Saturday, March 24, 2012

Dinner @ Chef's Counter at Boulevard

[ Originally posted February 8, 2012 ]
Tonight's dinner was a low key meal at the bar at Boulevard.

Boulevard, like Prospect, is a restaurant I want to love. It would be sooo nice if I did, as it is only 2 blocks away, and the menu always sounds fantastic. The ingredients are all high quality. Everything is executed well. Yet ... it just doesn't come together for me. Some of it is certainly the price point, as the dishes are all good, but not at the level of the pricing (starters are $18-30, mains $30-45, desserts $11), particularly given portion size. I am not complaining about the portion size, I think they are actually really great sizes, but certainly smaller than most places and there is something crazy about paying $22 for a tiny little pasta appetizer (see photos).

I do absolutely love the ambiance. The formal dining room is gorgeous, but then there are several bar areas that are for walk ins. The standard bar area is just a bar with seating, then there are some small tables in the bar area, and then there is another bar overlooking the open kitchen. Seated there, you can watch all of the action. I'm fascinated by restaurant operations, so I love open kitchens. We were seated right in front of the pastry station, so we got to watch each and every dessert get constructed and sent out. OMG, they have some great looking desserts! And I must say, every single employee in that kitchen was working hard, constantly moving, plating up dishes so ridiculously quickly. It certainly operates like a finely tuned machine.

Overall, it was good and certainly convenient, but not worth the price. I'm sure I'll go back, if only because I want to try more of the amazing desserts I spent the whole night watching! (I also really want to go for lunch sometime, as the lunch menu sounds fantastic!)
Amuse bouche: chia seed cracker, greek yogurt, salmon roe, olive oil, scallions.
I love it when bar/lounge dining includes these extras! This was surprisingly tasting AND fun to eat! I enjoyed dipping the cracker into the yogurt and making a perfect bite with a salmon roe on it as well. The cracker had a nice rich flavor provided by the chia seeds.

Definitely a winner and very flavorful, it certainly woke up my palate!

MONTEREY RED ABALONE, with Pan Seared Local Calamari, White Clamshell Mushrooms, Cavatelli Pasta Al Nero, Winter Tomato Sauce with Lemon & Parsley. 
This was only my second time ever having abalone. The first time was part of an awful dinner, and I've since thought that I probably didn't like abalone, but I wanted to try it out somewhere else to be sure. It turns out, not all abalone is chewy and awful :) It reminds me of how I used to think of calamari as well - if you have it poorly prepared, it is chewy and horrible, but treated well, it can be quite tender!

The cute little white clamshell mushrooms were just that. Cute, but they weren't really flavorful.

The calamari was cooked well, tender, but not all that interesting.

The nero pasta was fresh and perfectly al dente.

The tomato sauce was my favorite part - lovely flavor, enhanced by lemon and olive oil. I soaked up all the remaining sauce at the end with the bread.

Overall, everything in the dish was perfectly executed, made with high quality ingredients, but it didn't really pop for me. I probably wouldn't order again, but I'm really glad to have tried abalone again.

GRILLED CALIFORNIA SWORDFISH, with Toasted Oregon Hazelnut Aillade with Lemon Zest, Sauteed Bloomsdale Spinach Farro Perlato in the Style of Risotto with Roasted Red Beets & Parmesan Toasted Hazelnut Oil
Last time I was at Boulevard, a friend had an amazing swordfish dish. I've been jealous of that dish ever since. I wanted this to be that dish. Unfortunately, it wasn't.

The swordfish itself was pretty flavorless. But it was nicely grilled, had a good firm texture, and wasn't at all fishy.

The farro risotto didn't work for me at all, and I love both farro and beets. Somehow it was kinda just beet flavored mush.

The hazelnut stuff on top of the fish was good.

The spinach, under the fish, was fine, but just spinach.

Would not order again.

This was a main, but the kitchen split it for us, so this is just a half portion pictured.  I really like how they split for you and bring you both beautiful dishes!

AHI TUNA ITO-ZUKURI: "Ribbon-Cut" Ahi Tuna, Pickled Shiitakes, Spicy Aioli with Yuzu Kosho, Grilled Hodo Soy Tofu, Lotus & Nori Chips, with a soy dashi broth.
My favorite dish of the evening, once I figured out how to put the components together.

Not pictured is a little pitcher of soy dashi broth. I liked that they let you control how much of this to pour on, as it was quite salty, and I can imagine people choosing to add very different amounts to taste.

I enjoyed this dish in two ways:

The first was very simple, just some of the raw tuna strips with the soy dashi broth. The broth was very flavorful and accented the tuna perfectly. This was a light and delicious way to eat it.

But even better, was taking a lotus or nori chip, loading it up with a few tuna strips, and topping it with the spicy aioli. It was basically the flavor profile of a spicy tuna roll, but without the flavors getting muddled by rice, and with far more tuna. The tuna and spicy aioli were just so great together! (Yes, I love, love, love aioli). The nori chips and lotus chips were also delicious, very flavorful.

The other components: mushroom, radish, tofu didn't really need to be on the plate.

I'd order this again.

MERINGUE TRIO: Vanilla Pavlova, Blackberry Ice Cream, Passion Fruit Mango & Raspberry "Meringue Pie" Pop Soft Meringue, Lemon Verbena Anglaise, Coconut Sorbet
This was a lot of meringue.

We were warned. We asked the pastry chef about this, and she pretty much told us that it would just be a lot of meringue. She excitedly told us about the other desserts. We asked our waiter about it. He said basically the same thing. But ... I was stuffed and wanted something light, and I do love meringue.

It turns out there is a reason why you normally have meringue as a topping on something, and not as its own dish.

The first one was the pavlova. It had a crisp exterior, which when you broke it open gave way to a sorta gooey center. Well executed, but just a hard style meringue. The blackberry sorbet on top wasn't particularly interesting.

The second one was the best. It had mango and raspberry sorbet inside, coated with very soft marshmallow-like meringue that was torched to order, sitting on a bed of diced mango. I really liked this sorbet, tart and sweet and flavorful all at once. And the meringue part of this one was a lot like a marshmallow you roasted on a campfire. Kinda fun!

The last one was soft meringue, on a lemon verbana anglais, with coconut sorbet. It didn't really work for me. The coconut sorbet and meringue didn't really complement each other flavor or texture wise. The anglais was pretty flavorless.

Definitely an interesting dessert, but this was just too much meringue and sweetness. I cannot imagine having all of this myself, and we struggled to finish it with two of us sharing (and I have a serious sweet tooth!) I could imagine it going well with a cup of mint tea, where I'd take bites of the dessert in between sips of tea. I would go for the banana cream pie next time!
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