderful, though, and clearly showed some thought and expertise.
Rice pudding: unlike any rice pudding I've had before (or since, ha ha). Gigantic pieces of rice (almost like orza pasta, actually) embedded in what seemed like a ricotta based custard. The orange sauce was out of this world. Not sugary at all, and not soapy like some bad marmalades are. Just intensely orangey like fresh fruit, but gooey.
Jasmine tea ice cream: surprise of the evening, for me at least. The flavor reminded me of Stassen jasmine green tea. The tea flavor is subtle but present.
Gateau Victoire: okay, Judy Rogers, you win. You rule, I drool. Literally. I hereby officially apologize in writing for waiting this long to visit your restaurant. I'm sorry. I really am. I promise to cook tons out of your cookbook from this day forth in atonement. Anyway, a flourless chocolate cake that's fluffy, chocolatey, just barely sweet, and rich with coffee flavor? Man alive it was good! We loved this so much L asked for the recipe at the front desk. Hilariously, they had copies printed out. I guess they get a lot of requests for it.
Weekend Update: Zuni vs. Gold Mountain. It pains me to say so because I love a good Chinese banquet, but Zuni wins hands down. We spent more at Zuni, but we ordered much more alcohol and a parade of desserts. I left Zuni more full, and I'd had a larger variety of food. And let's be honest, the food at Zuni is more carefully picked out and pampered than at any Chinese restaurant, and their staff probably makes more too.
I've heard reports about disappointment with Zuni, and I could see getting bored with food if I went with just one other person (portions are sizeable). But a group of four or six could get a fantastic array of dishes for a very reasonable price.