Grasshopper -- Bay Area Chowhound Dinner, 2001 #9
Celery kindly organized a chowhound dinner at Grashopper, on College Ave. (on the border of Oakland and Berkeley). Melanie, Jennifer, JB & Judy, Anne, Stella, Janet, and I were the lucky hounds she enticed along for this evening.
Grasshopper serves Asian-inspired "small plates" -- perfect for sharing. In addition, Grasshopper has an extensive menu of sakes, including a three-sake tasting flight. Because of this, no one brought wine this time, and the tab was a little higher than usual: $34/person.
We were seated at a long table, and the restaurant is fashionably noisy, which made general conversation difficult. I was sitting on the end, so I'm not sure who ordered what or why ... I just happily ate what was passed to me!
We started with: nibbles of fried and seasoned cashews, followed by a mizuna, tatsoi, tomato and diced avocado salad; fried calamari with lime sambal; rock shrimp and rice noodle salad; grilled yellow finn potatoes with sake soaked pearl onions; miso marinated bluenose bass with cabbage relish and tuna tataki (slices of seared rare tuna) with daikon relish.
After we inhaled these, we went had a second round of dishes including sauteed scallops with scallion pancake and ginger beurre blanc; beef ribeye grilled with miso glaze and broccoli rabe; roasted gyspy peppers stuffed with curried sticky rice; and panko fried stuffed shitake mushrooms with tofu and scallions.
We ended up tasting about 2/3 of the dishes on the menu (not including dessert -- although most of us were stuffed, we did get one order the trio of mango, lychee and passion fruit sorbets, which must not have been exciting, since they went unfinished).
The consensus (at least at my end of the table) was that only a couple of the dishes -- the tatsoi salad ("nothing special") and the stuffed peppers (the stuffing didn't meld well with the peppers) -- were mildly disappointing. Even these were well-prepared using excellent ingredients: they just suffered in comparison with the truly stellar items.
Everything was perfectly executed -- the scallops and the bass were impressively cooked just to the point of doneness and not a second more -- and the flavors really sparkled.
It was hard to pick favorites, but when asked to name a couple, the dishes people mentioned most frequently were the calamari (lightly battered, delicately fried and amazingly tender), the rock shrimp and rice noodles (with clean, bright flavors), the stuffed shitake mushrooms (a wonderful combination of flavors and textures, with the crunchy fried coating, chewy mushroom and finely minced filling creating a meaty effect -- Janet said it "tastes like chicken" (g)), and the beef ribeye (this carnivore moaned when she bit into the perfectly grilled rare meat ... the skewers ordered medium were also meltingly tender and cooked to a uniform pink inside). The secondary items on several dishes also garnered praise: the peppery broccoli rabe with the rib eye, the scallion pancake with the scallops, and the onions with the grilled potatoes.
The dished ranged from $5.75 (the calamari, a real bargain) to $7.50 (the bass and the scallops).
The sake flight was an interesting experience, but I have nothing intelligent to say about it!
As always, it was wonderful to get together with other chowhounds and talk chow. I'm looking forward to both another trip to Grasshopper and another chowhound dinner.
Thanks for the report from the Chowhound dinner. Because of the rave reviews, I tried Grasshopper myself last night. All the dishes were great, although a few didn't live up to the extremely high expectations that I had built up in my mind. My favorites were the stuffed shitake mushrooms, gypsy peppers stuffed with curried rice, and the almond flan dessert. The scallops were unbelievably good, although I only got to taste a tiny bite. I was looking forward to the grilled ribeye, which was delicious, but not heavenly as I was expecting. I also tried the grilled yellowfin potatoes (best part was the pearl onions), and was not disappointed. The peanut sauce chicken skewers were good, but nothing special. The other dessert we ordered was fruit soup with tamarind ice cream. Quite good but next time, I would go with 2 orders of the flan.
The dinner was marred by 2 tiny pet peeves. We had 4 people, and some of the dishes (scallops and ribeye) came in orders of 3 so we either had to order 2 (ribeye) or share (scallops). Next time, I'll know to get an extra order of the scallops instead of the ribeye. Also, our waitress brought us the wrong dessert - trio of sorbets instead of fruit soup. We hailed her over to point out the mistake and she whisked away the sorbet. It took several more minutes for the fruit soup to appear. We sort of hoped she would leave the sorbet for us since it had started to melt anyway. Neither of these 2 points were a big deal but they marred an almost perfect meal.
Thanks for the recommendation, Chowhounds!
Hey Yvonne, sounds like you got hit by the same thing we face going out for dim sum. Sometimes it's hard to match the number of servings on a small plate to the number of diners. Our server made a special effort to inform us of the number of pieces for each dish so that we could order the correct number of multiples to feed our table.
The gypsy peppers seemed a bit flat to me. But I felt it was an imbalance in seasoning and not a problem with the concept. Glad they got it right for you.
re: Melanie Wong
I know what you mean about the dim sum. When I go to a familiar restaurant, I'll know what's especially yummy and order extras of that dish. With Grasshopper, it was a trial run and we made some judgement errors. :)
I can understand what you mean about the gypsy peppers. I thought the rice was perfectly seasoned with a nice curry flavor, and with a slightly crunchy crust from the grill. It didn't seem to meld perfectly with the peppers, however. Speaking of dim sum, this dish reminds me a bit of the bell peppers stuffed with shrimp. Maybe the gypsy peppers need some sort of sauce to tie everything together.
I also forgot to mention another dish that night that wasn't that great. The grilled squash, asparagus, and baby bok choy was in some sort of rice vinegary marinade that left a funny aftertase. We thought we would need some veggies to balance out the meat dishes but it turned out that most of the plates were served with greens.
Thank you Ruth for doing the writeup! Thanks to everyone for joining me - definately got to try more dishes than if I'd gone alone :)
It was an enjoyable dinner, yet the noise level made it difficult to chat with anyone not seated right next to you. I don't think we had a rhyme or reason on what we ordered, just wanted to try as much as possible. And again Melanie was kind enough to handle the ordering! She's great at that.
I'm looking forward to going back, maybe trying some of their soups. And I didn't know the sorbets went unfinished - I didn't get to try the passion fruit one - oh well, next time!
Let me echo the thanks to Ruth for being the scribe for the evening, and thank you, Celery, for getting the ball rolling. It was great to hang with the East Bay chowhound crowd.
As far as those sakes, I wish we had the names of the three samples. All from the same producer representing three different styles and served cool/cold. The first was light and soft with muted flavors, the second was fruitier and almost sweet, and the last was spicy and more intensely flavored. Jennifer and I shared a flight and we both liked the middle one for sipping. The last one was interesting to taste but was too demanding and robust for my palate.