Monday, January 8, 2007

an actual review of the best dinner ever, plus mystery and intrigue

The reason I said I would wait until Jim wrote up the dinner was because he wrote a kick-ass 1800 words about it.

Here's a sample:
We scarfed like heathens, pulling at things forkless and after a while, witless. My wife looked at the garnish on one of the plates, which at that point was the only thing left.

What's that, she asked.

Friseé, I said.

Frisey, Julie said.

Can we eat it, she asked [ed note: I believe the "she" refers to his wife because I had no interest in the friseé]. I pulled at some of it and ate it. Even it was delicious, with a light touch of vinaigrette, balsamic I think. Little walnuts poked out through the curling leaves. Before long we finished the frisee. Maybe we should just lick the plates, I thought.

If it sounds like I'm raving, it's because I am. They were that good. We are, of course, slightly starved for this kind of food in the south bay. Not that we don't have good food, just not this good.
He only messed up the drink list, but I am here to correct it.

Following is the quick list of what we had (for more info, check the menu):

** DRINKS: pomegranate champagne, Hennepin ale, Glenlivet, sangria, huckleberry brandy (+ korintje cinnamon, lemon), pear (+ mint, moscato d'asti), Affligem Tripel ale, meyer lemon (+ basil, hangar one "buddha's hand")

** STARTERS: fresh bodega goat cheese, wild mushrooms in phyllo, grilled spicy lamb sausage, seafood triangles

** Basteeya

** ENTREES: longline-caught yellowfin tuna, northern cod claypot, hoffman ranch guinea hen, stewed lamb & charred eggplant, niman ranch lamb shank

The desserts warrant more than a bullet list, for truly the impetus for going to Aziza in the first place was so that we could try all of Shuna's desserts. All of her desserts were outstanding in terms of taste, texture, and presentation. Their minimalist names do not do justice to the tastes they represent. "Apple" isn't just apple: it's perfectly chopped up bits of apple in a caramel sauce, under a wee cookie, with several spoonfuls of perfectly-composed green apple ice—not apple-flavored slush, but little granules of ice that held up as we passed the plate around to everyone. "Coconut" isn't just coconut, it's a fresh and light parfait sort of deal with citrus and coconut and tapioca alongside a coconut financière. "Ginger" isn't just ginger, it's the best damn bit of gingerbread I've ever had—who knew gingerbread wasn't supposed to taste like crap?—plus pear soup and a wee dab of brown butter-pecan ice cream. "Cocoa" is a luscious combo of cardamom chocolate chip cookies, cocoa nib ice cream, and hot cocoa—satisfying and mysterious (aha! cardamom!) and not overpowering like so many chocolate-based desserts tend to be.

But the pièce de résistance (with all appropriate French accented characters) for me was the "lime." Oh no, no any old "lime," but lime sorbet...over redwood hill goat yogurt granité. I'll give you Jim's description because it's good:
Though all of the desserts presented flavors and textures new to me, one in particular I will never forget. It is called lime, and it is described thus: sorbet, redwood hill goat yogurt granité. The first bite is like being hit in the jaw. The pungency of the yogurt is so powerful, but then, as the flavors comingle on the tongue they mellow and become smooth, the taste addictive. I dipped my spoon again. So this is dessert.
We all tasted it, and we all looked at each other, intrigued, confused, delighted...goat yogurt granité—who does that?!?

Shuna does. But, after yesterday—a mere 24 hours since we were there—she is no longer Aziza's pastry chef. She quotes the general manager as saying: "We've received no positive feedback from customers about the desserts. [...] that goat yogurt granité? No one finishes it or likes it at all."

I call bullshit.

On one day, five people went to Aziza specifically for the dessert. We loved the drinks, the starters, and the mains, but it was the desserts that capped off a spectacular dining experience. The precise blending of flavors and textures not only made beautiful and tasty dishes, but they conveyed the sense of artistry and thoughtfulness that one expects at a top-notch restaurant.

And "that goat yogurt granité"? Once the bowl reached me, I never gave it up. I kept it to myself and refused to share. It was the most memorable and delightful taste of the night, and believe me—I ate and drank a lot.

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