Monday, February 15, 2010

365/44 Your dessert, Sir

365/44 Your dessert, Sir

"I cook with wine, sometimes I even add it to the food."

W.C. Fields

Valentine's Day is an odd holiday around our house. Because we love really good food and really good drink, we normally choose to forego celebrating the day on February 14th. Who wants to deal with abhorrent crowds and 45 minute table waits or, god forbid, the last minute attempt at table reservations. So we just skip it and have our V-day before the world spends it's pink and heart-filled reality out in a sea of overpacked and overbooked restaurants.

This year, we decided to try something more upscale and local: no chains for us. The lucky place? Peche, down in the Warehouse district between Fido's and Truluck's, is Austin's first absinthe bar. We didn't go for the absinthe (nor did we try it this go around). Instead, we went for the food, raved over by close friends. And this year, we decided to drag a good friend, MJ, along for the ride.

We decided for reservations at 5:30 to beat the normal dinner crowd and oh, beat it we did. The place didn't start hopping until around 6:30 or 7. The quiet lead up was much appreciated. Our waiter, Eric, was excellent. His suggestions for the evening were well placed and most delicious.

We began our journey with a few Bees Knees, a cocktail of gin, lemon, and honey syrup, recommended by MJ. Very smooth. My wife loved them. They were definitely good, but a bit tart for my taste (I have such a sweet tooth when it comes to cocktails). Next up, my wife had a French 76. It's not on their menu, but was, again, suggested to us by MJ. Vodka and champagne. When I told Eric I wanted something sweeter than the Bees Knees, he smiled and said he would find something appropriate. He came back a few minutes later, asking if I liked cucumber.

Now, I've never had cucumber before in a cocktail, so I was momentarily hesitant. He looked like a nice fellow, so what the hell? I decided to trust his judgement. He returned with, what I believe, was a cucumber martini. I took a sip, unsure of what to expect. Damn. The full flavor of cucumber hit me. Not so much an assault on the senses, but a full-flavored ninja martini smack down, sneaking up on you when you're not paying attention, delivering a subtle and ingenious zing. And then the unnoticed cayenne pepper flakes roared to life making the drink sing. Pipe organs came to life, Gregorian monks began to chant, there was a bright light and ... ok, not really. But it was outstanding. I would have it again.

For the appetizer, we noshed on braised pork belly and Nantucket Bay scallops. Ordinarily, my wife is very reluctant to order pork belly unless she knows it's done absolutely right. There's good pork belly and then there's horrid. It's a fine line between the two. Peche delivered something that met the mark and found approval from my wife. I tried not to horde it for myself.

Peche:  Braised Pork Belly with Nantucket Bay Scallops

For the second course, I had the caesar salad with a provolone panini crouton. She had the duck confit with polenta croutons in field greens. Sadly, I did not take photos of this. This was one of the most unique caesar salads I've ever had. Ordinarily, I would have expected a cream-heavy dressing; I looked at my salad wondering if they had forgotten it, but as I bit down onto a forkful of lettuce, my mouth exploded with the missing flavor. Looks were deceiving and I'm glad I fell for it. My wife's salad was just as good. I'll admit to stealing a few pieces of duck and polenta when she wasn't paying attention.

For the third course, we chose an array of items: I had the potato gnocchi with mushroom bolognese, Celena had the scallops with brown butter hollandaise, and MJ had the prime beef tenderloin with pommes puree. We proceeded to steal bits of food from each other's plates for the next half hour, with not a single complaint amongst us.

I'm selective about my potato gnocchi, very often preferring my own to anyone else's out there. Peche's gnocchi was light, fluffy, and tender. It melted away in your mouth as the slight peppery bite hit.

Peche:  Potatoe Gnocchi with Mushroom Bolognese

Celena is a bit of a scallop snob. Well, not a bit. She's a scallop snob. It's very easy to overcook scallops and ruin the richness of the meat. Peche does it right. As MJ says, Peche's scallops are the best she's ever had. They got the Celena stamp of approval (and hey, I liked them too).

Peche: Scallops with Celery Root & Brown Butter Hollandaise

MJ's tenderloin was flavorful and cooked to perfection: medium rare. If you are one of those fools who can only stand a well done cut of meat, this steak is not for you. Please move along and try something else. This one is for bon vivant meatasaurus rexes only. I, of course, stole a few extra bites of tenderloin when MJ wasn't paying attention.

Peche:  Prime Beef Tenderloin with Pommes Puree

Finally, we ended with dessert and I, being completely lost in the evening of savory serendipity, I forgot to take photos of the two dishes we ordered: a trio of ice cream lollipops in a chocolate shell and a mascarpone tart with strawberries and gelato. I need to learn how to make these tarts so I can have them whenever I want.

The photo of dessert (up top) that I did take was when Eric walked up to show us the chocolate tart for another table. At some point during the evening, we had gotten to discussing photography and how he spent time in South America photographing food there. I have to admit: the chocolate tart looked simply delicious.

In all, I was extremely delighted by the entire evening: the food, the service, the good discussions we all had. Definitely worth another visit to see what new things they come up with on their menu. And maybe we'll try some absinthe. It only hurts once, right?

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