Monday, October 21, 2013

How to eat duck tongue... and properly shut down a restaurant.

Had an awesome birthday surprise yesterday!

(Technically my birthday isn't until next Sunday, so this was extra surprise-y.)

Doug refused to tell me what we were doing and where we were going, until we got in the car and he handed me a menu to The Kitchen, potentially my most favorite restaurant in Sacramento. The Kitchen is ridiculously expensive and the meal is ridiculously long, but if you love ridiculousness it's definitely worth it to save some pennies and try it out at least once.

Doug and I have actually dined here before (to celebrate our one year anniversary back in 2011). The Kitchen is open five days a week, for one meal per day, for 52 (or so) diners. It's delicious food and fine dining, but the performance and atmosphere is what makes it really special. You can watch the chefs prepare all the meals - either at the counter where they prep and serve as you're eating, and/or with a view of the kitchen (which we had) in the back. You're allowed (and encouraged!) to wander around the kitchen, prep tables, wine room (temp held at 56 degrees we noticed), back patio. It's been nominated for a James Beard award and is one of, if not THE, premier restaurants in Sacramento.They have one prix fixe course per night, but are super accommodating of any dietary restrictions, preferences, or allergies. (Last time we were here I had mentioned I wasn't a fan of blueberries in the dessert, so the pastry chef created a flourless chocolate tart for me instead, on the spot).

The food we'll get in to and it was divine, of course, but the best part about dinner?

Greg and Kendra were there! Not only did Doug surprise me with the restaurant - but inviting some of our best friends, too. Bonus points for Doug.

View of kitchen from our table. Kendra making a tea selection during the tea service. 

Check out that giant paddle and whisk for the stand mixer. 

Wine cellar next to our table. 

Last time we dined there Noah Zonca was the head chef - and had been for over a decade. He's now the executive chef of Capitol Dime (which we were excited to try... but unfortunately disappointed - food was mediocre and prices were pretty stupid). Noah rocked it at The Kitchen, though - his style is loud and boisterous, borderline obnoxious. Last time we were there Noah gave an entire speech about the night's dinner holding two live lobsters, so we were interested to see how the food and service would change with new chef John Griffiths.

Former Kitchen Executive Chef Noah Zonca, explaining the nights menu while simultaneously waving around two giant lobsters. 

Executive Chef John Griffiths is not loud, obnoxious or boisterous. He seems much more serious (we got in to a lengthy discussion about his hometown of Detroit and the social and economic struggles the city's been facing during a visit to our table). He is soft spoken. John actually was wearing a small mic while he ran though the dinner, whereas when I imagine Noah with a microphone I immediately think of an exploded ear drum.

Us with the executive chef John. 

OK. The food.

(The descriptions I'm copying and pasting from their website, FYI- because they are way too complicated to either remember or reiterate).

First Course
Cured Steelhead Trout
Brook Trout Caviar
Chilled Marble Potato and Sunchoke Salad
Dill and Lemon

Chef's Notes: Beet-Cured Steelhead Trout  - wild from Columbia River -  cured with red beet, salt, sugar and spices, imparts an earthy sweetness to the fish. Lightly poached marble potatoes from  local Riverdog Farms – a variety of colors, peeled and dressed with the sunchoke vinaigrette. Either local Sterling Caviar or Blis caviar will accompany the dish.

Becky's Notes: Foams are always kind of weird, but this one was actually amazing - it was one of the best things on the plate, actually. I think foams got a bad rep because Marcel from Top Chef (season 2?) overused them a bit. Speaking of, that season was rough - with Ilan the Douchebag totally bullying Marcel and Tre holding him down pretending to shave his head, then Ellia ACTUALLY SHAVING HER HEAD. WTF, these people are supposed to be professionals! And then Ilan won with some stupid saffron. 

OK anyway, The fish was good, and the little sweet potato chip added some good texture. It was  hard to take a "complete" bite of this dish - i.e., getting a little bit of everything in your mouth at once to taste it all together, but individually all the components were stellar.  

Seconed Course
Curried Tahitian Squash Soup
Maine Lobster, Seafood Sausage
Warm Nori Brioche

Chef's Notes: Curried Squash Soup – squash, heirloom, from Del Rio Botanical – similar to butternut in texture but a bit more butterscotch in flavor. Soup is made with roasted squash and veggie broth, lobster shells for flavor along with scallops, lobster roe, and shrimp "sausage". Warm Nori Brioche bread on the side, served warm and made with toasted and coarsly ground nori seaweed wrappers.

Becky's Notes: Soup was bomb, obviously anything with lobster is going to be great - duh. But the standout was that seaweed bread. Sounds gross but it was INCREDIBLE, salty and carby and sweet all at once with that delectable spread. We ordered another round of those bad boys.


Yes, there is an intermission. You take a break from eating to wander around and... eat.

Roasted Brussels sprouts with garlic and toasted nuts. 

Close-up of the roasted Brussels sprouts (left) and duck tongue.

That's right bitch. You thought eating pig face was gross? Think again. Duck. Tongue. With a little spicy nut compote thing and green chili sauce stuff.

It was actually pretty tasty.

Save a cow. Eat a duck tongue. 

Also a selection of nigiri sushi. The one in the very back is actually eggplant, and it may have been my favorite piece. Then fish, fish, and a little scallop salad with fresh cilantro and greens, amazing.

Scallops, fish, fish, eggplant. 

We headed outside to the beautiful brick patio (complete with string lights and a fireplace - very romantic) for a small greens salad (pretty weak, actually), an oyster (I'm not a fan of oysters and this was no different, tasted like gross salty ocean), on the spot coal roasted chicken (delish), a lentil bean salad (standard), and a fire roasted pepper with a creamy sauce that was to die for (in the little square dish on the left).

This little pepper and the sauce it came with was one of my favorites of the night. Avocado and onion included. 

After taking a break from eating to eat, it was time to eat again so the crowd sat down for the remaining courses.

Third Course
Sheep's Milk Ricotta Gnudi, Chanterelle Mushrooms, Lapsang Tea, Celery Root, Smoked Egg Yolk

Chef's Notes: Sheep’s Milk Ricotta Gnudi, working with Bellweather Farms goat cheese, delicate dumplings with ricotta and reggiano seasoned and nested into very fine pasta flour overnight to form a thin "skin" around the cheese. Gnudi placed in a wild mushroom broth with parmesan rind, dried wild mushrooms, herbs, and steeped tea. Celery Root comes in the form of a puree of celery root to nest the gnudi in.

Becky's Notes: Pasta was good. It was cooked al dente and just seemed... slightly under cooked to me? The flavors were delicious and it was sweet, slight hint of cinnamon taste - I think I just prefer softer pasta. Still delicious. 
Fourth Course
Braised Wagyu Beef Short Rib
Sweet Potato Puree
Bourbon Marshmallows
New Zealand Spinach

Chef's Notes: Braised Wagyu Beef Short Rib from Mishima Ranch - 48 hr cvap cook on them, and then seered a la minute for a crispy "crust". Sweet Potato Puree with buttermilk, and then we take the skins of sweet potatoes and brush them with bourbon and crisp them for “chips”. Bourbon Marshmallows – bourbon burned off but imparts an oaky toasty flavor. Braised greens. Chef John's St. Louis roots show up in a "red eye" gravy – coffee infused gravy or “red eye” with smoky ham rederings, red chili, drizzled with coffee infused jus.

Becky's Notes: Um, amazing. No photoshop or anything on the beef pictures - it was THAT PINK. Those marshmallow blobs were actually pretty tasty with the entire dish, too.

Dessert Course
Warm Apple Tart
Goat’s Milk Caramel Swirl Gelato
Maple Meringue
Wild Huckleberries

Chef's Notes: Local apples in a short dough shell – we saute the apples in brown butter with Ceylon cinnamon (this is "real" cinnamon), wild CA bay leaves, Mutsu apples (tart and sweet), crumbles of local candied black walnuts make a streusel on top. Caramelized white chocolate "apple sauce" - like an anglaise, maple meringue wafers, goat’s milk-caramel swirl gelato.

Becky's Notes: I don't like apple pie or cooked fruit, but this. was. phenomenal. Best apple pie I've ever tasted.

Kendra actually requested something different, which they happily obliged - sans the apple pie.

They encourage you to order as much as you want as many times as you want. So we did. Greg and Kendra grabbed seconds of the soup, Doug another ravioli, and me another wagu beef. Doug and I also ordered seconds on dessert, and Greg tried to order another beef... and they were out (again). It was actually weird that they were out. So they offered to make him something similar - so a bearded chef in the kitchen created something for Greg using a different section of the cow. It looked bomb.

At this point the restaurant looked like this:

Greg kept reminding us that, technically, "the pastry chefs don't get in until 4AM" so we were good to go. We're not the kind of group that takes an empty restaurant and busy dishwashers as a sign or anything.

So fuck it. Let's order more food!

Greg requested "something with onions... and potatoes. An onion-y potato-y thing". And so bearded sous chef made him this dish in about ten minutes:

It was sort of like a mini potato gratin with tossed roasted potatoes and caramelized onions. It was absolutely incredible and I was shocked he whipped it up in under ten minutes.

Let's refresh ourselves on what the restaurant looked like now:

Not to be deterred, Doug ordered something else:

I think this was in lieu of the ravioli dish? The night started getting kind of fuzzy at this point, since we had the wine flight and were there so long they started emptying the bottles in to our glass for the final pours.

 In order to get home we hit the coffee, which is from Temple and is good. And comes with fancy sugar and creamer.

Doug in an exciting action shot with the creamer!

The suspense must be killing you! 
Ah. Coffee creamed. 

There is always the tea service, too, which Kendra and Doug hit up. They make the tea to order and you select one of their combinations of fresh herbs and spices that they brew in these little square teapots. Doug got the cilantro something tea (which is a BRIGHT yellow and surprisingly excellent).

At the end of the day (and there was zero doubt in the staff's minds that it was the end of the damn day by the time we left), I concluded that having a birthday was awesome. It was a great experience with my amazing husband who gives gifts of experience and two friends who are like family.

Me and my amazing husband. 

Monday, September 30, 2013

Ode to Nick, and Antebellum in Flowery Branch, Atlanta

Normally I'm writing a post trying to make it funny or sarcastic, but this post is a rare exception that's just going to detail a day and some delicious meals with Nick.


Our last day in Georgia, we were lucky enough to be picked up by one of my best friends from high school.

Nick and I spent countless hours playing basketball in my front yard along with several other neighborhood boys and my little brother Sam. We were also known to play manhunt at night with the same ballers, throw a football (me horribly, him extremely well) down the street, jump off my next door neighbor's roof on to their trampoline, and harass his younger cousins (said trampoline owners) and my younger siblings in unity. He's also the kid that jumped on my Ford Probe and dented in the roof in an attempt to dunk the ball on our driveway hoop (my Dad totally yelled at him). Growing up together on Antares in our early/late teen years and the shared bond of both having been yelled at by my Dad and survived all the trampoline madness made me think of Nick as a brother... which just makes me extra proud of the restaurant he opened and the success he's experiencing :)

First, Nick is still a bitchin best friend even after all these years, because he let Doug and I borrow his Corvette for the afternoon while he prepped at work for the afternoon. 

Top down, baby.
Doug driving, and looking a little nervous. 

Is that a toupee? No, just the wind. I hope. 

Flowery Branch is just under an hour away from Atlanta. It's very tiny in terms of population, green, beautiful.

Oh, great, NOW you tell me drugs don't work! -Flowery Branch police station. 

Downtown Flowery Branch, hoppin on a Friday! Seriously this is it. It's 1 block long. 

Lake Lanier. 

Nick has opened up his own restaurant, Antebellum, in Flowery Branch. We got the behind-the-scenes tour of the restaurant and kitchen, and a private lunch (they are only open for dinner). 

Nick's restaurant, across the street from the downtown area.

One of the sous chef's prepping for dinner. 

Doug was pretty astonished, as you can see. Also, check out that bitchin wine opener on the right.

Me, scouting the wine closet. 
The dining room.

Nick spoiled us with a special lunch. Busting out some white wine pared with the best burger I've had to date.

Wine bucket - fancy! 

Doug at the bar. 

Me, doing everything in my power to not shove my face directly in to this plate. 

This burger was, hands down, incredible. Served on texas toast with pimiento cheese (of course) and bacon, cooked perfectly, with a side of sweet potato fries. 

Obviously we enjoyed our lunch. 

Super full after lunch but knew we had to man up for a bigger dinner, so we walked around Flowery Branch checking out the sites, stores (few antique shops with the usual crap), and bookstores. We were told to show up at 8 for dinner, which was right around sunset - very beautiful. 

Across the street from the restaurant.

Started with cornbread (again, and of course) with some green tomato jam. Amazing.

Paired with a cucumber lemon drop.

I actually flat ironed my hair this morning. What, you can't tell? The humidity continues to bestow some volume in to my limp locks. I finally understand why the rest of the country is all in to "hair products". You definitely need them down here. Hair a hot mess (literally), I'm letting it go because our skin was so dewy and moisturized the whole trip. Silver lining of humidity.

Giving the appetizer beverage a critical taste.
First course was a local butter lettuce with red delicious apples, goat cheese, red onions, pistachios and lemon honey vinaigrette.

Second course: Sweet corn soup with pink peppercorn whipped cream and baby basil. This was possible our favorite dish of the night - a tiny, yet perfect cup of soup.

Pared with a flute of Cava Argentina Champagne.

The third course was possibly my favorite (again). Fried green tomatoes with bacon jam, brioche, fried egg, hot sauce and a mimosa ice (to cleanse the palette). Sort of a modern, southern take on a brunch item, a bacon egg tomato sandwich with mimosas. It was divine, and the best fried green tomatoes ever. 

For the main course, I chose pan seared scallops with cauliflower two ways, grilled okra, dry cured olives, baby cilantro and harissa vinaigrette. The fried okra was incredible (best okra I've had to date, again), and the cauliflower came purred and grilled - both excellent. 

For Doug's main course, he chose grilled, petite lamp t-bones with creamed potatoes, peas and vidalia onions with harissa curry mayonnaise and roasted almonds. Phenomenal. Oh, and both our main's were paired with a red wine, a Columbia Crest Les Chevaux H3.

The true weight gain came in the dessert course. Chocolate raspberry martinis and a trio of desserts.

The Semi-Freddo, an espresso custard with cream and cookies.

The Chocolate Bread Pudding with vanilla bean ice cream and melted caramel. We're still fantasizing about this one.

Berry cobbler. Enough said.

At the end of the night after a few drinks Nick told Doug he was glad he seemed like a cool guy, because he loved his Becky and didn't want to have to kick anyone's ass that night. Doug took it in stride and smiled, and Nick and I agreed he was a good choice (Nick knew my ex's and no longer harbors a fear I'll marry one of them I guess). Likewise, Nick's wife is beautiful (and expecting!), and I can't explain how happy it makes me to see someone's dreams come true. There are some people in life that you want good things to happen to - and Nick is one of them.

Enough gushing. Next time you're in Georgia make the drive to Flowery Branch and eat at Antebellum!

Update: when I told my Dad that we'd visited Nick in Georgia, his first response was "is that the kid who jumped on the car to dunk and dented the roof?" Yes, Dad. That's him.