Dine Downtown, January 2014

Ah, Dine Downtown, how I love thee. This edition saw me visit Red Rabbit, GrangeFoundation Restaurant and Bar, and, of course, Ella. You can see my reviews of them in earlier posts, with the exception of Foundation, which is new.

At RED RABBIT, we sat at the bar and enjoyed some excellent conversation and some excellent food. It had been a while, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I must admit, I was pleasantly surprised!

First up, butternut squash and potato croquettes, with manchego cheese and a sage parsley pesto. These were little balls of heaven. Also, were “Shrimp on the Barbie.” It was pretty much what you’d expect: grilled shrimp. These were skewered with an Asian-inspired slaw and spicy Thai chili glaze. The flavor that grilling imparts was readily apparent and I hope to be able to order these again. And no, they weren’t head-on shrimp. The photo is deceiving; that’s actually just the skewer. Fear not, oh intrepid American diner!

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Next up was a salad. Red Rabbit offered the option of a salad in lieu of dessert, which I found to be a wonderful alternative, since I’m not a huge dessert person. I know, blasphemy! So, we got a mixed green salad with pomegranate seeds, candied walnuts, bleu cheese, and a citrus vinaigrette, and “The Return of Caesar”… and what a triumphant return it was. Take that, Brutus!

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As for the entree, it was easy to select the non-meat ones. These were “The Healer” of pappardelle pasta, brussels sprouts, more of that delightful sage pesto, grana cheese, and topped with a perfectly poached egg. Yum-zilla! The other entree was a butternut squash ravioli with ricotta cheese, pecorino cheese, and sage brown butter. A fairly standard winter dish, done very well. And we all know I’d rather see something “standard” or “simple” done really, super well.

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Two days later was GRANGE. Like Red Rabbit, I’ve been tough on this restaurant before. But that was when they both were new and working out the kinks. This experience at Grange couldn’t have been better. The food was all delightful and Roger, our server who came to California by way of south England, was also delightful. We did the wine pairing, so it was even more delightful! Aieee!!! Delight was oozing out of every pore.

Of course we had to start with oysters. I mean, not doing that seems slightly criminal, don’t you think?! Sharing a glass of bubbles only made it better and our appetites ready.

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First up was a polenta soup with a 2010 David Girard grenache. This paired excellently. I do wish I’d taken better notes on this one, because it was fabulous. Suffice to say, I was too busy ladling its goodness into my face.

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Also was brassica paired with a 2012 Trinchero sauvignon blanc. Brassica is a delightful cruciferous veggie that is crunchy and goes with almost anything.

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For the main course was a vegetable pot pie. I was incredibly excited for this one, and was only a tad disappointed… but in the way that I like my pot pie with lots of sauce for crust-dipping and this was lacking in that department. But overall, the root vegetables, greens, and mustard meshed well. Instead of the Bogle chardonnay that was listed on the pairing, Roger suggested we instead try the Heringer teroldego. By the way, you should go to Heringer. Their tasting room is located at the Old Sugar Mill in Clarksburg. You won’t be disappointed. But I’ll save my glowing words for them for another post! At any rate, the teroldego was definitely the way to go. What in the world is “teroldego,” you say? Well, besides being lots of fun to say and throw out there as insult to the wine philistines of the world, or troglodyte, which sounds delightfully close, tereldego is an Italian varietal that isn’t well known in the US and only grown in a small region of the Northeastern part of Italy. It is meatier and less fruit forward than a pinot, but not as deep as a zinfandel, and definitely doesn’t have the meat of a cabernet. It is soft on the palate and generally great straight out of the bottle.

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As for dessert, lemon meringue tart with a Heringer late harvest chardonnay, and Jodie’s eskimo pie with a Bogle petit sirah port tied the meal into a neat, delicious, insulin-inducing bow. BTW, you can also visit Bogle when you go to Heringer! It’s a little further up the road, but once you get there, it’s worth it!

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Now to the new place: FOUNDATION.

Located at 4th and K, where the 4th Street Grille used to be, it’s a challenge to park, however there is street parking and a parking garage close by. Plus, if you’re making a date of the Crocker, it’s a not too far journey.

We began with parmesan-encrusted artichokes. I really enjoyed these and highly recommend them.

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Our first course was a butternut squash soup with creme fraiche. It was thick without being gravy-ish, and the flavor was both sweet and spicy.

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Also was a beet salad with blood oranges, shaved fennel, and a champagne vinaigrette. I was kind of annoyed when I realized the server hadn’t asked us for fresh ground pepper, but whatever. The main problem with this salad was its lack of flavor. It needed that pepper and it needed more dressing, believe it or not. Yes, I of little dressing thought it needed more! The best part were the blood oranges, which added a nice tang.

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The second course is when things start to fall apart for me.

First is rosemary pappardelle with wild mushrooms, a marsala ragout, and parmesan. It needed some serious oomph. The seasoning was off; I added both salt and pepper. The dish’s temperature was inconsistent, the rim of the plate hadn’t been wiped (I know, I know, it’s just a tiny thing, but something I notice), and it was just too uniform in flavor. The ragout overpowered everything, with the mushrooms a mere afterthought, with very little variation in texture.

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The other dish was “blackened” sea scallops with a chili and cucumber radish on a bed of white corn polenta and roasted grape tomatoes. Okay, the reason I put the quotation marks there is because the scallops weren’t exactly blackened; they were blackened on about 20 percent of each scallop. It was primarily cool by the time it got to the table, and I even had to inspect the scallops a bit more closely just to make sure they were cooked through. The very best part of this was the polenta, although I’m not certain I saw more than a half of a grape tomato. But the polenta was fabulous.

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As for the dessert, this was by far the best course. They were out of the lemon sorbet, so I got raspberry instead. I was a tad bit disappointed, because I love lemon sorbet, but the raspberry was also good. The most delicious was the New York style cheesecake with raspberry coulis. It wasn’t that super thick, stick-to-the-roof-of-your-mouth kind of cheesecake I’m used to from the midwest. This was light, perfectly sweet, and something I can’t wait to try again!

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Overall, I was underwhelmed by Foundation. I will give it some time, though, and see if it can redeem itself in my humble (or not so humble) eyes. It’s still new and there were lots of other interesting things on their regular menu that I’d like to try.

And finally… ELLA. With some good friends, we couldn’t go wrong with the company, and with it being Ella, well, we couldn’t go wrong with the food! Highlighting a vegetarian menu, Chef Ravin Patel crafted an “A” game gastronomical experience for us vegheads.

First up, oysters, again… of course! I can’t go to Ella and not get them! We enjoyed a sampling of beausoleil, Fanny Bay, shigoku, and a variety I hadn’t had before, Steamboat. It took me forever to remember the name of these guys until I associated them with “Steamboat Sam,” a character I once played in a musical! They were a bit too large for my liking, so I don’t think I’ll be getting them again. To accompany them was arguably one of the best champagnes out there (that won’t require you taking out a second loan on your house). It’s called Jacquart and you can read all about it here. I probably shouldn’t tell you about it, because I don’t want them to run out! But I just have to tell you… it’s too dang good to keep to myself!

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My apologies for not taking oyster photos! But we mustn’t wallow in regret.

First course was golden potato leek soup with watercress, and smoked olive oil. OH-EM-GEEEEE. This was out of this world! The smoked olive oil gave it a wonderful, unexpected dimension. Yes, I could’ve devoured a vat of this, and no, I didn’t storm the kitchen in order to obtain said vat. This certainly puts my own potato leek soup to shame! This was paired with a 2008 Terlato Family Vineyards chardonnay from Russian River Valley.

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This was followed by “Pasta Dave’s” fettuccine, with a wild mushroom ragout, lovely bits of ricotta cheese, and just a hint of black truffle. Yum, yum, and yum. I mean, seriously, you can’t go wrong with all of those ingredients! The umami was probably the most prevalent note, but the texture of the pasta, the size, and the ricotta cheese all blended perfectly. Paired with this was a Mouton Noir Pinot Noir, Other People’s Pinot, out of Willamette Valley, OR from 2010. P.S. Willamette Valley has some excellent pinots.

 

 

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Finally was vanilla bean Pavlova, with a blood orange curd, honey cream, and pistachio paired with a 2012 Moscato d’Asti from Vietta Cascinetta in Piedmont, Italy. I absolutely loved the wine, but I’m not a big fan of pavlova, however Ella does it well. The other dessert option was a Dulcey chocolate tart, with bourbon butterscotch, and white chocolate cremoux paired with a Sandeman 20 year tawny port. Loved the port and all its nutty characteristics. Loved this dessert, too, even though I’m not a big fan of chocolate. I know, I know… my second blaspheming sentence of the post.

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So, overall, I LOVE Dine Downtown… and I hope you do, too!

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