I met Ms. M at a little after 7:30. The gracious hosts were kind enough to make extra room for us in the lounge, as seating in the dining room was impossible on such short notice (decided we were going to dine there two days ago!)
I walked there (as I always do if I am going to drink) and it took a minute to compose myself when I arrived. I am not sure what it is about this restaurant. It might be the Old Tavern building in which it is housed...maybe it is the legend who dwells there daily... I think part of it is that I feel...so privileged to be there when I come in the front door. The piano is playing (I was so jazzed to hear the Arthur theme "Arthur's Theme (Best That You Can Do)" while we were having our first sips of wine), there are sophisticated people all around...median age probably about 55... I like that. I look up to those people. I didn't really feel like I was in Sacramento. It felt like I was in NY! Surreal but awesome.
Before I get too off track, I sat down with Ms. M who was happily sipping a daquiri and waiting for me. I greeted her and we looked over the menu to decide what to order.
2004 Amelie Mankas Hills Cabernet-Merlot
I brought it with me because I simply don't drink alone at my house anymore. And the kind folks at MH are eagerly awaiting my review as they keep googling my blog and looking for it. ;) The reason for the delay in the wine review is...when I am not eating out, I am on a really strict diet, so that means no empty cals. So, I was more than happy to bring the bottle and split it with Ms. M.
get yer swirl on...
And, a little bit of breadstick...these were a little too garlicky for my taste, and nearly overpowered my wine. I should have stuck to the bread on the other side of the basket (but I didnt know it was there until somewhere near the middle of dinner. That's probably a good thing. ;)
We decided on the sweetbreads with pancetta and mushroom
(Animelle con Pancetta e Fungi).
They were sauteed with a Limoncello Butter. I had never tried sweetbreads before, I admit. Ms. M says she enjoyed the sb's from the Waterboy a little more because they were prepared a little differently. For me, I tried a few bites, and it's not something of which I would have an entire dish. I like the mouthfuls I had, just as I enjoyed the first bite of oyster I had in LA two weeks ago. :) The sweetbreads were flavorful and rich, butter and pancetta will do that, though! Though now, I am curious about the Waterboy's style of sb....
Animelle *baby calf* con Pancetta *pork!* e Fungi*mushrooms*
Primi (the first course)
For our next dish, we chose the fresh-made gnocchi.
It was one of the "specials", officially titled by the two of us as Gnocchi with Shittake Mushrooms & Sundried Tomatoes in an Herbed Butter Sauce
I LOVED the tender gnocchi. It was fabulous. As were the mushrooms. I love mushrooms and there were plenty on the plate within the sauce. The sauce, however, I was not overly impressed by. There was too much garlic. It was seasoned well as far as the other herbs and the salt level was good, but too much garlic there. A better sauce and it would have knocked my pumps off, because I could have eaten a whole plate of the gnocchi if it had pesto, or pomodoro, or h*ll, even honey or chocolate sauce on it. You think I am kidding? Not so...
Gnocchi with Shittake Mushrooms & Sundried Tomatoes in an Herbed Butter Sauce
Moving right along...
The Main Course
Branzino al Cartoccio
I ordered the sea bass en papillote. I am quite fond of seafood baked in parchment.
It's healthier, lighter... I don't quite feel like hanging myself so much after I eat meals like this. ;) It was light (like I said!) and flaky. It was topped with sundried tomatoes, capers and olives. I would have liked more olivey goodness, but it was baked perfectly and it was quite balanced in seasoning this time. There was a nice lemon-esque infusion in the olive oil it was prepared with. This dish was definitely something I would recommend. It was served with swiss chard. I did not enjoy the greens because I felt they were overcooked and overly buttered and cheesed.
I DID really enjoy the polenta (I ordered this a la carte). I really love polenta and after reading about it in Biba's first cookbook, I was really craving it. It was so buttery and I totally wanted to finish BOTH servings they gave me on my plate. They were about the size of a hockeypuck...
Branzino al Cartoccio
Ms. M's Dish...
Coniglio alla Cacciatora con Peperoni al Balsamico e Polenta
This dish was the braised rabbit with red pepper sauce.
I really thought it was the better of the two dishes, but I have a strong love affair with red bell peppers going on right now that nobody knows about. If you do not like red pepper, you will not enjoy this dish. It is the most prominent flavor even though the sauce contains onion, pancetta, red bell pepper, and balsamic v... The rabbit was so rich, very succulent! I had not tried rabbit since I was a small child and it was wonderful to be reacquainted to the taste in this way. It was served with polenta (that actually came with the dish). Polenta madness continues...look at the caramelization on those...Delicious and even more highly recommended.
Coniglio alla Cacciatora con Peperoni al Balsamico e Polenta (and lots of red pepper, and even more red pepper)
As we finished dinner, Biba herself arrived at the restaurant. It was about 9:15 or so. I was so happy because Ms. M got her book signed and I got to speak with her again. I was wearing my darker hair and it was then I mentioned alopecia. I told her that is why I asked her about her cancer battle and her hairloss when I interviewed he on Thursday. Tonight she looked in my eyes and touched my face. Not once of the face touching, but twice!! She told me I have a beautiful head. ;) She understands. She knows what it's like. That was probably one of the most satisfying moments in my life so far. Maybe that sounds a little silly, but it means so much to me. I respect her so much. Biba came to Sacramento when there practically NO dining destinations at which to eat and nowhere to get quality ingredients to replicate fancy meals at home. It is because of people like her, RP, EJ and DC that Sacramento has a few higher end restaurants and specialty grocers now. So, maybe she's not the most famous person in the world, but she's as famous and notable to me as Keller or Robuchon because she works so hard and does not take her name, career, life, or family for granted. Her work is a bountiful amalgamation of complex, simple, rustic, classic dishes, served both in seven different publications and six days a week in the Old Tavern Building. Some dishes are complicated to prepare, yet the presentation remains unpretentious.
She is a kind and down-to-earth woman who would think I am silly to keep going on about her like this. She turns 70 on Wednesday and I wish her continued success and happiness for years to come!