Sunday, January 01, 2006

Ringing in the new year

Last night turned out to be quite a success. The restaurant was serving a six-course prix fixe menu; I was a little daunted at the thought of all that food -- and so few choices; three or four for most courses, and the amuse bouche and cheese course had no choices whatsoever -- but all went well. Getting dressed up for the first time in weeks certainly helped; I even put on lipstick, something I've been unable to tolerate ever since the morning sickness kicked in.

It was a cold, windy evening. We found a parking spot a few blocks away, and made our way into the cozy restaurant. Darren and my sister and brother-in-law all ordered the chef's wine pairing, which for $20 a person for four glasses seemed like a great deal (especially since they raved about the wines). I had ginger ale... and a microscopic sip of my sister's fruity dessert wine, which was incredible.

So, the food:
We each had an amuse bouche -- which had an Italian name, obviously, rather than the French, but I can't remember it -- of prosciutto-wrapped pear with candied walnuts. I couldn't remember whether prosciutto counts as a deli meat, to be avoided for fear of listeria, but I went ahead and ate it, and it was good.

For an appetizer, I had parsnip soup, which was creamy and rich and very parsnip-y. Darren had what he said was an incredible arugula, lobster and mango salad, and my sister had beef carpaccio, which I would have loved to try. But that one I couldn't pretend was allowed.

Pasta course: My brother-in-law and I had gnocchi in a cheese sauce. If I'd been thinking more clearly, I would have ordered Darren's mushroom risotto -- the cheesey gnocchi after the creamy soup was a bit much. But the gnocchi were light and tasty, and I ate almost all of it anyway.

For the meat course, I had braised short ribs over some sort of greens (which I did not eat, deciding against pushing my luck with too many vegetables) and mashed potatoes. The meat was falling-apart tender, and the sauce, a dark, dense creation, was rich and intense. Darren declared it the winner for the evening. I didn't taste the branzino (Mediterranean sea bass) that he and bro-in-law ordered, nor did I try my sister's quail, but everyone seemed happy with what they got.

Next was a cheese course, with three different kinds of aged pecorino. I gave up at this point and abandoned my plate to the table, trying desperately to save room -- and good belly karma -- for dessert.

And it's a good thing I did: I had an excellent white chocolate mousse cake, with some kind of preserved apricots on the side.

The whole meal took us a bit more than two hours. As we ate, the restaurant slowly filled, and by the time we left at 8:30 it felt festive and full, as were we. Although the food was amazing (and expensive -- we never would have spent this much on Christmas presents for each other!), the company was the best part. We laughed a lot while we ate, and passed our plates around the table, and toasted more than once. I love the fact that my sister lives so close by, and that she and P invited us to join them for their New Year's tradition. We have a really great time together, and I treasure it.

We capped off the evening with a few hours at their house. We tried to play Set, a card game we got for Christmas last year that requires a certain amount of concentration that proved difficult for those in the party who'd tried all the wine (though Darren actually seemed to improve his already considerable Set skills somehow -- typical). So we switched to Taboo, the sisters against the brothers-in-law. Naturally, E and I won, though the boys claimed it was the sibling connection that gave us the victory. I think the fact that I was the only sober one in the room might have had something to do with it...

We were home and tucked in bed by midnight. It was a wonderful evening. I hope all of you were similarly happy with whatever you did!