October is birthday month. Clearly I get along swimmingly with Libras because 5 of my friends have birthdays in the first half of the month. This means that October is also overindulgence month. When it comes to eating I’m usually modest in quantity and I pay attention to the balance of my diet. But this night the food just kept arriving and I continued eating until I could feel myself turning into a cranky pumpkin because I wanted to be in bed. Right then. And it’s funny, even though I didn’t have a drop of alcohol to drink, as I walked to the car my head was foggy and the only way to really describe it, is that I was tipsy.
One of the benefits of having friends in the industry is getting to eat food that the chef wants to cook. There are nights when I like to order for myself but most of the time I prefer that the person cooking the food chooses for me. And I have no limitations. I will, quite literally, eat just about anything you serve me. This particular birthday dinner (#2 for the month) was provided by the wonderful chefs and staff at Russet.
Russet is a comfortable spot. The front room makes me feel like I am in the home of someone of an older generation. White walls, little vignettes of dainty antiques, and white tablecloths but the vibe is completely current and present. This night we sat in the back, a narrow room with long, farm style tables, banquet seating on one side and white French doors that overlooked a cute patio. We weren’t the only larger group and so the room was filled with laughter, vibrant conversation and the smells of food. Birthday girl #1 used to work at Russet so we were lucky enough not to be constricted to the standard restaurant week menu. The chef prepared a menu specifically for the birthday chefs (CeCe and Chef BFF).
Our meal was a five course tasting menu. First up was house-cured lomo, dusted with paprika and complemented with roasted red peppers and grilled scallion. Lomo is the Spanish word for tenderloin. Russet cures their meats and I think this was a dry-cured pork. I’m not a huge fan of paprika (and always want to say paparika – drawn out in 4, long syllables, just like Paula Deen) but the saltiness paired with the sweet peppers was a harmonizing flavor that made my mouth holler, “Bring More”. (Note: this was a regretful statement once I knew what was yet to come.)
Next, quite possibly the most flawless pasta dish I’ve ever eaten. Goat cheese ravioli with marinated heirloom cherry tomatoes. The tang of the goat cheese enhanced the creamy vinaigrette-like sauce and the smooth delicate pasta made this dish striking in its simplicity of flavors.
Third, fresh pappardelle, with mushroom duxelles and foie gras. Again, pasta so delicate, mushrooms precisely earthy and foie gras that was rich enough to round out the dish. This alone could have been enough. But no, we still had mains to go. We were pretty sure the chef’s goal was to make us waddle out, smiling, groaning and holding our bellies.
And then. Half of an immense red snapper appeared on a platter for handsome effect. The kitchen plated each of us a piece in a tomato broth with potatoes, carrot and fennel pollen. Really, fennel pollen. I think I made the server say the word 3 times before I understood that he was really saying the word pollen. Who knew? I was surprised to taste a hint of fennel as I ate the fish. It’s there, and it’s not there. Pretty cool!
Chef indisputably finished us with pork jowl. I would not say this is a cut for most, but if you are ever given the opportunity to eat it, you should. We each earned a slab, some bigger than others and we played a bit of musical plates as each of us tried to grab the smallest piece. I think I only ate 2 bites. I couldn’t resist the melt in your mouth texture, sweet, sweet flavor and the sleek residue left, by only a luxuriant dish.
By the time dessert arrived I wasn’t thinking clearly. There was Concord grape sorbet and raspberry ice cream, for sure. I know there were 2 others but my hand would not lift the spoon and my brain has since pushed their descriptions to a place I cannot find. There was nothing at that moment that could have convinced me that I needed any more food. I was quite sure I wouldn’t eat for two days after. But alas I did eat 3 meals the following day and I intend to return to Russet in the near future.
Dinner was rich, thoughtful and exquisite. Exactly what a birthday meal should be. The things you know you want, deliberately chosen and fulfilling beyond compare. Happy birthday cherished chef friends.