Monday, December 22, 2014
Hanukkah kicked off with our annual tradition of forgoing gifts one night in favor of bringing in a big tray of doughnuts (not homemade sufganiyot, but maybe someday I'll work up to it) and allowing them to be eaten before dinner. I also received a very thoughtful gift from my mother-in-law of a glittery menorah with a good-size sample bag of fancy tea for each night.
Friends hosted a lovely holiday cocktail party on Saturday night. While I avoided the bottle of bubble gum-flavored vodka that was sitting on the sideboard like the plague it surely is, I did drink my share of Bourbon Maple Sours, made even more aromatic and seasonal with a sprig of rosemary. They put out a lovely spread of cheeses, cured meats, smoked salmon, and vegetables with dip, and made hosting an elegant and festive party look incredibly easy.
The holiday baking resumed with the making of stained glass cookies (pictured above). Here is a pro tip: when living in a damp climate, such as, for example, Vancouver, do not crush the Life Savers and then leave them in bowls overnight on the counter. The candy will do its damnedest to re-form and you will have to chop away at it with sharp implements and a wooden spoon while worrying that the glass bowls are going to shatter in your hands. You're welcome.
Last night Mr. Gateau and I were treated to a spectacular dinner by his father and stepmother in honor of the tremendous work all three of them have been doing on their software startup. I was very fortunate to be able to go along for the ride.
We ate at La Quercia, a tiny, cozy restaurant a few blocks from our house that has gotten tremendous reviews, and for good reason. It's an Italian restaurant that uses very carefully chosen ingredients and follows slow-cooking traditions, and every single thing we tasted was spectacular. The restaurant does not have printed menus, because the offerings change so frequently, and they offer either a la carte options or the chance to try a tasting menu of 7, 9, or 11 courses created for the table's specific preferences. With half of our table pescatarians, we were all happy to go with vegetable and fish dishes. At the suggestion of the host, we decided to opt for 7 courses, but when I insist that Mr. Gateau take me back for our anniversary, I think we'll try 9 or 11 and add in some of the meat dishes -- there was a roast lamb that looked out of this world.
We started with cocktails (a perfect Negroni for me) and a first course of meltingly soft burrata on buttered toast with a scattering of sundried tomatoes, pickled shaved baby artichoke hearts, and pickled chanterelles. I fully enjoyed trying each mouthful with a different topping.
Second course was a warm egg custard surrounded with a layer of the thinnest eggplant and served with marinated roasted red peppers and croutons. The warm custard, soft eggplant, and the cool sharpness of the peppers played brilliantly together.
For our third course, we were served the Insalate Con Bagna Cauda, which was shaved fennel and endive, wedges of carrot and roasted beets, all coated in a garlic and anchovy dressing. It was pungent and crunchy.
Next came a risotto simply prepared with an Italian blue cheese and topped with a red wine reduction. It looked so simple but the flavors were rich and sharp. I could have gobbled a huge plate of it, so it's probably just as well we were sharing.
Our pasta course was a delicious linguine dressed in tomato and chili with chunks of branzino. Very satisfying and flavorful.
For the main plate, we were presented with grilled steelhead salmon, served with a warm salad of paper-thin zucchini and strips of roasted pepper over a bed of lentils. Grilled lemons were arranged on the plate. It was a great dish -- meaty fish, bright flavors, and I don't think I've ever enjoyed zucchini this much.
Dessert was a platter of three items -- almond tart with almond ice cream, chocolate panna cotta with apricots, and chocolate chestnut cake with Creme Chantilly. The almond tart had good flavor, but a somewhat mealy texture. The chocolate panna cotta tasted like the skin on chocolate pudding in the best possible way, and the chocolate chestnut cake was so good that Mr. Gateau is hoping to replicate it for Christmas with our stash of chestnut flour.
The wine flowed and the atmosphere was great, as was the company. Can't wait to return.
Stay tuned for the Christmas Eve extravaganza to come. We are hosting Mr. Gateau's family, and expect 21 people for a traditional sit-down dinner. What could possibly go wrong?