Monday, January 29, 2007

Birthday Dinners

Jeff, me, Kathye, Ellen, Jim

Yes, that's dinners. In the plural. I had dinner on my birthday itself with 4 friends at California Cuisine. Most of us started with the greens/hearts of palm salad. The hearts of palm were julienned, and pine nuts and feta added just the right balance. The sherry vinagrette dressing complimented, rather than overpowered the salad. For the main course, I ordered the venison loin with truffle-celery root puree, braised red cabbage, with black pepper-red currant pan sauce. Of all the dishes the 5 of us ordered, I think this was the best. The venison was not gamey at all. It was cooked medium rare, and the celery root puree was to die for! My friend Kathye ordered the crab cakes. Being from Maryland originally, she's got a very discerning palate for crab cakes, and her assessment was that they didn't quite measure up to her standards. She did enjoy them, though, as did Ellen. Jim ordered the Nieman Ranch pork chops with sweet potato gratin, vegetable medly, apple compote and bourbon glace. He really enjoyed them - especially the sweet potatoes. (Of course, he's from Ohio and enjoys anything that includes meat and potatoes!)

Jeff picked the wine, and it was a perfect compliment for both his Kurobuta pork short ribs with ancho-port sauce. We had a Deloach cabernet, 2000. If I had to be stranded on a desert island for the rest of my life with only one kind of red wine, this would be it. Rich, jammy, fruit forward with a smoooooth finish. Ahhhhhh............

Two desserts for the 5 of us were sufficient, as they were both rich and decadent. One was their chocolate truffle torte with raspberry coulis and pistachio dust. Delicious, but nothing that made it stand above all the other versions of this. The other was their warm chocolate amaretto tart, which left us all melting in our seats. Fortunately, we ate this one second. I'm not sure anyone spoke for about 3 minutes by the clock!!!

Jeff and me.

The next day I drove up to LA to have dinner with some friends I met on my trip to Vietnam last fall. Jack and Jan are foodies, and they both love to cook. We started with 3 appetizers - fresh spring rolls with shrimp, carrots, cucumbers, lettuce and cilantro. Also had their chicken and shrimp squares as well as sweet potato balls encrused with sesame seeds. 4 different sauces for dipping made each bite special. Jack gave us the details of his search through half of LA county looking for kaffir lime leaves. So many places which usually carry them were out! I don't remember where he finally found them, but clearly it was a great victory to have produced them. And well worth the effort. Jan made a fantastic aubergine with coconut milk and lime leaves. Melt me! Jack made an equally fabulous rice noodle dish with shrimp and mint. Together, these 2 dishes complimented each other with subtle flavors and just the right amount of spice. Jan promised me that she would send me the recipes, and when she does, I will pass them along. I HIGHLY recommend them. We could have been in one of the better restaurants in Saigon eating this outstanding meal.

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