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A Meal to Remember

15 June 2008

Yesterday, I turned twenty.

I didn’t think I would be doing much, as I had no plans made, no one to hang out with. But things turned out more interesting than I had imagined.

The day began with my parents waking me up with presents. From my parents: the children’s books Nicholas by Goscinny and This is New York bu M. Sasek. My brother came through with typically impressive gifts: “The Lost Soundtrack” from The Wizard of Speed and Time, signed to me by John Massari, as well as a CD of John Massari’s music.

Most of the day I spent lounging: talking to B— on the phone and j7 over IM, while reading up on supervolcanoes. Had lunch with parents at Rice, a yummy Thai restaurant.

But the real highlight was dinner. Dinner was a four hour affair at CityZen in the very swanky Madarin Oriental Hotel, where our upstairs neighbor happens to be the pastry chef.

It was one of those rare restaurants where the hostess does not need to look up your reservation in a book, and everyone seems to know you’re expected (and, bonus, that I’m gluten-intolerant). Their suggestion for my food allergy was for me to order whatever I want and they will accommodate. I approved highly.

Our server, Michael, was quite wonderful: attentive, knowledgeable, amiable, and capable of pronouncing everything on the menu. (Michael, if you are reading this, a warm hello and may thanks, again.)

As for the food…well, the only reason I am capable of remembering it all is that Michael brought me a copy of the menu on which to make notes. So lets begin, shall we.

I started off with a yummy rumless mojito (the only mixed drink I have found I like), and noticed that the lack of rum makes the mint stand out more. Hopefully by this time next year, when I’m legal, I’ll be off enough of the antibiotics that I’m able to drink again.

The menus came out, and everything looked delicious. I decided to avoid having to make up my mind and ordered the Chef’s Vegetarian Tasting Menu, which looked like six courses of delicious. My father ordered the carnivorous Chef’s Tasting Menu and Mom and my brother both ordered off of the three course á la carte menu.

First we started off with a couple of amuse bouche:

A tiny salad of sweet cherry tomatoes with tangy micro arugula and a smooth Nicoise Olive Vinagrette. Verdict: Delicious.

A rich olive oil custard with a butter-Espelette and micro-dill topping. I was the only one who could finish it; Mom and Brother thought it was too rich. Verdict: Delicious.

About here I was brought a Happy Birthday card signed by the restaurant staff. It was extremely sweet of them. Then what was actually on the menu started to arrive:

A chilled sorrel soup, which tasted, well, like liquid salad, sharp and slightly spicy. Verdict: Delicious. (are you starting to notice a pattern here?)

Next was grilled green asparagus with micro-greens and a sweet pepper salsa in an espelette vinagrette. I have to find me some of this pepper. It’s mild for a pepper, but still a nice spice with a lot of flavor.

Fifth was the Sweet Onion Chiboust with a Sarawak Pepper Sable and English Thyme Broth. This was very rich and the broth was more of a foam – highly amusing. Also: Delicious.

After that came the Citizen Parmentier. A “Shepard’s pie” sort of concoction, it came in a tiny cast iron pot. It was a fricassée of vegetables with a covering of scalloped potatoes and a roast vegetable jus (which was primarily butter). Also very rich, and also very delicious.

That was the end of the main courses. What I have neglected to mention is how gorgeously everything was presented. Since this was a tasting menu, the portions were all very small (how else do you think I could eat all this?) and arranged on plain white plates that brought out the color and delicacy of the preparation.

I had gotten up at this point and on my way back to the table I stopped to watch the kitchen. Michael explained to me the different stations and we talked about cooking in general and I babbled to him about cooking in ML kitchen.

Then was the cheese course. Michael very kindly wrote down the names of the different ones for me, so I wouldn’t have to worry about mangling the spellings.

First was Chaorce, a French cow’s milk cheese, of a Brie-like consistency but much richer and a touch salty. It paired very well with the espelette-coated almonds that came with the plate. The other cow’s milk cheese was Piave, from Italy. It was hard and sharp, almost a cross between Cheddar and Parmesan. The orange-apricot puree offset it nicely. Next there was another soft cheese, Selles Sur Cher, a goat’s milk cheese from France, it was light and tangy and excellent. I ate this one primarily with the other fruit puree, which was pear. The last cheese was a light sheep’s milk, also from France, Tourmalet, also quite excellent. In fact, they are were all (you guessed it) delicious.

After that was a wine course for the express purpose of drinking to my birthday. Very sweet. Now, I don’t drink alcohol, so I had instead a 2006 Gewürztraminer grape juice from Navarro Vineyards in California, cut with club soda. I know it sounds silly to rave over a grape juice, but it was so good, pretty much like a non-alcoholic dessert wine. The bit of fizz from the club soda certainly didn’t hurt. I might have to get me some of this for special occasions…. Everyone else, of course, had proper dessert wine, and toasted to the beginning of my twenty-first year. Squee.

Then came the sorbet course cleanse the palette. A refreshing lemon-ginger sorbet with a mint geletin. Yummy.

Now, desserts! There were a few of them. First was a silky Cityzen Dreamsicle, a fromage blanc soufflé in an orange sauce that was quite decadent – light and creamy, it melted in my mouth. It came with an adorable slice of candied orange. Heaven.

Next was a very special dessert: roasted Maui pineapple with perles du Japon in a coconut foam. Now normally I don’t like either pineapple or coconut, but this was amazing. My plate also had “Happy Birthday Samantha” calligraphied around it in cocoa syrup. It was very touching. I did take a picture of it for this post, but unfortunately, it did not save.

Then came the actual dessert from the tasting menu, a Meyer lemon soufflé was was light and wonderfully sweet and rich. It came with juniper ice cream which tasted, well, coniferous but was, like everything else in the meal, exquisite, and paired delightfully with the soufflé.

Then, when we thought we had finally reached the end, they brought out a little plate of sweets with the bill: blueberry pates du fruits, which considering pates du fruits are my favorite sweet, I nearly swooned over. I am going to ask our neighbor if she’s willing to teach me how to make them. There were also delicious hazelnut chocolate pralines. There were some leftover, so Michael was kind enough to wrap them up, as well as add a few extra blueberry squares for me.

Sometime past midnight, we staggered back home, completely satisfied, and very full.

So yeah, I very, very highly recommend CityZen (and Michael) for any special occasion. Just don’t expect it to be light on your wallet, to say the least.

Now, dinner!

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