Great dinners don’t always start out that way. Last night Debbie and I ran some errands after work then decided that a light bite out, rather than leftover chili, would hit the spot.
It was about a quarter past seven and I wanted to try someplace new, so we headed to Los Gatos to try La Pastaria. The earliest table there would have been 8:15. We walked up the street to Nick’s on Main and found out that they were booked all evening. After a quick phone call we settled for Steamer’s Grill on the other side of the freeway because we wouldn’t have to wait for a table. So much for trying someplace new.
We asked for, and got, a couple of seats at the end of the counter, in front of the oven and the oyster and salad prep tables. We decided on a cheese plate, Debbie ordered the soup of the day, creamed corn. I ordered the organic greens salad. While we waited Debbie sipped a dirty martini and I a generous shot of Laphroaig 10 single-malt scotch. A couple of glasses of cold water and we were set for supper.
The Cheese Trio Plate included: “Point Reyes Farmstead Blue Cheese, Brinate; a Firm Brie & DiBosco Di Robiola; Truffle laced Pecorino.Served with Toasted Baguette, Grapes, Granny Apple Chips, Toasted Walnuts, Frisee & Truffle Infused Honey” (from the Steamer’s dessert menu). The apple chips shimmied with the Point Reyes blue and the grapes waltzed with the brie, but the honey tangoed passionately with the pecorino.
About a third of the way through the plate, one of the chefs brought a little bowl of red fruit – ripe strawberries and watermelon – and suggested that we add them into the mix. A thin slice of toasted whole wheat baguette, dipped in honey, layered with pecorino, quickly followed in the mouth by a bite of toasted walnut simply brought delight to the palate. A bite of red fruit was a well-placed exclamation point.
The chef that had brought us the bowl of red fruit, seeing his success at improving our cheese plate, asked us if we had been told about the evening’s special salad. He said that it included the red fruit we had just sampled, plus prosciutto, olive oil, and banyuls vinegar. I was intrigued and he kindly offered to replace my organic greens with the special salad. Then, he said he had to run off to his other job tending bar at another establishment, but left me in the hands of Jeff, the head chef.
The creamed corn soup was smooth and rich but not cloying. Topped with a swirl of crème fraiche, it was appropriately simple and fulfilling.
My salad was artistically presented: bright red fruit on a thin sheet of prosciutto, sprinkled with fresh-ground black pepper, lime zest, lemon zest, finely-chopped shallots, and thin-sliced mint leaves, ringed by circles of banyuls vinegar and emerald green extra-virgin olive oil. The experience on my palate matched the promise of the picture. Sweet, salty, tart, pungent, spicy – they all took their turn and melded into a little explosion of flavor in my mouth and aroma in my nose.
We then indulged in the apple galette and the house-made limoncello. The galette pastry was flaky, the apples were just the right degree between firm and mushy, and the vanilla bean ice cream bound everything together. The limoncello was – as we expected – aromatic, smooth and hung at just the right point between sweet and sour. We had first tasted the limoncello several years ago, when Steamer’s was still experimenting with it. We’re glad this grappa-based liqueur made it on their menu.
At the end of our meal, we asked Chef Jeff about the salad. He showed us the bottles of olive oil and banyuls vinegar. He said that he originally used an ice wine vinegar called Minus 8. We tasted both vinegars. While the Minus 8 was outrageously delicious – imagine an extremely well-rounded and balanced balsamic – it was also nearly $30 for a 100ml bottle. The banyuls was an excellent stand-in.
“Settling” for Steamer’s turned out to be just the right place to enjoy a great light supper, and a little lesson on vinegars to boot. Proof that you always wind up where you’re supposed to be.