When faced with a really special occasion, where do you go for a nice, romantic dinner? With our 25th anniversary coming, we tossed around the usual suspects: Ciao Vito, Lauro, Alberta St. Oyster Bar & Grill, Castagna, Paley's Place, Fife, Nostrana. And some new entries: Balvo, Roux and Carafe. It's an embarrassment of riches, really. But the day before the "big day" we finally settled on Paley's, which we hadn't been to for a couple of years.
With the weather warm enough to eat outside, we requested a table on the porch and were greeted by baskets brimming with ripe, luscious tomatoes fresh from the farmers' market. We were ushered to our little table for two, so glad not to be sitting in the perfectly nice but too stuffy dining room, especially on a summer night.
We ordered a Sapphire martini and a lemon drop and snacked on a little amuse bouche of fresh grilled eggplant crostini with aioli. Now for the only gripe of the evening, and a persistent pet peeve of mine: Why do bars do sugar rims on frozen glasses? As the ice on the outside melts, it causes the sugar to drip down the glass and I end up with a sticky mess all over the glass and my hands. Sheesh!
Anyway, we'd heard that the Kobe beef tartare was not to be missed, so as we sipped our very nicely made drinks (except for the...oh never mind...) we gobbled up the horseradish and salt-spiked beef that was topped with a duck egg yolk and featured little piles of minced onion, parsley and capers. It's served with light rye toast points, which I find overpowers the delicate flavor of the beef, so I substituted the plain bread that they bring to the table. Incredibly rich and succulent, this is tartare to die for. And we'll be borrowing this idea for our own appetizer plate in the future.
We opened the spectacular 2000 Ridge Geyserville Zin that my brother gave us from his personal stash. What a burst of glorious juice! This must be what is meant by "highest and best use"...kind of like nirvana for a grape. It was still so young and supple, we almost felt guilty drinking it. This baby had years left to mature and change but, man, was it fantastic! Thanks, Bruce!
Anyway, back to the meal. We ordered salads, one of greens with black cherries and carmelized onions with a balsamic vinaigrette, the other mixed greens with radicchio, pork belly and gorgonzola. And both very tasty. Then, right on time, our entrees arrived, a pasta cut in triangles tossed with sauteed green and yellow beans, wild mushrooms, potatoes and pesto, and then a potato gnocchi with crab and preserved lemons in a butter sauce. The crab was just shredded and tossed with the cooked gnocchi so it was warm and had that lovely light crabby flavor you long for but so often don't get. With the preserved lemon spiking up the flavor quotient, this was a nice, simple but elegant dish.
Then, to put us competely over the top, a couple of piping hot decaf Americanos with an amazing dessert of Dagoba chocolate empanadas served with cinnamon cherry iced cream and sherry-soaked bing cherries. Ay yie yie! And all this for much less than we'd thought it might be; enough that we'll definitely be back in the near future. Needless to say, a very lovely evening to celebrate a very singular occasion.
Details: Paley's Place, 1204 NW 21st Ave.; Phone 503-243-2403 for reservations.