Saturday, January 29, 2005

They've got the beet!

That stud muffin I married (TSMIM) decided that we needed to go out on a date on Friday night. He was out of town for a while in January, and as a result, we hadn't gone out on a date since New Year's Day.

So last night we went to Avenues at The Peninsula Hotel. Wow. Ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner. I give it five stars for all the usual reasons, as well as my own private reasons.

Reason Number One: It's not noisy. In fact, it's actually quiet. If my memory doesn't deceive me, there was no background music. Also, it was a good-sized room, but not at all crowded. The tables have a lot of space around them. I couldn't hear a word spoken at any of the other tables.

Reason Number Two: Great cocktails. I have no use at all for places that screw around with the classics. I don't want a lemon drop martini. I don't even want to be reminded that the lemon drop alleged "martini" even exists. I had a Manhattan, straight up, and it was great. Ice cold, big, properly garnished, and nary a drop of lemon-flavored vodka in it.

Reason Number Three: Ease of ordering. Upon perusing the menu, I decided on what they call the "Greatest Hits," and I call
the Chef's choice degustation menu with the auto-wine feature. This choice, although expensive, means that once you've ordered, you don't have to talk or think about food or wine for the rest of the evening. They just keep bringing you a succession of delicious little dishes. If you're interested in wine, you get to try some nice new ones. And if you're lucky, they tell you what's on your plate and in your glass and then go away and leave you alone to enjoy it.

Reason Number Four: Yummy, interesting, but not overly precious food. We had a salmon appetizer, like a tiny Napoleon pastry made of layers of fish, garnished with a lemon/cauliflower cream sauce and topped with caviar. Then we had a single scallop (fixed very nicely I'm sure, but I can't remember it at all. Maybe the Chateau Carbonnieux Pessac Leognan 2002 was to blame). Then we had my favorite dish: frog's leg risotto with truffle and garlic oil. It sounds gruesome but it was delicious. I chased every grain of rice around my plate. Then we had a preparation of duck, and finally, a few precious slices of Kobe beef. Dessert was a chocolate-cinnamon layered thing with fresh raspberries and next to it, rather surprisingly, a scoop of beet sorbet.

Reason Number Five: Waiters who wait on table as a profession instead of using their food-transportation skills to finance, say, an acting career. The service was great; attentive without being overbearing. Also everyone was wonderfully low-key. I've been a waitress and I have every sympathy for people who carry around food for a living, but I'm damned if I want to become best friends with them. The waiters at Avenues were perfect. They were attentive and laughed at my jokes without trying to top them.

So we had a lovely, albeit hideously expensive dinner. (Although I could do without beet sorbet. It just tasted so ... beety.) So expensive that I'm consoling myself with the fact that they gave us an amuse gueule and some little nibbly sweets at the end of the meal, which at their prices, probably have a street value of about $50.00. Maybe more.

Although this isn't relevant to the review, I also liked the fact that we got to walk there and back. Although to be honest, I don't remember very much about the walk back, probably due to number of nice new wines I sampled. There was an Austrian Riesling, a white Bordeaux, a Chardonnay from New Zealand, two reds, and a glass of Sauternes. Basically, I should have been hungover this morning, yet amazingly enough, was not.

So Reason Number Six: A good wine cellar and a wizard sommelier (actually, "Dumbledore-like" is the phrase that comes to mind) who magically extricated me from the mess I was making of my brain cells.
So, to sum up:

Lack of annoying noise: *****
Cocktails *****
Lack of Foodie Blather *****
Food ****
Service *****

You'll notice that I gave the place five stars for everything except food. Well, I may have had a lot to drink, but the memory of that beet sorbet still lingers. So they lose a point for screwing around with otherwise tasty dessert ingredients. But for everything else, and the stuff that really matters, I give Avenues five stars.

I am, however, planning some kind of penance to make up for the deliciousness of this meal. Right now I'm planning on chaining myself to a rock for a week and letting birds of prey tear at my vital organs. That will show me.

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xxx, Poppy.