Saturday, March 10, 2012

Cocktails, Foie Gras, and Dessert @ Prospect

Somehow, after oysters at Waterbar this evening, we wound up at the bar at Prospect to continue Happy Hour.  I'm not really sure how this happened, as I was on my way home to go to the gym, have a light dinner, and a quiet evening at home.  And then foie gras happened.  I guess this is what happens when I'm deprived of foie gras for two whole days? :)

Anyway.  I'm very familiar with Prospect, having dined many times in the restaurant and at the bar.  It is the sister restaurant to the more established Boulevard down the street.  They serve pretty similar food (seasonal Californian cuisine), although Prospect is slightly more casual and slightly cheaper.  The space is considerably different however: Boulevard has a much older feel, although gorgeous and elegant.  Prospect is more open, bright, and modern.  Both have bar areas that are really fabulous to dine in, although I think Boulevard does not do a happy hour, or have a bar menu, whereas Prospect does.  And that is what we were there to check out tonight!

We started with a few bar snacks and cocktails off the Happy Hour menu, and then moved on to more food and cocktails from the regular bar menu, and of course, somehow wound up ordering dessert off the real menu too.  I was impressed with the bar snacks, they were really quite good and very reasonably priced (in general, my previous criticisms of Prospect have always been that the food hasn't blown me away and that it is pricey, so this was a contrast to how I feel about their main dining menu).

The cocktails were really well done.  My group ordered pretty much every cocktail on the menu, and I got a chance to take "just a sip" of most of them.  They were some of the most balanced and interesting cocktails I've ever had, ranging from fun and sweet to serious and bitter.  Someone takes the cocktail program here very seriously, putting some major thought into the flavor combinations.  These were complex drinks, with often surprising subtleties to them, particularly in the finishes.  Very, very well done.

I also have to give a shout out to the staff.  The bartenders were friendly and social, without interfering with us in any way.  They were busy, working constantly, yet somehow always managed to make sure we were taken care of.  I felt very welcome and comfortable the entire time.

I foresee a lot of return visits :)

Drinks

Drop of Poison: Gin, Rhubarb, Aperol, Lemon, Absinthe, with candied rhubarb ($11).
This one was pretty incredible.  On the sweet end of the spectrum for sure, but so incredibly balanced.  It had a really lovely finish to it.  Plus, it came with candied fruit!

Happy Hour Cocktails (not pictured):
  • Hemingway’s Brother: Rum, Grapefruit, Pineapple, Sage, Lime ($6).  This was refreshing and light, not nearly as sweet as I expected from the description.
  • Mr. Commons: Whiskey, Bitters, Sugar ($5).  Nice and bitter, even though there was sugar added, this was definitely a whiskey forward drink, although it was sweet enough to please a larger audience.
Regular Cocktails (not pictured):
  • Prospector: Blended Scotch, Madeira, Benedictine, Bitters, Burnt Orange ($11.50).  This was delightful, I liked it more than the Mr. Commons. Bitter but nicely balanced.  And yes, it really did have a burnt orange, the bartender lit a piece of orange peel on fire before placing it into the glass.
  • The Ambassador: Rye, Bonal, Apricot Eau-de-Vie, Zucca ($11.50).  Another nice bitter drink.
  • The Whaler: Jamaican Rum, Sparkling Wine, Blackberry Honey, Mint, Lime, Egg White ($11.50).  I really enjoyed this one too (not surprising given the ingredient list I guess), sweet and delicious, with a foamy top layer from the egg white.  I may or may not have stolen the remains of this drink from the owner when they temporarily orphaned it.
  • Assorted standard cocktails: martinis, negroni.  These seemed well made, and done just they way they were asked for.

Bar Snacks

French onion dip, potato chips $5
This was the least successful dish of the evening, but how much do you really expect from chips and dip?  Partially I just wasn't really in the mood for it - I went from oysters and champagne to these, not exactly a smooth transition.  Probably much more enjoyable with pizza or a burger!  I also have a bit of history with chips & dip.  My best friend in high school and I used to eat a lot of chips and onion dip.  As in, every single time I went to her house we had some.  Just plain old Ruffles and Lipton dip mixed with generic sour cream, but it holds a special place in my heart.  And every family birthday party or gathering we had, my mom always served it as well.  It is rather amazing to remember how much chips and dip we used to eat!

Anyway, the chips were housemade and good enough, but incredibly oily.  The oil didn't taste bad, and they didn't have the too fried greasiness to them, but it was very visible to the eye.  The dip had some chunks of onion, but I didn't find it to be all that flavorful.  The dip had a strange mouthfeel to it, it coated my mouth more than I am used to, I don't think it was sour cream based.  I think I prefer my generic chips and dip, and for $5, this just wasn't really worth it.

By the way, if you are looking for an awesome onion dip recipe, I highly recommend Heidi Swanson's Caramelized Onion Dip.  It is time consuming to make, but absolutely insanely good.  How can you go wrong with caramelized onions?  And the dehydrated onion powder helps give it that classic Lipton flavor kick.  This stuff is good with chips, but also really amazing as a dip for fries or as a baked potato topping.
Duck liver, foie gras & bacon pate, spiced red pepper jelly, warm crostini $5
This however, was AWESOME.  A generous jar full of pate, topped with some pepper jelly, and served with olive oil crostini, for $5.  $5!  The regular price is only $7.  Incredible value.

The foie gras flavor wasn't very intense, I'm guessing there wasn't that much in there, but it was very flavorful, studded with bacon.  Yes, it turns out, even foie gras is better with bacon.  The bacon added a saltiness and smokiness that complimented the rich flavor of the pate so well.  Even though we were putting generous amounts of pate on the crostini, we wound up with a bunch of pate left over without any crostini to spread it on.  I briefly considered just eating it by the knifeful, but from previous visits, I knew the bartenders had a stash of focaccia that they serve with dinner, so I asked for a piece to use with our pate.  The bartender offered to get us more crostini, but we declined and said the bread would be fine.  It turns out, this was a genius move on our part - it went even better with the focaccia!  The focaccia is Acme's herb and sea salt focaccia, buttery and salty, which added even more richness and depth of flavor to the pate.

I'll definitely order this again.  And I'd seriously consider just asking for the focaccia instead of the crostini.
Foie gras torchon, citrus marmalade, firelit coffee gelèe, dulce de leche, cocao nibs, toasted brioche $12
And because we have to order every foie gras dish in sight, we also got the other foie gras preparation from the bar menu.

Served with toasted brioche, this had a fun breakfast feel to it.  Get some really awesome toast, spread it with foie gras instead of butter, add a little marmalade, and a "sip" of coffee ... cute!  Definitely a creative dish.

The torchon was incredibly creamy and smooth.  I'm not sure I've ever had it this creamy before.  Unfortunately, it didn't have that strong of a foie gras flavor to it.  It was topped with a few cocoa nibs, which provided a fun crunch and a bitterness that I enjoyed.  Also on the plate was some citrus marmalade, a few tiny drops of dulce de leche, and some coffee gelèes.  The marmalade sounded like a great compliment to the foie gras, but there wasn't that much of it, and I didn't really taste it.  Perhaps if the flavor had been stronger, or had there been more of it, I would have been able to appreciate it.  As it was, it was a throwaway component.  The tiny little drops of dulce de leche were equally useless, even though I tried really hard to scoop up a bite to feature it, as I love dulce de leche and was curious how it would pair.  The real interesting component to this dish was the coffee gelèe, not something I'd ever had paired with foie gras before (although, I've been reading about the pan seared foie gras with espresso sauce at Keiko a Nob Hill recently, which sounds amazing and like a similar flavor concept - indeed it was, see my later review).  These gelèes, although small, really packed a flavor punch, so intensely coffee flavored.  I was amazed at how much flavor even the tiniest little chuck of gelèe added.  I have no idea how they managed to infuse the flavor like that!

I am glad I tried this, (and really liked the brioche toast!), but I probably wouldn't order it again.

Dessert

Pineapple Cream Pie: Pineapple Jam, Rum Pastry Cream, Caramel Baked Pineapple, Toasted Macadamia Nuts, Cream Cheese Ice Cream  $9
My friend ordered this because he knows I'm a dessert-o-holic, and even though I was protesting getting more food at this point, he knew I'd gobble it up.  This dish was recently featured on a nationwide list of top 101 desserts, so I was excited to try it out.

This was a cute little individual round pie!  On top of the crust was a layer of sweet pineapple jam, then some pastry cream, tons of whipped cream, and some macadamias.  The crust was decent, a little buttery and flaky, but a harder style than I generally prefer.  The jam layer gave a pineapple flavor to the dish, but I didn't find it particularly interesting.  There wasn't much pastry cream at all, which was disappointing since I love it, and I didn't taste the rum flavoring.  There was however tons of whipped cream, which was well done, but, it was just whipped cream.  The macadamias added a great crunch and the pineapple and macadamia flavors paired together very well.  But overall, this was just overwhelmed by the whipped cream, which I didn't find particularly interesting.

(Caveat: I had whipped cream about every 2 hours throughout the day leading up to this, so perhaps I was just really sick of whipped cream at this point.  And no, I'm not exaggerating.  Around 9:45am, I went to get a drink out of my fridge, and saw leftover chocolate pot de cream topped with whipped cream from yesterday, and decided to just take a few bites.  Breakfast of champions!  At 11:45am, I cruised through the cafe at work to see the dessert offerings before lunch, so I could plan if I wanted to save space for them, and they were serving coconut pudding, with vanilla cake chunks, and topped with whipped cream!  I was going to take just a bite and save the rest of later, but of course, how does one resist such delicious things?  I had a bowl full.  And then, post lunch at 1:45pm, I went back and got my "real" dessert, since it was then dessert time, more coconut pudding with cake and whipped cream.  And then, at 3:45pm, it was TGIF, where they were serving, you guessed it, whipped cream!  A tea infused pound cake with whipped cream and a chocolate cherry bread pudding with whipped cream.  I of course had some of both.  Wow, just writing this I feel ridiculous.  I really did have that much dessert, and in particular, that much whipped cream today.  I know I eat a lot of dessert, but uh, that was kinda insane.  And I had several chocolates.  And frozen yogurt.  Speaking of frozen dairy treats, lets get back to this review ...)

The ice cream had a subtle cream cheese flavor to it, but it seemed like a strange side to the pie.  I'm all about pie a la mode, or ice cream sundaes with pineapple sauce and whipped cream, but a cream pie and ice cream just didn't really go together for me.  These felt like two totally different desserts, both featuring pineapple, but put together on a plate for no reason in particular.  This is similar to how I felt about the ice cream sandwich and creme brulee combo served at Boulevard.  They were two dishes, tied together in concept since they both featured the citrus fruit, but eating them together didn't really make any sense.  Perhaps I'm just not grasping the duo concept very well, as I love to combine little bits of every component on the plate, crafting up the perfect bite.

Speaking of the perfect bite.  In this dish, the perfect bite was the caramel baked pineapple, hiding under the scoop of ice cream.  Soft from being baked, with a fantastic caramelized flavor and exterior, yet intensely pineapple flavored at the same time.  Fairly simple, but absolutely fantastic and the perfect ending.  I would have been happy with just a plate full of these slices :)

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