Saturday, July 5, 2008

Stage Left and My Birthday

So, as I mentioned before, it was my birthday last week. To honor my birth, I invited a few friends to come to a restaurant in New Brunswick with me - a restaurant I had been wanting to go to for a while actually, Stage Left. I had heard really good things about it from everyone who had eaten there and a few people I knew in cooking school had actually gone to work there once they finished. Being that it's on the pricey side, I figured it would be a good birthday-dinner celebration location, although I clearly have no issue with dropping some hard-earned monies on dinner, provided it's good, for no legitimate occasion at all. In addition, I figured it was a good place to bring a few people who are maybe not so, how shall we say it nicely, quick to try new foods? Stage Left has a whole section of the menu that's a la carte, where you can choose a meat (that's what she said) and your sides, so I thought this would go over well with the more selective eaters.

Thus, donning our fanciest* clothing, BW, PW, NC, DC, MC, CC, BMG, and I ventured to dinner on a Friday night. We were seated right away (I had made a reservation using Open Table about a month beforehand) at a giant round table in the back corner - were they trying to tell us something? We ordered two bottles of wine (7 of us were drinking) and the sommelier very nicely brought us 14 glasses so we could all try both wines, also without making any comment about us all being lushes! The restaurant wasn't too busy, so we were able to order relatively quickly, I guess it was fair, based on the size of our party and the amount of time it took us (well, really only me) to decide what we wanted to eat.

Some of decided to order some starters, here they are:

Grilled Foie Gras (yes, I know some people may get pissy at me about it, I certainly won't fault you your opinion, you can do what you want - that said, it was delicious). It came with some kind of delicious French Toast-like thing:

Scallops - this was my appetizer and it was sooooooo good. The scallops came with a balsamic vinegar reduction and Jersey peaches. Wow. Delicious. The peaches were a little tart, with the sweet scallops and the even sweeter balsamic reduction (which I'm honestly not a big fan of), all the flavors worked very nicely together. I will definitely make this for Ed when he comes over for dinner in the near future!

Beet Salad - I only tried a piece of beet from this, but it was nowhere NEAR as good as the beet salad at Fork. I'm sorry, it just wasn't. Nothing will ever be.

(Crunchy) Market Salad - PW will only eat salad if it involves lots of crunchy things. Which this salad had in abundance. It allegedly had a nice, light dressing, too, I was too engrossed in my scallops to taste it. According to the menu, it was a Banyuls Vinaigrette

(And, yes, BW and I did comment on how ridiculous the size of the various plates were. I mean, I had two scallops on a giant plate, while the Foie Gras was wedged onto the smallest plate ever. This was, as you will soon see, a continuing theme throughout the evening).

I think it took a little bit of time to get our mains after we were finished with out starters, I'm not really sure, though. We were all merrily drinking and talking, so, really, it didn't matter how long. Well, maybe it mattered to the people who didn't order something to start, but, no one complained. Here are some of the main courses (again with the inexplicably giant plates):

Coffee Coriander crusted Wild Boar with sweet potato puree, fava beans, and some kind of mushroom that I can't remember. This was my dinner and it was awesome. I loved how the wild boar (the meat had a delicious, smoky, RICH flavor) came with the giant bone sticking out and I loved the coffee crust. I didn't really taste the coriander, but I was OK with that, the coffee crust was good enough for me. I think the dish was a little rich to be on a summer food menu, but it was cold enough in the restaurant to pretend it was colder outside, plus, clearly I ordered it, so I shouldn't really say anything at all.

Duck - a few people got the duck, it had some duck breast and also confit. Both were awesome, perfectly cooked, not inexplicably salty, and very, very tasty.

Steak - this was one of the "from PW's burning grill" items, a flat-iron steak with the "Apple Jack Spiked Cinnamon Apple" sauce and some asparagus. It looked good. I didn't try it, though.

Fish (halibut, maybe?) with some sides...I'm sorry. The only thing I tried was the pea and mint puree (green smear on the plate), which I thought would be really good, but instead had an overpoweringly smoky flavor.

Salmon - again from the wood-burning grill, with a delicious side, pictured next...

Creamed Spinach - oh yum. I love creamed spinach. Like more than a person should love a food, and this was really, really good. So creamy and spinach-y. Oh, I want you now, creamed spinach...I want your delicious green goodness.

Now, after dinner, we were pretty full, I'm not going to lie. But, it was my birthday, MOFOs, we HAD to get dessert...right?

Giant Coffee - some people only ordered coffee, and what a coffee it was. A nice 16 fluid ounce mug of the addictive brown liquid. I think the mug was the size on DC's head.

Chocolate-thing with Milk - clearly this was BMG's dessert. That ho loves his chocolate desserts with milk, what can I say? It looked really good, I didn't have any, you'll see why in a second.

Ice Cream and Sorbet - again, why did they cram seven different sorbets and ice creams in little ramekins onto such a small plate (look at that last's practically falling off the edge, there)? They could have used one of the giant square ones they had been putting food on all night. The only one of these I tried was the lemon sorbet, which was deliciously, mouth-puckeringly tart. Perhaps a tad too un-sweet for most, but not for me...

NC and I decided to order the cheese plate for dessert, which, on the dessert menu, give you the choice of for one, or to add a person at a reduced cost. We figured, after our experience with wimpy cheese-tastings at other New Brunswick restaurants, we would get the tasting for, yeah, big mistake:

I will say, though, that it was a great!!!! selection of cheese, varied and all good. The cheese-sommelier (what are they actually called?) was quite knowledgeable about the cheeses, as well, although, I was pretty much done after the wine, so I didn't' really pay attention to what he was saying. Unfortunately, I couldn't even finish half of the cheese (thanks to BW, it looked like I made a dent in it by the end of the night), because of this:

The chef was also nice enough to send out a delcious birthday treat for me, despite the fact that I had also ordered the cheese. I guess the attentive waiters and waitresses had overheard me loudly shouting in a drunken stupor that it was my birthday and had informed the chef. Very nice of them. And, the brûlée was delcious...exactly what crème brûlée should be - creamy, vanilla, sugary crusty-topped custard goodness.

Birthday Crème Brûlée

Overall, I loved the meal. I could have done without the weird too-small plates and the fact that all the food came out to us with assorted sauces smeared all over the plates. Honestly, if I were the chef, I'd be pissed the servers apparently did some type of calisthenics while holding the freshly sauced plates, to encourage the beautiful arty craftsmanship that is the sauce to spill haphazardly across the plate. But that's just me as the chef. Me as the patron? Didn't bother me too much. The food was too tasty. I would definitely go back and highly recommend it to anyone who has the time and money to head out for a nice dinner on a Friday or Saturday night. It's not for everyday, and may actually be better in the colder months, based on the meat and root vegetable-centric menu, but I'm not sorry I went. No, you know what, it was definitely better than that. I really enjoyed it. I think it's in the top ten meals I've had out ever. Until I get to travel to Napa Valley to eat at The French Laundry. And to New York to eat at Peasant. And to a number of other restaurants I have yet to visit and can't remember right now.

Now, after this, we should have gone home, we had closed down the restaurant and dropped a fair amount of cash (and thanks to all of my incredible dining companions, again, for buying me my birthday dinner...I appreciate it so, so much...I was so happy you all could come celebrate with me!), but, we decided to grab a glass of wine at Daryl Wind Bar before heading home. As I found out at 5 am the next morning, that was the fateful mistake. But, enough about that...moving on.

The next day, I had a few people over to play Wii, eat salted meats, and become a party to my general merriment and debauchery. Unfortunately the mood was dampened by my computer malfunctioning, blue screen-ing, then not working. FFFFF you, Dell. F.

Broken Computer (yes, this is the same one I just wrote about)

But, as you know, two of the best ways to cheer me up? TablesKaping and MEAT!
The SKape:

The key items of a traditional sKape are clearly visible, a lemon and a really poor, artist's rendering of Rachael Ray. I think we actually added a few bottle of llllllliquor to the sKape by the end of the evening. As we all know, Aunt Sandy wouldn't have it any other way. Also pictured, my phone, Buzz Lightyear, a Hello Kitty doll (referenced here), and a Hello Kitty coloring/activity book.** Yes, the book is mine, not a small child's. Leave me alone.


This is pretty much self-explanatory. Prosciutto, salammi, sopressata...

And that was my birthday. Filled with wine, meats, desserts, and most importantly, cheeses. Well, maybe I should say instead, my awesome friends.

*By fancy, I mean not the usual scrubby clothes I wear to the lab.
**Which reminds me, I need to buy some crayons

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