Prior to heading out to dinner, we met at Betty’s for a drink and appetizers. The drink was a lovely sparkling wine from
Argentina Chile that Sandy sourced: Cono Sur Sparkling Brut NV. It went perfectly with the wonderfully smoky eggplant dip that Betty got at Paramount on Yonge, just south of Dundas. Where Superior used to be is now a mid-eastern restaurant called Paramount that also provides food-to-go. We had the dip with some pita, and then, it was time to get on the subway: and I had no idea where we were going!
The title of the blog entry? Those are the words at the bottom of the menu at Cava, a wonderful Spanish restaurant on Yonge Street, just north of the St. Clair subway station. Sandy and Betty took me there for dinner to celebrate my birthday, and after looking over the menu, the three of us decided to do just that — let them cook for us. We were asked if there were any foods we don’t like, and the waiter looked rather nonplussed when Betty said “eyeballs” and I added “or insects.”
We didn’t get thrown out then and there, so we settled down for the evening, and Sandy chose the wine.
A beautiful bottle of wine to get us started with our surprise menu!
The first set of food came out quickly. Appetizers on toast. One set is quickly fried sardines resting on a red pepper and speared with a bamboo stake of seeded picked pepper, olives, and two anchovies threaded around the olives. Those gave us a hit of salty fishy oily flavours.
Then to the second set of toasts: on their menu, it’s called “pincho of gamay-poached foie gras with pomegranate onions.” The foie gras is rich, smooth, sweetly flavoured by the wine, and complemented with the onions and pomegranate relish that cuts through the fattiness and refreshes just when the tongue begins to suffer from a surfeit of foie.
From that awesomely rich and flavourful dish we moved along to the next platter, which was some bruschetta of edamame (turned into a layer of green purée), topped with grilled green onions to bring a bit of bitterness, Moroccan olives for richness and salt, and sweet sweet Sicilian tomatoes that must have been very slow roasted for very many hours. Oh excellent bruschetta!
Thus revived, we were presented with another relatively light dish; this time, a ceviche made of lightly smoked kingfish, served with a salad of frisée lettuce and some corn chips (I’m sure they were made in-house). The kingfish didn’t taste like any mackerel I’ve eaten so it may have been one of the other varieties of fish with the same name. Or else the smoking and ceviche processes removed or masked the oiliness. Delightful and sprightly!
From there we progressed to another fish course. This time the fish was sablefish — also called Alaskan black cod or sometimes “butterfish.” And it’s a sustainable fish, too. It’s a rich melt-in-your-mouth fish and the miso glaze provided a good counterpoint to its richness. The fish sat atop a purée of celeriac and watercress, which had a comfort-food mouth feel and a vegetable freshness (and I’m sure there was lots of butter). Hiding under it all was a layer of potatoes, cooked in duck fat. Oh yes, I’m glad I’m not having my lipids tested this week, although recent research seems to indicate that things like lard and duck fat are much better for you than butter (and we’ll not even discuss how evil hydrogenated vegetable oil is).
From there, we had some more vegetables to enjoy. This dish was eggplant. The eggplant had been fried until crispy on the outside, and was matched with some Mexican ingredients: queso fresco, the mild fresh white cheese, and a purée of tomatillos and honey underneath it all. Again, excellence in flavours. At this point, though, I’m beginning to worry, because I’m starting to feel full.
We get a little bit of a break (just in time!) and another bottle of wine. Because we’re heading into the richer, meatier part of the meal, we’re recommended a richer wine. Out comes Lo Piot, a bottle with some years behind it. Smooth, full-bodied, fruit flavoured yet not like a fresh jam (I should have taken some notes!).
To accompany the wine, we are presented with a dish of veal sweetbreads with a remarkable salad of radicchio, a little poblano chili, and walnuts in a vinaigrette dressing. They do a really great job here of not letting a course get too rich by pairing it with something contrasting, like a bitter salad or sweet relish.
We’re also presented with a plate of the most tasty cauliflower I’ve ever had. I’m glad I kept the menu so I could refer back to it to see what the ingredients were. What I had thought was a small dice of sweet potatoes turns out to be a kabocha squash tagine with medjool dates and spanish saffron. These ingredients contributed a wonderful sweetness to the dish — I think Betty commented that it was almost a dessert!
Then we received a skewer of meat: venison, with a warm red cabbage salad. The venison was the most tender I’ve ever had. It was rich, but not gamey, and fork-tender. I don’t know how they did it — if it was a matter of aging it properly, or if it had been marinated before being grilled, but it was one of those foods I know I’m going to remember for a long time.
Surprise, surprise: we’re not done eating yet. Another meat course comes out, beautifully sliced and fanned out on the plate. This is beef cheek that has been slowly braised (not submerged, I’m told) for 48 hours with some herbs. It’s served with a purée of celeriac (and butter, I’m sure) and some chimichurri sauce, which is properly herbal and not all spiced up so you can’t taste anything but the spice. The beef cheek is enjoyable, tender, has a stronger flavour than the venison: some might find it a liver-y flavour, like some organ meats, some might find it gamey, or metallic like iron or copper. I think it was delicious. I love the off-cuts of meat.
Don’t forget to eat your veggies! To accompany the cheek meat, we get a little pot of Swiss chard with some currants and tiny pine nuts (they must be European). Again, great combinations of foods they’ve chosen to serve us.
We’re almost at the end. We’re told the last course will be a chocolate and cheese tasting! While something sweet to finish off a meal is nice, Sandy, Betty and I frequently forgo the sweet for a cheese plate. We’re going to get both at the same time!
Chocolates are from next door, and complex. There’s a dark chocolate with fennel seed. Another chocolate has cumin in it. The white chocolate has fennel in it. There’s a milk chocolate. For the cheeses, we’ve got a washed rind cheese that has achieved runniness in the middle; a bloomy rind cheese, like a camembert; a blue (Eremite from Quebec), and a fresh goat cheese. Take a taste of cheese, and after it has hit the back of the cheeks and tongue, have a piece of the complementary chocolate. Follow with a sip of Amontillado sherry for the spice notes to explode. Repeat. Then to the next cheese. It was like a wonderful science experiment into Food. The chocolates chosen worked well with the cheeses, the way a jelly or relish or nuts would be paired with some cheeses.
And they couldn’t leave well enough alone! To finish everything, they brought us out some other chocolates: a very dark chocolate that included espresso bean and spices, and a white chocolate that was filled with fruit pieces. Alas, we had already eaten the dark chocolate before I remembered to get the iPod Touch out for another picture!
Thank god the meal ended. And that we had a block to walk before getting on the subway home. We needed that little bit of vertical time! It was an excellent, very filling, very flavourful and adventurous birthday dinner: we never knew what was going to come next, but we enjoyed every bite of it.