Sunday, February 1, 2009
b'day dinner @ camino
nothing like a b'day to get the splurge reflex working. we haven't been eating out much lately(unless you consider chipotle eating out)out of respect for our failed economy &, more specifically, what that failed economy has done to our pocketbooks. i wanted mid-range prices w/the california aesthetic of chez panisse. we got it at camino.
i suppose the one unique thing about the ambiance here is that the room is filled w/long tables & dinner guest's are seated along the length. what was most stiking about this is that they didn't jam folks in elbow to elbow. communal seating has never really worked in american restaurants(k-pauls in new orleans was one of the first place i was aware of using it, tho hopkin's boarding house used it too). this was comfortable. not at all like the odd & awkward k-paul dining room(prudhomme has changed that setup at this point). the lighting leaned to the darker side of the spectrum which fit w/the dark woods of most of the interior but we had no problem seeing the menu or each other or even across the room.
the other striking thing about the dining room was the two wood burning ovens. i guess it's a primitive thing in me that loves eating around an open flame.
we started w/two appetizers. grilled squid w/mashed garbanzo beans & chilis for ann & pig head & trotter terrine w/red sauerkraut & horseradish for me. bear in mind, ann is not an adventuresome eater. in fact, she was a vegetarian until recently which made eating out an adventure in finding something on the various menus for her to eat. getting her to order the squid wasn't easy: she has what seems to be an unconscious but immediate revulsion to seafood. i will eat any part of a pig. i said that here first: ANY PART OF THE PIG. the squid was cooked perfectly, tender w/the slight char from the grill that lent it a smoky flavor. the big hit on that plate for ann was the garbanzo bean mash. it was VERY good. better, much better, than it sounds. i've made my position in regards to the pig clear but deep fry that mother & i'm in heaven. the terrine was actually golf ball sized nuggets o' pig, deep fried w/a crispy coating(panko crumbs, maybe). the unctuousness of the pig was offset beautifully by the pickled sauerkraut. excellent beginings.
you've heard of a "bowl of red," yes? well our soup was truly an eye-catching bowl of green. tasting as purely green as nettles & god's green earth. the simple addition of some ricotta & a swirl of grassy olive oil made this a great simple soup.
at this point, we had an intermezzo of duck gizzards & greens on wood fired toast. i ate them w/out thinking, hungrily. philip & i used to eat chicken gizzards at jerry's & ray cranford's back in p'cola in our youth to the horror of most of our friends. deep fried nuggets of crunchy goodness(peeling away years of life in all their cholesterol heavy deliciousness). i actually had a plateful when i was back there this summer. still as good as ever(of course i had to have my gallbladder removed 5months later). anyway, there are no pics. i was too busy eating this. the gizzards were like butter & good bread fired over a wood stove could be smeared w/various inedibles & still be delicious. the bitter greens just added to the duck's smoothness & the bread's earthiness.
main courses: pork leg & belly w/red wine & prunes & cavolo nero & polenta for ann(which i eyed greedily)& cod w/artichokes, fennel puree, & brussel sprouts for me.
i grabbed one of the pork leg bones & the meat detached from the bone in one long strand of meaty robustness. southern bbq'ers will point to this as one indication of perfectly cooked pig. i'm in agreement here. the cavolo nero(dino kale, lacinato kale, black cabbage)had cooked slowly in the wine & pig jus broth & was meltingly tender(their version of a "mess 'o greens"). my cod was fresh, cooked perfectly(flakingly tender). the accompanying veggies were fine. i would have prefered a pig parts garnish but the veggies were fine.
desserts were: ricotta fritters drizzled w/orange honey & prune icecream w/buckwheat cookies
the dessert fritters were about the size of my pig head fritters. that made me feel good. this was two deep fried courses for me & i was feeling good about it all. my mother used to make banana fritters maybe four times a year, usually on sunday mornings. it was a big deal because it required deep frying & dottie didn't like doing that at all. my mother's fritters were VERY heavy(made w/a pancake batter, i believe)& camino's fritters were as light as light itself, the crunch of the outside coating(panko again?)offset by the ooze of the cheese & the slight sweetness of the honey played against the slight tang of the homemade cheese. i'd almost finished them off when i remembered to take a pic. hey, they were really tasty.
ann's ice cream & cookies were surprisingly good. in fact, i was amazed ann ordered this(she'd had her mind set on it since seeing the dessert menu on-line from earlier in the week). she'd been secretly hoping it would still be available come saturday. the most striking thing for me was the alcohol aspect of it. they'd obviously been very liberal w/the armagnac in the custard & the prune soaking. the cookies were perfect little disks, embodying the concept of a "sandy."
this was a spectacularly excellent meal. they executed the menu flawlessly. they walked the talk of cali cuisine: fresh ingredients, simple presentations, & complimentary flavors. when all that comes together through a full set of courses for two people, you know you've got an excellent restaurant. add to that great relaxed never overbearing service & you've got a meal to remember. plus i've got the pics to prove it.