Saturday, February 16, 2013

Valentine's Dinner at La Quercia

There is always that one restaurant in your city that you keep wanting to try. I have intended to eat at La Quercia several times. One time we wanted to have a birthday dinner there for a friend but the small space could not accommodate our numbers. Another time I tried to walk in off the street with my aunt and they were fully booked for the night. As soon as January rolled around, and I began thinking about Valentine's Day plans, I decided to book a table at La Quercia, more than a month in advance.

Our dinner here was incredible. While La Quercia does offer a small a la carte menu, the servers (and chefs) encourage adventurous diners to opt for their familia set menu. This is $50 per person and consists of seven shared courses, based on items that are fresh in the markets and in the kitchen. Before I describe what we had, I should mention two things I noticed about the restaurant. First, the kitchen is jam-packed with chefs. For a restaurant that only seats thirty people, they had four chefs, a dishwasher, and an expediter. Second, the service was outstanding. I can't stand the austerity of staff members at many fine dining establishments. The price of dishes should not alter a server's personality, nor burden the customer with behavioural expectations or forced formality. The serving staff at La Quercia were faultlessly attentive without being intrusive, and they came across as being both relaxed and extremely proud of what they were serving.

Now down to the nitty-gritty!

Our first dish was Trout Three Ways, which consisted of trout mousse along with an in-house smoked and cured version of the fish. This was served with celeriac slaw, wholegrain mustard, and watercress. I liked the sashimi-like texture of the cured trout while my partner favoured the subtlety of the smoked version. The mousse was great with the baguette that came with this starter.

Our second dish was a rich, perfectly baked Parmigiano-Reggiano souffle. This would have been great on a large bed of greens, but it only came on a token bed of arugula that could not support the piquant richness of the cheesy sformato. Good thing we had some of that thinly-sliced baguette left!

Our third dish was a polenta gnocchi dish with a braised rabbit and white bean ragu. My girlfriend found this dish too "slippery", but I thought that the density of the gnocchi and beans perfectly absorbed the gaminess of the rabbit. I definitely would not want a bowl of this to myself, however.

Our fourth dish was a handmade lumache all'amatriciana, a pasta with smoked pork cheek and a light tomato sauce. This dish almost had a palate-cleansing effect after the pungent gnocchi.

Our fifth dish was pork belly with homemade headcheese and roasted vegetables with a herb aioli. My girlfriend hadn't tried either of these pork-based "delicacies", and we definitely both liked the former more than the latter. Headcheese is just not easy to appreciate or wrap your...head...around when considering the ingredients and preparation. 

Our sixth dish was lamb shoulder with roasted cauliflower and hazelnuts. The cauliflower was cooked in a pleasantly sweet balsamic sauce, which also contained raisins. At first I was a bit disturbed by the raisins considering the garlic and herb backbone of the lamb and cauliflower, but they really complimented the lamb and were a natural match to the hazelnuts.

Our final dish was a chilled pannacotta with raisins and hazelnut streusel. We were both struggling at this point, but pannacotta acts in a similar way to a mild cheese or creme caramel in that it's soft, fairly easy to digest, and neutral-tasting...which is a nice way to end a big and bold dinner!    


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