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Glorious Food, or The Most Insanely Delicious Birthday Dinner Ever

Posted May 26 2012 11:59am

Last night’s birthday dinner at Craigie on Main was probably one of the most incredible dinners I’ve ever had (and one of the most expensive, but totally worth it).

I admit that Larry and I are foodies. This happened sometime during 2005-2007, when we were living in Maryland and surrounded by so many great restaurants in DC. It was also our first apartment together, so we did a lot of experimenting in the kitchen.

Bottom line: we effin’ love good food.

So the new birthday tradition has been to go out to posh restaurants and splurge on the big menu. Last year for my birthday and my newly discovered love of oysters, we went to B&G Oysters . For Larry’s thirtieth birthday this past December, we went to Menton . Seeing as how it’s probably the most premier restaurant in Boston right now, I was nervous how we were going to top that for my birthday last night.

Behold, Craigie on Main – a vastly different experience compared to Menton, but the food matched note for note what Menton had to offer in December. This dinner was so damn good, I had to write about it this morning. This is one of those menues I’m going to relive over and over in my mind.

We splurged for The Ultimate Craigie Experience – an eight-course tasting menu that changes daily and by season. I was a little nervous going for the eight-course menu; my tummy was a little blegh to begin with* (thanks in part to the lovely appearance of Aunt Flo earlier that morning. Lovely timing, period – thanks a bunch!) and I thought perhaps the six-course might be a little more reasonable.

*First piece of wisdom to share as a 30-year old: if your brain says, “You should probably get the six-course menu because we’re pretty sure your stomach will explode if you try to eat eight courses tonight” – listen to it.

“Any dietary restrictions or allergies?” our waitress asked us.

“Nope,” we said. “We’re feeling adventurous and we’re open to anything tonight.”

(Famous last words.)

We sat at the Chef’s Counter, a four-seater granite countertop overlooking the kitchen. We were just a couple of feet away from about a dozen or so cooks furiously pumping out the night’s orders. Have you ever watched Hell’s Kitchen? It was kind of like that, but with less swearing and a fairly seamless cohesion of teamwork between each station.

Our view was closest to the starter station, as two cooks delicately cranked out starter after starter – the pace was frenetic and fast-paced. It was fascinating to watch. Larry and I barely spoke to each other all night as we watched, mesmerized by the controlled madness of the kitchen flurry in front of us.

Our dinner started with a trio of amuse bouche: halibut tartare topped with ikura (salmon roe) and served with a rice cracker; salmon tartare with dill; and house-cured Portuguese sardine topped with caviar. The halibut and roe reminded me so much of the sea; that’s all I could taste in my mouth. The roe, like little orange jewels, popped in my mouth, bursting with a not-overpowering brininess that washed over the creaminess of the halibut. I soon learned the trick was to scoop it up with my rice cracker, a start textural contrast with notes of sesame.

The salmon, Larry noted, “tasted like Sunday mornings.” (Think bagels and lox). The sardine was fishy, like any sardine, but not overly so.

Next up was diver scallop sashimi with yuzu and crystallized ginger and mango cilantro chutney. I love me some raw scallops: they might as well be the butter medallions of the sea. There was some heat on the scallop, I saw tiny red flakes, but not sure exactly what kind of chili they were. The brightness of the mango, the brininess of the scallop and that touch of heat: the whole dish reminded me of a hot summer day on the beach. It was my second favorite dish of the night.

Out came a tempura soft-shelled crab with chorizo oil, sliced chorizo and pinot noir and soy(?) reduction. We quickly learned some of the kitchen lingo as we watched our food being made: “I need four softies!” meant “We have an order of four soft-shelled crabs.” I’ve never had soft-shell crab before and was pleasantly surprised to be able to just eat the whole damn thing.

There’s a Japanese term for the “fifth” taste (besides salty, sweet, bitter and sour) called umami. It’s a savory taste. This dish? Umami at its best.

And then came the kona kampachi kama with sweet chili glaze and garnish of asian pear and daikon. Kona Kampachi is a Hawaiian fish with a flavor and texture profile somewhere between a tuna and skipjack. Kama refers to the cheekbones, which – if you ever go to a Japanese restaurant and see Hamachi (Tuna) or Sake (Salmon) Kama on the menu: order it. Considered a “trash” cut and typically reserved for the kitchen staff, kama is probably the tastiest part of the fish: tender, buttery, flavorful. This dish was so good I was mopping up the sweet chili glaze with my bread.

Then we got to the really rich part of dinner. We were served housemade lentil pasta with pork heart, morel and arugula ragout. I was not expecting to like the pork heart as much as I did: the texture reminded me of meatball, to be honest. Super savory, very rich.

Then we got to the most difficult part of the dinner for me: lamb rib with white asparagus puree and grilled white asparagus strips. I am not a fan of lamb. I just can’t do it. There’s something about the flavor – that gaminess with almost a hoppy aftertaste – I just can’t. I have tried so many times to eat lamb and every time, I can never manage more than a few bites.

Last night was no exception, except that it very nearly ruined the whole dinner.

After the lamb course, I excused myself to the bathroom. I almost tossed up all six courses we had eaten at that point. I literally had to talk myself down from the vasovagal response that I could feel coming over me. Our dinner so far had been super rich, and I knew what was still coming down the pike. When I looked in the mirror, the color had completely drained from my face but the vomit/fainting sensation had passed. I’m pretty sure it was the lamb that triggered this – there’s just certain flavors (raw cucumber is another) that can send me over the edge.

Once I got back to the counter, I was greeted by the head chef himself, with a plate of venison two ways: leg with bok choy and housemade lamb sausage with musrooms and a red beet pomegranate coulis. I much preferred the leg to the sausage and the coulis was such a tart, savory touch to the hearty venison medallion.

We technically had nine courses last night, because we decided at the last minute to get an order of the roasted grass-fed beef bone marrow. It was served with our last savory course (the venison) and Oh. My. Sweet. Merciful. G-d:

Bone Marrow of Awesome

Not exactly vegetarian friendly.

Served with toasted country sourdough slices (“I need toast for bones!” shouted across the kitchen)… I literally have no words. It looks gross, I’ll concede that. You scoop out these gelatinous blobs right from the middle of these bones, clear fat just dripping from it. And then you spread these on your toast and holy balls, that shit is amazing.

It was described to us by the waitress as tasting like “beef butter” and while that’s an accurate description of flavor, it doesn’t quite get the sheer insanity of deliciousness that is bone marrow. Like, it was so good I felt like I was rendered stupid while I ate it. The bone marrow wasn’t part of our tasting menu and I’m so glad we ordered it because that stole the whole fucking show for me last night.

Before moving on to desserts, we got a palate cleanser of vermouth gelée with herb granite and white chocolate crumbs. Super bright and reminded me the way the air smells after a spring rain shower. Definitely tasted notes of parsley and celery seed.

For dessert, we got an apricot frangipane torte with pistachio, grains of paradise and amaretto ice cream AND a sour milk panna cotta with cashew-coriander granola, champagne mango coulis and browned butter dust. I don’t do amaretto so Larry and I switched plates and I ate the panne cotta. Normally, we share. Last night, we did not. The panne cotta definitely had the sour character but it was so smooth and laced with vanilla that after a while, you just got lost in the sweet texture of it. The granola added the perfect textural contrast and the browned butter dust just a hint of saltiness.

Just when we thought it was all over, out came a tiny glass of white asparagus ice cream with rhubarb soup. The tartness of the rhubarb with the mellowness of the ice cream was a perfect end to an insanely good meal.

. . .

Just for shits and giggles, I weighted myself before we left to go out. After we got home, I staggered into the bedroom feeling like a bloated tick and hopped back on the scale.

4.8 pounds gained. I had eaten nearly five pounds of food in a little over 3 hours.

It was totally worth it.

. . .

For those of you wondering what Larry got me for my birthday…

Ruby and Diamond Pendant

My husband has my taste in jewelry DOWN.

Coulda knocked me over with a feather when I opened the box. WAY better than jeans or linens, for sure.

. . .

Best birthday ever.

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