Although Dine About Town 2006 has officially drawn to a close, I'd like to dig it up again for one last time. Every year, I vow to get the better of expensive restaurants. So this year, during Dine About Town, I chose the place where I would get the best "bang for my buck." All signs led me to Rubicon--the one owned by legendary Hollywood director Francis Ford Coppola.
For those of you who aren't familiar with Mr. Coppola's presence in the Bay Area, allow me to enlighten you. Mr. Coppola owns a famous winery in Napa Valley called Niebaum-Coppola where he displays his love for wine, his bevy of Academy Awards, and interesting props from his acclaimed movies. Thus, given this background, I was expecting an Oscar-worthy meal from Rubicon.
We started with a sample of crostini topped with duck mousse pâté and dressed in a pomegranate reduction. Even though the brick-hard crostini had soaked up "some" of the moisture from the pomegranate juice, the over-toasted crostini was teeth-shattering. I couldn't tell whether the gravel particles in my mouth were my teeth or the bread crumbs. However, the positive side, was that the pâté was airy, smooth, and as light as freshly whipped cream. The pomegranate elixir was sweet and tangy, almost like cranberry juice.
My first course was the chestnut and celery root soup, made with prosciutto and duck gizzard confit. The velvety soup reminded me of a warming bowl of mushroom chowder, but it was infinitely more complex. The confit imparted a husky and multifaceted layer of flavor, but it also gave the soup a gritty, sandy texture.
Additionally, the ingredients weren't distributed evenly throughout the soup. Thus, my spoon had repeatedly dive to the bottom of the bowl to fish out the brunoised cubes of celery root, flaps of prosciutto, and toothsome chestnuts pieces.
My two companions started with the grilled calamari, which was accompanied with garlicky salt cod and acidic citrus vinaigrette. I was able to snag a bite of chewy and elastic calamari as a snappy introduction to my main dish.
As for the second course, my companions ordered the seared Hawaiian tombo, which came with cipollini onions, assorted mushrooms, and a wild splash of caramelized garlic-marjoram broth. My fork "snared" a few medium-rare flakes of tuna, and the meat was supple and moist. Although my sample was limited, my companions agreed that their dish was superb. However, both of them were put off by strange herbaceous leaves that according to them, tasted like "chemical ammonia."
I selected "the dish-for-people-who-want-to-become-morbidly-obese"--the smoked and glazed pork belly. The pork belly was served with a soft polenta pudding, dried fruit condiment, and braised greens. To be frank, I wasn't that impressed with the greens, the fruit, or the pork fat. The flavors weren't vivid or particularly notable, thus it was an average dinner. The greens and the belly fat (in the words of Pam from Daily Gluttony) "tasted like the food of my peeps." Simply put, it tasted like regular fare that my mom makes.
However, I did enjoy the thick, creamy, and custard-like texture of the polenta. There weren't any unmixed lumps or undercooked patches that are common to bad polenta. I also enjoyed the crispy pork skin that had been darkened by seasonings and the reduction of the pork juices. It wasn't crispy like the golden-skinned slabs of pork hanging in Chinese barbeque shops, but it had a distinct crunch, reminiscent of my earlier sample crostini.
To polish off my three-course meal, I selected the wild anise chocolate mousse-expresso shortbread with fleur de sel caramel. The decorative chocolate tablet that adorned the mousse had sprinkles of sea salt and wild anise melted into its inner recesses. The mousse was heavy to the stomach and my mouth couldn’t stop watering as my fork cut through dense chocolate mass and hit resistance at the shortbread. One bite, and whoa! I instantly gained another 20 pounds.
One of my companions ordered the other dessert selection: the pistachio and dried cherry nougat glacé with seasonal winter fruits. When the ice cream was placed on our table, we eagerly peered at the rotund mound topped with tiny orange-colored tidbits. Wait a minute. You call those wormy and slimy lil' slivers "seasonal winter fruits"? The ice cream was tasty though, but nothing to write home about.
In concluding, I believe I successfully met my goal of cheating the system (of expensive upper-end restaurants)! Okay, okay. I know what you're thinking. Another restaurant post? (And the post isn't even that good!) Alright, I admit that one of my New Year's Resolutions for 2006 was to "eat out less," and this year I am already blowing that goal to the dumpster, but I'm not going to relegate that resolution to the graveyard of "resolutions n'er accomplished"--just yet.