My Funny Valentine Dinners
Yesterday, as everyone with a honey knows, was Valentine's Day, one of the busiest restaurant days of the year. After mother nature took a giant snow dump on us last week, some restaurateurs were worried that their V-Day reservations might not be honored or might be canceled altogether (even as they secretly hoped to compensate for several days without business).
So how did they fare?
Mr. and Mrs. Y&H went to two different Valentine dinners, and there was a common denominator to both: It was hard as hell to get there and/or park.
Friday night we hit 2941 at my urging. After a long week of shoveling snow, working late, and dodging icicles outside our front door, Carrie and I deserved a luxurious Valentine's dinner. And if anyone could do a prix-fixe V-Day menu right, I thought, it had to be chef Bertrand Chemel, the former chef de cuisine at Cafe Boulud.
2941's price point certainly gave me the impression the restaurant was taking the greeting-card holiday seriously. The five-course meal was selling for $125 per person, with the option of wine pairings for another $75 per. That's two Benjamins each for dinner, which proves, once again, that love ain't cheap.
The meal was a mixed experience. Chemel's lobster bisque, a luxuriant liquid in which several sections of (slightly) rubbery crustacean lounged, was shot through with the creeping heat of piquillo peppers, as if the chef were playing up the dish's ancient (possibly Spanish) roots as a spicy preparation. This was bisque that proudly flew a Spanish pirate flag, and I saluted it.
The chef's burrata ravioli was equally rich though conceptually flawed; the fresh Italian cheese was entombed in pasta, swimming in butter sauce, and sprinkled with shavings of black truffle. I think the Napolitano government officially filed charges against the dish for crimes against burrata, which should never be subjected to any treatment harsher than a drizzle of olive oil and some fresh cracked pepper.
The best of the savory dishes was Chemel's inspired combination of veal, sweetbreads, roasted artichokes, potato gnocchi, and rosemary jus. The entree was low to the ground, almost earthy in its wintry savoriness, but it was comfortable there, never crying out for a golden burst of acid to lift its flavors.
But my favorite dish of the evening had to be pastry chef Anthony Chavez's rose water bavarois with chocolate-lychee ganache, raspberry jelly, and a quenelle of white chocolate ice cream. The dessert was almost too pretty to eat, its stack of jellied custard, ice cream, and garnish as balanced as its sweet-tart-chocolate flavors.
Equally impressive was sommelier Stefano Cappelli's wine pairings, which ranged across Europe during the meal, from a 2007 Terredora Dipaolo Fiano di Avellino from Campania, Spain Italy (which was paired with the ravioli) to a 2007 Chateauneuf-du-Pape (whose producer is lost to my slurry memory but whose qualities matched perfectly with the veal).
Two days later Carrie searched forever to find a parking spot in Cleveland (Non)Park, so we could catch a movie and V-Day dinner at Dino. Like at 2941, the multi-course repast was a mixed bag.
Chef/owner Dean Gold had prepared a special menu di San Valentino, a four-course prix-fixe (for $59 each) in which everyone started with a bowl of cream of tomato soup. Which sounds like a cruel joke on lovers, right? But Gold had reserved a batch of his heirloom tomato sauce for the holiday, a little creamy/tart taste of summer for those connected by the heart.
Gold's mushroom cannelloni with buffalo ricotta was a study in subtlety, both in texture and flavor (well, once we could actually eat the molten hot pasta), while his duck-neck sausage was arguably sweeter than the last time I sampled the dish, perhaps due to the thick application of tangerine mostarda, which often dominated the patties. My biggest disappointment, however, was the scallop entree. The meaty mollusks were overcooked, to the point of caramelizing their exteriors into leather. What's more, the accompanying saffron-infused potatoes proved an odd plate-mate, creating a starchy counterpoint to a protein that begs for something more acidic or bitter.
I quickly sought comfort in the form of the double-cut Frenched lamb chop, served rosy pink and paired with a pitch-perfect salsa verde. I could have sat next to my loved one all night long, devouring that entree with a glass of surprisingly pungent Brunello, content with the world around me. Well, I could have if that leftover scallop still weren't staring me in the face.
Now it's your turn: Where did you eat during Valentine's Day? Was it crowded? How was the menu? The wine pairings? The ambiance? And most important: How long did it take you to find a parking spot? E-mail me with your stories. I'll run the best ones on the blog.
Photo by 2941