Last Saturday night (5/19) we got together with 7 other friends for a special dinner at Cremant, a newish (it turned one in March) French restaurant in Madrona. Before I even get to the dinner part, I just have to say what a sweet neighborhood Madrona is--there are several cute shops and restaurants along the main strip, but it doesn't feel gentrified yet. Case in point--the ad for the Madrona Farmer's Market, which takes place in the Grocery Outlet parking lot. Love it! But back to Cremant. We had booked the Salon du Jardin for our dinner, which we figured was a private room in the back of the restaurant. Well, it was, but it turned out to be completely private--we were instructed to walk outside and around back, where we saw the door for our room. It's separate from the rest of the restaurant, with a door to the kitchen. I will confess that I was really excited when I saw that we had our own restroom.
We had decided ahead of time that we would let the chef choose our menu, so we had no idea what the evening would hold. We started with aperitifs, a kir royale for me and cremant (French sparkling wine from outside the Champagne region) for Larry. As the group settled in with our drinks, the host brought out a plate of cured meats, a pot of house-made rillettes (!), and 2 pots of a delicious spread made with albacore tuna, roasted fennel, olives and eggplant. You mixed it all together and then spread it on your bread--so good. Not as good as the rillettes, mind you, but then I might be just a wee bit biased since rillettes are one of my absolute favorite treats and are usually hard to find.
Our next course consisted of 2 huge platters of endive salad with walnuts and Roquefort, and a plate of 6 roasted marrow bones. I had never had marrow before, and when I first saw it I felt a little nervous, but the taste was incredible. We were instructed to spread some marrow on a bit of bread and then sprinkle some fleur du sel over it. The marrow was so smooth, like butter but even more rich, and the salt added the perfect contrast. The salad had a great tangy bite to it, and paired beautifully with a Vouvray white wine. It was so good that toward the end of the course when we saw the waitress start to take people's plates away, Larry and I quickly loaded our plates up with more salad so we could keep eating! (Yes, we are gluttons.)
The third course arrived just as everyone was finishing their wine; it was cote de boeuf and a potato gratin. The host poured us Vacqueyras, a Rhone red wine, and we started in. The beef had been braised but was still rare--again, something I normally wouldn't have tried, but it was AMAZING. There was a great crust on the outside and lovely pink, tender meat on the inside. This dish may well have converted me to rare meat. The gratin was rich and creamy, a perfect match for the beef. I know I'm starting to sound like a broken record with the "this paired beautifully..." and the "what a perfect match..." but it's true. There's a lot to be said for putting yourself in the hands of the chef; they know what dishes will go well together (and what wines to pair), they can plan a meal that will leave you satisfied but not stuffed, they can serve you the best of what's available that night, and you get to sit back and be surprised. Of course, there are some surprises you might not want--before we went Larry had requested that we not be served steak tartare or veal--but it's fun to put yourself in the chef's hands every once in a while. Okay, I'll get off my soapbox now, but try it some time!
For dessert the host brought out one of each dessert on the menu: creme brulee, chocolate mousse, rice pudding, and plums that had been soaked in Armagnac. Each dessert was delicious (the plums surprisingly so), but the creme brulee was my favorite. I really wanted to order one just for myself, but I refrained. We were all amazed at what a perfect evening it had been, and started talking about where the next dinner club would be.
One last story...just about everyone ordered tea or an after-dinner drink, and I saw that Chartreuse was on the digestif menu. I've always been curious about Chartreuse--I know it's made by monks and that it's where the name of the color comes from, but before Saturday that was the extent of my knowledge. Since we had already had such an indulgent night, I decided to try it out. It came in a little brandy snifter and was that beautiful shade of green. I raised my glass, took a deep sniff and...nearly burned my nose hairs off! Seriously, it smelled like rubbing alcohol. I took a sip; it tingled all the way down my throat. Don't get me wrong, it tasted pretty good, but it was so spicy--almost like the bite you get from cinnamon oil--and I am a wimp about spicy things. I encouraged everyone else to have a sip, not only so they could smell and taste it, but so that I would have less to drink! It was quite an experience, but it didn't end there. About 10 minutes after we left the restaurant, I realized that I was totally blitzed (don't worry, Larry was driving). I had been fine all through dinner, so it was definitely the Chartreuse. I guess it's not a drink for amateurs!
Next up: Sitka and Spruce, on June 22nd.