Carmel Mission Inn, February 14, 2013—WELL, ACTUALLY, we discussed that word "completely": I don't recall the outcome. Maybe not completely different, but close enough. Last night was toward the Tasting end of the dining-tasting spectrum; tonight we edged back to safer territory.
And yet it was certainly a "tasting menu," of sorts — a table d'hôte menu with alternates for four of the five courses; and tonight, as not last night, I chose to participate in the "wine pairings" suggested by the house, with only one little tweak. And here was the result:
Oyster on the half shell, with horseradish sorbet
Roederer Estate, "L'Hermitage" Brut (Anderson Valley), 2002
Riesling Kabinett, Prum, Sonnenuhr Vineyard (Mosel), 2009
Chardonnay, The White Queen (Sonoma Coast), 2011
Grilled New York steak with potato purée, cipollini, carrots
Beaujolais, M. Lapierre (Morgon), 2011; Pinot noir, Banshee (Sonoma Coast), 2011
Chocolate mousse Cake with candied hazelnuts and chocolate ice cream
Brachetto d'Acqui, Marenco (Piemonte), 2010I wish this photo were better, for good as the rest of the dinner was, for once the last course was the capper. But let me go back to first things: This was a meal. We felt we had dined. Each course was interesting and competent, followed its precedent well, and introduced its consequent politely; and at the end we felt nourished and sated and pleased.
Horseradish sorbet on a raw oyster? Well, why not? I almost always ignore the mignonette and the Tabasco and take my oyster nature, but this is St. Valentine's Day, you're supposed to live dangerously. The horseradish was more a semifreddo cream than a sorbet, I thought, but its flavor and particularly its texture complemented the good-sized oyster well. (And reminded me of the previous night…)
The tartare could have used better beef, I thought, but was otherwise just fine. Who would have thought of Riesling with tartare? But it works perfectly, because the minced shallots sing through the beef and the grapes, and, again, the textures suit one another.
The gnocchi were, I truly believe, among the best I've had anywhere — almost closer to mashed potatoes than gnocchi, so tender and soft they were, more a Mother's Day tribute than St. Valentine; and the bits of spinach accompanying them were beautifully buttery. The Chardonnay reminded me of the one we made thirty years ago from a neighbor's grapes; I'm going to look into this.
The steak was, again, not the very best possible beef. But it was nicely grilled, and the onions were so nice; and the red wines perfectly suited to it. (The Morgon was a little lagniappe offered by the sommelier, perhaps because I'd been interested in him and his wines; the Pinot noir had been meant for an alternate to the steak, which was meant to be paired with a Cabernet sauvignon: but I always prefer Pinot noir with beef; Cabernet sauvignon is a lamb's wine, as far as I'm concerned.)
And now I come to the dessert. This pairing was truly inspired: chocolate, hazelnuts, and a wine so specifically Piemontese that I think if you haven't visited that wonderful region as often as we have, you wouldn't get it. The Brachetto was at first a little dumb, closed, austere; then you got the wood of the barrels, a hint of spice — cloves? cinnamon? — and then a bit of flor, that strange growth on the surface of aging sherries; and then a rush of myrtle; and always behind those things that rich, dark, reserved, medieval, serious red-wine thing I associate with cellars in the mountains of Piemonte… but I rhapsodize…
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