How good it was (or, "You’re an animal, Hugh…")

October 19, 2007

I did say I would kiss and tell — but please don’t mistake the number of days it’s taken me to share the details as any sign of dissatisfaction or want. Because it was a magical night at the five and dime. The kind that happens once every 3 or 4 trips to the eatery; the kind that leaves you wondering how one chef can create what you just ate, and not be superhuman.

The night commenced with our meeting friends John and Maryfrances at our table in the preferred porch room, at 5:30 (as a birthday bonus, we ended up with our favorite server as well). Why so early — you might wonder. Well, my very favorite thing about my very favorite restaurant is the prixe fixe menu. This is genius (and not a new idea): if you make a reservation between 5:30 and 6:00 pm at Five & Ten, you can pay $24 for a fixed menu, complete with appetizer, entrée, and desert. The beauty of this (for the consumer) lies in the fact that, most times, the prixe fixe menu contains one (or more) of the night’s specials — which, for an entrée, can cost upwards of $20 on its own. This is a STEAL.

We have two different plans of attack when partaking of the prixe fixe: 1) if we like the looks of both menus, we each order one, and share, or 2) if we only really like the look of one menu, we order it, then supplement with an additional appetizer or two. The night’s menus both looked wonderful:

Menu A

  1. spicy squid and carrot salad with scallion, red chile, and orange vinaigrette
  2. crisp artichoke and wild mushroom risotto with local arugula, leek crema, and shaved parmesan
  3. date and goat cheese streudel

Menu B

  1. sweet onion, country ham, and marisa tart with herb salad and lemon cream
  2. grilled CAB deckle steak with aged cheddar grits, sauteed spinach, and roasted tomato vinaigrette
  3. pumpkin squash cheesecake with spiced cream and golden raisins

Now I must also mention the other entrée, because a small debate ensued as to which main course was superior. The risotto was surprisingly wonderful. I am oftentimes disappointed with risottos at restaurants, as their name usually holds a promise that the dish itself does not fulfill. I frequently grow tired of them before I can get through the enormous bowlfull. But this risotto was unique in a number of ways: it was a smaller portion, served not in a bowl but on an elongated plate. It was also packed with the modifying ingredients, almost to the point where the arborio rice took on a supporting rather than starring role. This pleased me. The artichokes were truly crisp — perhaps deep-fried? which gave them a truly unique texture, one they should sport more often. And with arugula and leek crema — what’s not to like? BUT — the entrées were so different, it’s almost impossible to compare them — if I was threatened with a mouthful of cilantro and asked to pick one to eat again, I’d go with the steak. ADOTW (Any Day Of The Week).

Last but not least, the dessert — also a surprise which one won. I have made pumpkin cheesecake before, and ordered it at restaurants. And, as big a fan of pumpkin as I claim to be, I have always been disappointed. It boils down to the fact that, when I see the piece of cheesecake, it registers in my mind as “pumpkin pie” and so I’m thrown off by the cheesecake. I haven’t been able to stop this from happening. So it could have been the presentation alone that caused this dessert to knock my socks off — it was a round piece, topped with a nice, thick slather of the spiced cream. Didn’t look at all like a piece of thanksgiving pie, so my meager mind was fooled. With our token decaf americano to wash it down, we were left begging Maryfrances for the part of hers that she didn’t eat. She graciously granted our wish, and watched us fight for the last bite. Oh, to make that cheesecake and give a piece to everyone I love.

So, yes, it was a good night. I’d recommend for all locals to get there and get some, but I think it took me so long to write this that the menu has already changed. Go anyway. With the flavors of the fall in play, it can’t disappoint.

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