aquitaine, armani cafe, azure (long)
had a series of birthday meals this weekend and thought i'd report on them.
**dinner at aquitaine:
highly enjoyable meal, with no misses and hardly any near-misses.
*mussels - perfectly tender mussels (not one of them rubbery). well-cleaned; no grittiness at all. fantastic sancerre/shallots/thyme broth, with the slightest touch of cream (i think).
*frisee + lardon salad - delicate and flavorful sherry vinaigrette. nicely poached egg - although it was cold, which was strange.
*cheese plate - not sure if credit should actually go to formaggio for this one. in any case, three good cow's milk cheeses (one bleu, two brie-like) with a fig torte and sweet apple / raisin toast. skeptical of the toast at first, but it complemented the cheeses very well.
*duck ravioli - had a taste of this. nice pieces of shredded duck inside a well made ravioli pasta in a foie gras / white truffle oil sauce. seemed as if the sauce flavors were a bit indistinct, but i'd try it again.
*duck breast w/ duck confit - had several tastes of this. very tender meat with strong ducky flavor. very good.
*lemon sole - had one bite. well-executed dish, but mildly flavored for my taste. then again, someone else might just call that "subtle."
*steak frites - my dish, and good god, could i eat ten of these. asked for medium rare, got medium rare -- exactly. indescribably awesome meat juice / black truffle vinaigrette, by turns deeply savory and just lightly acidic. great frites, and a crisp shallot / watercress salad on the side.
*warm chocolate pudding cake with vanilla bean ice cream, apple tart, and strawberry / champagne sorbet - cake was good but not exceptional; had the apple tart before at brunch and like it very much; sorbet was delightfully light, actual champagne flavor a little hard to pick out, but not a big deal.
service was good. didn't notice the wine that the rest of the table drank, but they liked it. had myself a sam smith nut brown ale. great beer, and brewery.
**lunch at armani cafe:
i have to confess that i kind of want to not like this place because the crowd usually puts me off, but ate there for the first time and was mostly pleasantly surprised.
had the fries with the garlic, olive oil, parsley and parmesan - very easy to down a plate of these if you aren't paying attention. undersalted, but otherwise good.
also had the fettucine bolognese. contrary to the fries, it came out with too much salt. nevertheless, a pretty solid bolognese with beef, veal and pancetta, at a reasonable portion size for $16. i'd get it again.
service was a little spotty. we were awkwardly seated (a function of poor spatial reasoning), and our waitress seemed to be having a hectic day. not unpleasant, just noticeable. one point of grievance though - i ordered a dark and stormy from their bar menu and it came prestirred and in an old-fashioned glass, not a collins. it also didn't taste very good.
**dinner at azure:
we came here because SO knows that i am absolutely in love with the adjacent city bar's infused bourbon (maker's mark with carmalized turkish figs, chinese cinnamon, and vanilla bean). incidentally, i grabbed a card on the way out which seems to indicate that the infusions are available to order online.
*roasted beet gratin - tasty red and yellow beats with a crumbled hazelnut coat and a fontina fondue / gratin. the fondue was thin, and the fontina didn't stand up enough to the intense beetiness, but i caught enough hints of its taste.
*chevre fritter salad - round, substantially sized chevre hush puppy (think typical crab cake dimensions) next to endive and sweet roasted figs, with a subtle meyer lemon vinaigrette. all comes together really nicely in the mouth.
*ancho-rubbed skirt steak - with sweet potato gratin, wilted spinach, onion rings and a rum sauce. good quality steak, cooked to order (medium rare). slightly bland sweet potatoes perked up a bit when combined with the sauce and the meat. lightly fried, crisp onion rings were good. i generally don't care for wilted spinach, but it seemed fine. the whole thing seemed vaguely familiar, and i only realized hours later that columbus cafe offers a very similar dish (except with garlic spinach, whipped potatoes, and chimichurri).
*trout with something and something - just about sums up SO's dish. i remember liking this but it clearly wasn't incredibly memorable. i think one of the somethings was a tomato / avocado relish.
service was friendly and casual, but very professional. the hostess initially reported us as missing for our opentable reservation, but it seems to have been rectified. no big deal.
Citi-Bar's infused bourbon is indeed awesome. I heard a rumor that it's also available at Brix, but I keep forgetting to look for it when I go in.
Incidentally, Armani Cafe is owned/operated by the Aquitaine Group, and much better since they took it over, though I still think it's their weakest outlet. They also own the two Aquitaines, Union Bar & Grill, and Metropolis, and are at work on another place in the old Rebecca's on Harrison Ave.