Tuesday, February 16, 2016

St. Valentine's Day

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Eureka, California, February 14, 2016—
ANOTHER ROAD TRIP, and this one not a happy one: the funeral of an old extended-family friend, just shy of her 93d birthday. We drove as far as this bleak northern California port city this afternoon, and dined in what passes for a posh restaurant.

I will give them credit. Eureka is, I think, not the easiest place to persuade a clientele of the pleasures of dining. I did think they perhaps worked a bit too hard at it. We had the special table d'hôte menu for the evening (Valentine's Day) — there was no other option:

Salad: baby greens, almonds, strawberries, avocado, blood orange vinaigrette and bellwether farms whole milk ricotta
Black truffle gnocchi: sautéed gnocchi with shaved black truffle with lamb chopper cheese, shallots and beurre noisette
Lemon sorbetto in vodka
Crispy duck skin wrapped tenderloin roast served with old vine zinfandel reduction, asparagus, parisienne potatoes and roasted pearl onions
Chocolate fondue with pound cake, strawberries, and pineapple
Of this largesse the best course was the gnocchi, very nicely made to begin with, then thoughtfully sautéed in butter until the surfaces were just barely crisp. The sliced truffle had not been cooked, but the gnocchi were hot enough that tumbling everything together on the plate warmed them sufficiently (though I think their flavor was not particularly strong; they had likely been kept frozen). I have no idea what "lamb chopper cheese" is; it was like a mild fontina.

The salad was confused.

The sorbetto was marvelous, silky-textured, nicely forward in flavor, with just a splash of Grey Goose to help the acidic lemon cut the butter of the previous course. Maybe in fact this was the best course of the evening.

The beef was a good idea. The crisp duck skin brought definition and perfume to the beef, which itself had nice texture. But there was way too much meat here; it overpowered the onions and potatoes and even the deep, nicely made reduction. The course would have been better with a lighter hand.

I liked the chocolate fondue, but there was no way to appreciate it after all that had gone before. I happen to think chocolate-covered strawberries are ridiculous, but I learned that chocolate-covered fresh pineapple is a pleasure. Still: we were sated.

We'd had a wine tasting to accompany these courses: in my case, Napa Cellars Sauvignon blanc (okay, unexceptional); Piper Sonoma brut "Champagne" (crisp and yeasty); Carter Cellars Cabernet sauvignon; Old Growth Cellars Zinfandel "port". All were pleasant; none was outstanding.

The room was pleasant: we could converse easily, we were not distracted by other tables, and we were well taken care of by pleasant, efficient waiters. This place is trying to do a good job, and deserves support from its local clientele.

•Carter House Inn, 301 L Street, Eureka, California; 707-444-8062

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016
(2015 restaurants)

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