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Wednesday, March 11, 2015

An Inspiring Feast

How often does one have the opportunity to experience a 14-plate spectacle with friends, at one of the most talked about restaurants in town with a kind benefactor picking up the tab?  Not often enough I tell you!

Recently, a friend and fellow epicure very kindly invites me, and Steve, to join her for a dining extravaganza at the hottest table in town, Lazy Bear, courtesy of her generous uncle.  (Clouds part, rainbows appear, unicorns prance, angels sing a hallelujah chorus).   To put it mildly, I am elated.

Counter to every producer instinct woven into the fiber of my being, I decide NOT to do any background research on what is about to come, and just let it all unfold.  (SHOCKER, I know.)

We arrive at a tastefully renovated building in the Mission and once inside, are greeted warmly and directed to the second level where cocktails and the first four or five courses will be served. (You did indeed read that correctly, FOUR or FIVE.  It’s good to be alive.)

The décor (a blend of ski lodge/lumberjack blended with a dash of mid-century modern) has me giddy with delight.  The people scattered about seem to be a convivial group.  It’s like a wonderful dinner party and it feels exactly right somehow.

Once upstairs, we order drinks and taste our way through a succession of small dishes meant to make our taste buds happy.

Whipped Scrambled Eggs   Bacon, Maple Hot Sauce
arrive in a small shot glass filled with a rather demure custard colored cream.  The beautiful texture, something between whipped cream and crème anglaise, is fragrant with bacon and gives you a little firework of surprise at the bottom of the glass:  a tiny dollop of hot sauce.  I decide that I am very much looking forward to hanging around to see what’s next….

Royal Sterling Caviar, Buttermilk Panna Cotta, Egg Yolk Jam, Scallion
Who says no to caviar?  Not I!  The panna cotta is interesting, shall we say, and they’ve topped it with the aforementioned caviar.  The Egg Yolk Jam is presented in the shape of a few pea-sized balls that has me thinking they are some kind of yellow gooseberries.  Surprise!  I declare my first encounter with Egg Yolk Jam a raging success.

Red Seabream Plum Blossom Salt, Almond Milk
is quite the favorite with our group.  Pristine fish topped with Plum Blossom Salt and nestled into a small puddle of almond milk. Though I am not quite certain what Plum Blossom Salt actually IS, I know with absolute certainty that I LOVE IT.

Sweetbread Nuggets Carmelized Orange Aioli
may have put some off, but not our intrepid group of gourmets.  We chowed down on these deep fried thymus glands, boldly dipping in the tasty aioli like the fearless foodies we are!  Crunchy coating surrounds a creamy texture and I all I can say is YUM.

Perigord Truffle, Bone Marrow and Cheddar Fondue, Crudites
Fondue does not bring back good childhood memories but as the server shaved a small blizzard of fat truffle over the gooey, cheesy goodness in a cup, I threw caution to the wind and gave it a try.  Decent cheddar flavor, bot overall…meh.  Overshadowed by the previous winners, I give the fondue a B+.

We now move downstairs to the main level where two very long tables have been set and an open kitchen at one end is a hive of chef-ly activity.  The room is buzzing as we all seat ourselves and go quiet as the owner and head chef welcomes us.  He encourages us all to mingle, get up and check out the work going on in the kitchen and tweet-instagram-facebook-snapchat to our hearts’ content.  Everyone looks blissfully happy that no one is making us put our mobile devices away.

Valentine’s Bread, Cultured Butter
is introduced by the chef, Valentine, who makes it, and describes his butter as having “funk”.  The bread is good, and the butter is heavenly…almost cheese-like.  Sigh.  I would be happy to simply eat bread and butter for the rest of the evening and call it a day. 

Sorrels, Snails, Garden Herbs, Spot Prawn, Geoduck Clam, Barley
We are told the snails hail from Napa and they’ve been raised on basil.  Well bully for them, but on the plate scattered with leaves, it feels a bit TOO garden-to-table for me, if you know what I mean.

Charred Onion Broth, Country Ham, Egg Yolk, Apple, Scallion
Simply put, a tasty ramen, sans noodles.   After raving about the butter to one of the chefs between courses, the creator of the onion broth asks me what I thought of his broth and I have to be a little too enthusiastic so as not crush his creative spirit. 

Steelhead Trout, Cured Roe, Burnt Cream, Fingerling Potato, Rye, Grapefruit
A++.  One of the tastiest pieces of fish I’ve had in ages. This entire composition is perfect.  If I was Tom Colicchio, it would go like this, (in his signature staccato delivery):  “The fish was cooked perfectly.  The roe added zip.  The grapefruit, freshness.  It was a perfectly balanced dish.” 

Squab, Pear, Shallot, Foie Gras, Chicory-Almond Brittle
Not being a huge fan of squab, this is an excellent interpretation of these gamy little birds, and if one were to sprinkle some of the Chicory-Almond Brittle on a bike fender, I would eat it with delight.

I am now becoming a teensy bit concerned about my dining stamina.  My friend and I observe the chef squad plating up big lamb chops and we both feel done for the day.  You mean there’s going to be more?

Lamb, Date, Mustards, Farro, Blood Orange, Olive, Garum
Wow.  I love lamb, so I soldier on.  It is delicious, and I truly wish I could pounce on it with the vigor of a less sated person.  First World Problems.  I resolutely make my way through my chop, and well, part of my friend’s.  Steve holds his own and finishes his plate.  Let it never be said that Team Anderson shies from a dining challenge.

Carrot, Orange, Fennel, Cream Cheese
And then, the humble palate cleanser comes out and STEALS THE SHOW.  (or maybe my palate just needed to be cleansed??)  WOW.  Essence of carrot is somehow captured in small tapioca pearl shapes and floated in a carrot/blood orange sauce with a tiny blob of what one might call cheesecake, but that wouldn’t be doing the tiny blob justice.  This was, in a word, MAGNFICENT.  I am ruined for whatever comes next. 

Beets, Dark Chocolate, Burnt Vanilla, Pistachio
A sweet little chocolate cake, you say?  Oh, ooookaaaaay, if I must, but now my eyes are glazing over a bit and I can’t be the best judge of anything.

Treats  S’mores!
As they say in the business, But Wait!  There’s More!
A perfect little tray of treats…a perfect little rectangle of ‘smore…a cream puff…a hand made caramel wrapped in edible paper (why?  I don’t know, but let’s all pretend we’re in 5th grade and giggle over the fact that we’re eating paper!)

We made it.  Fait accompli!  We stagger to the exits, in a satisfied stupor, and bid our friends good night. 

The next day I do some reading on the chef, David Barzelay, and the birth of his restaurant and I marvel at his trajectory.  Turns out he went from being an out of work lawyer who enjoyed cooking to owning and cooking in a restaurant that breaks new ground as a business model and works, on his terms.  

This crazy generous gift of a meal has left me feeling grateful, humbled and inspired.  
Bravo Chef!

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