Friday, May 30, 2008

Sanctuary on Washington Avenue

Eric's been raving about Sanctuary one of the new restaurants that has sprung up over by the new Guthrie. They have a tasting menu Monday through Thursdays for only $35 with the option of pairing it with a flight of wines for only $12. This sounded like a fantastic deal, so I agreed to meet him there last night.

Parking was kind of weird, but I found the lot behind the building was free, you just have to traverse a little mucky hill. The interior seemed a little weird, the exposed wood and brick makes it look old, but there were all of these contemporary touches. I think mostly it worked, but I wouldn't know because I couldn't stop staring at the gargoyle that welcomed me.

A nattily dressed gentleman eventually arrived with a flourish of warm conversation, "Welcome! Yes, I do have your reservation, would you prefer to wait at the bar or be seated? Right this way. I'll let Eric know where you are when he arrives." The reservations were under Eric's last name, so this guy remembered it from somewhere along the way. He was good. "I've saved you one of our little booths, these are recycled bishops chairs. We could seat you in the dining room, if you prefer, but I always think these are so much more private." They were very tall and wide chairs placed on either side of a small table. I thought it looked great. It's a tight spot, but the tall chairs make it feel like it's just the two of us - and of course the kitchen staff. We were right outside of the open kitchen. I ordered a glass of pinot noir and waited.

Eric wandered in from the back of the restaurant. "Where'd you come from?" He looked confused.

"I went through a door that said 'restroom' and ended up here."

"That's odd... kind of like Eric did it in the Conservatory with the lead pipe."

"Yeah... I don't quite know how I feel about that." He settled in and ordered some new/old cocktail that he's taken to ordering lately. Eric loves Campari (one of four individuals in the known world that does.) He read about it in Details magazine - the bible for the "in" metro dude.

We ordered the pre fixe meal that wasn't so much a tasting menu as what the chef wanted to make that day. I still remember my chef's menu at Corner Table as one of the greatest meals of my life.

Poor Scott. I never call. I never write. I haven't been in for far too long. I beg you to be my best friend and then I get so freaked out when you seem to have actually read what I said about the artistry of your food and I chickened out and never even said hi. I just hid behind my menu and delighted with food. Oh, Scott - my unrequited teenage love is left only to inspire sonnets and badly rhymed poems for your food. Don't go changin.

Sanctuary, is no Corner Table, but I digress. I was excited to see what food came out of the kitchen. The New American, Asian, Mediterranean fusion promise was confusing, but I just wanted to try some good food, with great ingredients, no definitions necessary.

Our first course was a taro chip taco. It was a fried slice of taro root topped with chipotle seasoned chicken, pea shoots and a slice of tomatillo covered in a wasabi creme fraiche. The chicken was very tasty, despite the bone that nearly choked me. I didn't care for the cream, but it's because I've come to terms with the fact that I don't enjoy wasabi. I know, it's a personal problem and I'm probably missing out on many delights because of this character flaw. The fume blanc that was supposed to be paired with it didn't arrive until after we had finished them. They were pretty small and impossible to eat with utensils or hands. I did my best to just shove the whole thing in and then chew carefully, seeking out other bones. It was delightful. The wine was good. It was served at a nice temperature, and would be lovely on a warm summers day.

The next course to arrive was the salad. We'd been warned that this course was the only one to be served without a wine pairing. That was fine because I had my little fume buddy to get me through. It was a pretty presentation. Eric described it as wind blown.

It was composed of little watercress, "pickled" apples, grape and white asparagus. There was some kind of tomato saffron vinegar over the whole thing. I was excited because I just had a salad the night before at home out of some fresh watercress that I'd picked up at Kowalski's and it was fabulous. And pickled apples! I love pickles. I love vinegar. I tossed it around together and took a heaping forkful into my mouth. One eye bulged, the other kind of sank, the tendons in my neck strained and the corners of my mouth pulled back in shocked horror. It was so bitter. The watercress was really, really bitter. The pickled apple didn't quite work for me, the asparagus was raw and the saffron dressing was in startling short supply. I might have been able to choke down more if there had been more of the familiar sour of vinegar present. Then I made the mistake of taking a sip of wine. The bitter bomb exploded through my palette like the A bomb of Acrid-topolis. Oh, God. I chugged some water. Now, even that tasted like dirty river water. Make it stop! Luckily, there was a wee bit left in the breadbasket. That was wonderful. Ciabatta and a edamame hummus saved me.

"Eat it with the grape. That makes it better." I rooted around in the bowl. There was one sliced in half grape. Cute. It didn't help. I did the whole round again and soothed the acrimonious flavor party back down with another swipe of this hummus concoction. I loved that. It also went well with the wine. The server noticed that I didn't finish my plate and asked if she could get me anything else. I just said that it's way too bitter for my palette. Somebody else tasted it and must have thought it was wonderful. That person just wasn't sitting in these bishop chairs.

The next course was a shrimp served under crispy egg roll wrappers and drizzled with a zesty ginger sauce. I almost toppled it before Eric reminded me to take a picture.

Trust me, it was so much more appealing to look at in person. After my fourth attempt to take this picture, Eric said he should bring his digital camera next time we go out. Yes, this would be extraordinarily helpful.

In stark contrast to our last course, this was out of the ballpark delicious. The spicy hot sauce over the crispy little strips all blended in sweet, sweet harmony with the lightly seasoned little shrimp at the bottom of the pile. I happily ate the whole thing, leaving not even a pea shoot or scrap of crispy yummy left. I was also delighted with the Toad Hollow Chardonnay paired with it. I'm not a big Chardonnay fan, but the oaky notes balanced ever so lightly over the heat of the dish.

Our concern was that there was the one and only shrimp and just two courses left to go. We were considering that a trip to Triple Rock for some of their kick ass bar food might be in order before the night was through.

Our beef course arrived next with a glass of Ravenswood Zinfandel.

The one piece of beef was cooked perfectly. Again, I blame me. I'd made some beef and lamb kabobs for dinner the night before and I'd miraculously cooked them to perfection - and I'd done the whole thing for relatively cheap. It was good, not great. The wine was fine. I'm not a big Ravenswood fan (and know how much a bottle goes for.) I was hoping it was some special vintage that made it way more interesting than the $8 from my local L.Q. I kinda doubt it, though.

I could see the concern in Eric's furrowed brow. He loves this restaurant and has been delighted by them in the past. This is the problem of my not being anywhere near professional or getting any cash for this gig. This was my one shot at eating there. Finally the dessert came.

Eggnog flavored ice cream. What a weird choice for spring. It was so heavy. The wine paired with it also wasn't really very sweet. It was a dry rose that neither of us enjoyed paired with dessert. The one strawberry was good. One. Sigh. Time to go.

I was too tired (from all the wine sipping) to make it to Triple Rock. I was able to salvage the night because my awesome bestie was with me. I love Eric. He's so gracious, caring and punny. Thank God his jokes are like fine wine, they get better as he ages. Still, he wasn't too mature to share in my delight of the new Flight of the Conchords CD or "Business Time." Ah, funny old marrieds that we are.

Then the check came. $125. $125! ... !!!!!!!!!!! Tired left quickly through the secret passage in the Hall. I checked the bill and it was entirely right. I can't believe I spent that much money on a meal when I've got bills, plans, vacations coming up. There have been some layoffs at my job, I'd like to have kids someday and my mother's not getting any younger! What the heck was I thinking? $35 seemed so reasonable. Tack on an extra glass of wine, that wine flight and Eric's stupid drink - $125! I'm an idiot.

So, again, broke, hungry and mildly annoyed I went home in the drizzling rain. I don't have any Tom Waits in the car, so instead I rolled home to Inner City Pressure.


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