I enjoyed terrific restaurant meals this past week, dining at the French Laundry last Sunday and Biba on Friday. Biba has been rated the best restaurant in Sacramento since the day she opened for business. And that's a story in itself. There weren't many premium places to eat in Sacramento at that time. And there was speculation that she was foolish to spend so much money on her restaurant. But, the place is now an institution, mainly because the food is so consistantly good. It's always an event for me to go there. Even though I'm Irish-American, her Italian food speaks to the very core of my being and I spend much of the meal making little whimpering noises. Whimpering with delight, of course.
The dinner was a birthday gift from my friends Helene and Nancy. In addition to the meal, they both gave me huge gift baskets, filled with food related items. Nancy's basket contained creme brulee making implements, dishes, cookbooks, and one of those tiny little torches to brown the top of creme brulee. Hmmm, I think Nancy wants me to make creme brulee. Helene's basket was filled with all sorts of things from Trader Joe's. My pantry is now well stocked with olive oil, cookies, Belgian chocolates, balsamic vinegar, capers, and so forth.
Do I have great friends or what? We had a good table, and the people next to us were soon sharing restaurant stories. I tried not to fill up on the bread, but that was impossible. So, I skipped the appetizer I had my eyes on, soft polenta with ragu, and polished off all the focaccia and grissini bread sticks instead. The grissini had a delicate crunch, not those hard machine made atrocities you get in a lot of restaurants. It was my birthday, so I ate most of them.
Well, here it is. Sometimes you have a dish that's so enjoyable, you think about it all the time afterwards. Well, I do. It's in my genes. This spinach gnocchi was an eyes closed, moaning noises dish. I can't remember exactly what the ragu sauce was named, but it had a distinct taste of red bell peppers, and perhaps porchini mushrooms. As I ate the gnocchi, a little voice kept repeating in my head, "You must master making gnocchi!" Who knows, maybe I was chanting it out loud as I ate. It's all a haze right now.
I had planned on having zuppetta di crostacei, but one look at the osso bucco on the table next to us did me in. First off, I hadn't ordered the soft polenta as an appetizer and there it was in all it's glory. Second, just look at that meat in the picture. Yes,it was fork tender. Yes, the polenta was silky and buttery and parmesany. I didn't make quite as many moaning noises as when I ate the gnocchi---but I was still riding the food high.
Did I mention that it was my birthday? Of course, that meant I had to have dessert. I was very full, yet I remembered another friend's sage advice years ago at Biba. I also swore I couldn't possibly eat dessert then. My friend Kristina, who is Italian-American and well versed in these things, told me to order the tirami-sú because it was light and would melt in my stomach, trickling into the cracks of the other food. Well, she was right. So I ordered it this time, but forgot to take a picture. This picture is the remains of Nancy's chocolate cake.
Then, Biba came to our table, checking to see if things were going well. She offered us free aperitifs in the bar, cleverly getting us to vacate our table for another group. After I was home, I pulled out one of my Biba cookbooks and found the recipe for spinach gnocchi. This love affair will endure.