George Morrone in Lalime's
My wife and I just completed an amazing 2 and 1/2 hour experience tonight at Lalime's. Normally, we try not to eat out on Sundays, as usually the first string chef is taking a well-deserved break, but we hadn't gone to Lalime's for a while and wanted to eat well and check out the re-modeling. We ordered Caesar salad ($10), lobster cake($16), foie gras two ways($18), fried sweetbreads($14), and swordfish with scampi sauce($28). (I know, I know, a megadose of low density lipoproteins). We arranged with the waiter to serve the dishes as a tasting menu, and I asked for his recommendations for wines for the different dishes. Since the dishes were so disparate, he advised me to order 1/2 glasses for a couple of the dishes. My wife drinks red wine with EVERYTHING, so he recommended a Pinot Noir($9.50/glass, two glasses ordered).
We knew immediately that Lalime's had changed when we were offered an amuse-bouche of a small cup of cauliflower soup flavored with Roquefort cheese. The soup was a smooth, creamy blend of roasted cauliflower and that slightly salty umami of Roquefort. I would have licked the bottom of the cup, but my tongue wasn't long enough.
Our order of Caesar salad was divided for us, and each of us got a nice, mildly salty anchovy filet to taste and to blend into the salad as we pleased. The lobster cake came with tiny mounds of Satsuma tangerine sections and lightly dressed fennel shavings and lettuce, on a long rectangular plate with the yellow curry aioli as a long, bright orange smear. The lobster cake was smaller than a softball but bigger than a baseball, and was composed of 90% of moist, tasty lobster meat, and deep fried in, I guess, a panko coating. We rolled portions of the lobster cake against the aioli, and the curry added just the right amount of spiciness. The waiter's (Aaron) recommendation of the 1/2 glass of Northern Italian riesling ($4.50) paired superbly with the lobster, it's very slight sweetness bringing out the lobster's sweetness. The generous portion of sweetbreads, a special of the day, was rich, but well offset by the tart sauce of lemon, blood orange sections, and capers. While we were eating, my spouse noticed a chef frequently coming out from the kitchen, and watching the diners eat their meals. She noted he seemed very proprietary about the diners' reactions.
Well, since it was our plan to make this is a tasting menu (I taste 80%, and my spouse tastes 20%), the foie gras two ways came next. Aaron suggested I drink the same Sauterne ($9)which was used in the foie gras/sauterne mousse, and the sweet wine, typically ordered for dessert, paired very well indeed. Toasted baguette slices were provided, and I spread the mousse on the slices. Since this is the first time I've had foie gras, I'd compare the mousse to combining butter, duck liver, beef bone marrow, and the fat from Chinese whole roasted pig into a silky smooth oneness. The other foie gras was deep-fried in a gingersnap crust and placed on top of a small puff pastry. The richness countered by the raspberry reduction. Everything on the plate was finished, including the four raspberries with julienned mint leaves.
The swordfish was from Hawaii, and was both firm and succulent. The small laughing bird shrimp served on top of the grilled swordfish both sweetened and enriched the fish. I had an excellent 1/2 glass of Bourgogne Aligote ($4.50), again Aaron's recommendation. After the swordfish was presented, the chef came to our table and provided a perfect serving of small green beans, sprinkled with toasted, finely chopped Macadamia nuts. He introduced himself as George, and we complimented him on the dishes. He said he knew that we enjoyed the food, from the way we had cleaned our plates.
After eating all that rich food, we were amazed to discover that we could order and share a dessert, the vanilla flan($8). We're glad we did, as the flan with caramel syrup was topped by a piece of hard caramel which was salty, topped by a thin gold leaf, and accompanied a spoonful of slightly tart, frothy creme fraiche. Underneath the creme fraiche was a tiny lacework of caramelized sugar. Lastly, a Madeleine cookie was on the plate. So the dessert offered salty, sweet, sour, creamy, and crunchy to end the meal.
I think we were able to walk away from the restaurant because we exercised tremendous restraint in not eating the complementary chocolate truffles, and taking the truffles home.
In addition to the food and the high service level of our waiter, the entire staff was very courteous and efficient. The re-modeling has brightened the entire restaurant. Our total bill, absent the tip, was $145. It was a bargain at that price to get George Morrone's creative cooking (along with his focus and attention), the excellent service, in a well-designed space.
1329 Gilman, Berkeley, CA 94706
3 months after the last posting, and we had a great, lovely, Berkeley time. It reminded me of what I want to remember about Berkeley restaurants. After the amuse-soupe of broccoli and peccorino, we split the warm olives, the pear/roquefort/treviso salad, the jumbo asparagus with a very custardy aioli and a lemon/onion.orange sauce that we had to use our bread for...., lobster cake (eh), scallops (decent), a sort of a farro, with lots of artichoke and lemon cream, and the wonderful carrots. Blah note was the strawberry souffle. Perked up with the maracons. All in all, very satisfying. Silly that it is not always like this - the hot food was actually hot. So remarkable to be surprised.... A perfect chianti as well, the poggiapiano, and at $75 per person, it was a deal and a real pleasure.
1329 Gilman, Berkeley, CA 94706