Monday, July 21, 2008

Day 21: Food Orgy (and Restaurant Review)

Yesterday was out of control. As I lay in bed last night, I could actually hear the various organs in my abdomen arguing amongst themselves. "What the hell is all this stuff?" "Is this woman insane?"

I ate at four restaurants yesterday. FOUR. That is just not right when one is not even on vacation. Even if one is entertaining out-of-town guests, it is just not right.

For lunch, we picked up Lesley and Alex at their hotel, and because they'd requested a) to see our house and b) Mexican food, I got the idea to take them to Casa de Pico. Casa de Pico can be found on the far end of the parking lot at Grossmont Center Mall. It used to be in Historic Old Town and I think they got a crane to pick it up and drop it in La Mesa, because the place looks exactly the same. Wrought-iron tables, umbrellas, fire pits, hanging plants, roving mariachis, it's all accounted for.

I had carne asada tacos for lunch (I gave Jarrah all my rice and beans, which were encased in portable taco shell bowls) which would have been fairly modest if I hadn't also eaten about two baskets of tortilla chips and a strawberry margarita the size of a fishbowl. I didn't realize I was drunk until the end of the lunch, when it became apparent that the story I'd been telling for half an hour could be heard by people in the home decor section of Target.

We lay low during the afternoon, sipping water and chatting while Jarrah slept, and then L and A suggested we meet for a drink before our dinner reservation. I agreed immediately, but later remembered I'm a cranky old woman now who can't handle more than one alcoholic beverage in a day. But I wanted it to be a special evening for L and A, so I suggested Lei Lounge, which had two distinct advantages, being right around the corner from dinner, and totally awesome.

We had no reservation, but they are very sweet and seated us at a fire pit table in the dining area even though we said we were only having drinks. My three companions ordered fancy things, and I didn't want to feel left out, so I told our stunning pony-tailed waiter, "Can you make me a super-fancy, super-froofy, fruity drink with no alcohol?" He didn't even crack a smile. Mine was the only drink served in a coconut. I think it was a pomegranate slushie, but I wouldn't swear to it. In any case, it was yummers.

Before we knew it, it was time to dash to The Farmhouse Cafe, which has received glowing reviews all over the place. We weren't quite fast enough, though, because the maitre d' (maitre dess?) widened her eyes when I gave my name and soon admitted she'd just given our table away to "some old people with canes who claimed they had a reservation." We had one, too, but there we were, chilling at the bar. The place is tiny--I'd say it has about 15 tables, crammed together in one square room, but no detail has been missed. From the wooden clothespins with their logo on the napkins, to the perfect white egg salt and pepper shakers, to the collection of wooden ducks on every surface, to the leafy wall sconces, the atmosphere is cozy and cute.

I've been to Farmhouse once before, and in addition to the the delicious food (more on that shortly) what impressed me is their eagle-eye attention to service. You will never wait for bread or water or refills, nor will you cringe from the constant interruptions of a server trying to curry your tipping favor. It's just seamless, and--though this sounds weird--kind. The noise in the room is happy and satisfied, the laughter and chit-chat of a small crowd of people who are enjoying some truly delicious food. The theme is Country French--simple preparations of very fresh ingredients, no wild gestures or elaborate fusion.

Because we had to wait, the maitre-dess plunked down a plate with the words "some house-made pate, complementary." Lesley and Alex were thrilled, but I...not so much. I've never had pate, and hence, could never actually be a restaurant critic. I had to admit the presentation was lovely. One pink-ish rectangle nestled amongst baguette toasts and a rosette of pickled vegetables. L and A pronounced it exceptional, and talked me into trying a little. I have to admit, I didn't hate it. It reminded me a bit of meatloaf that had been through the food processor. Not that any foie gras chef would be thrilled to hear that.

We started with a few appetizers--flatbread with pancetta and caramelized onions, a salad of "20 greens," fresh garlic soup, and escargot risotto. I had also never sampled escargot, but once again L and A worked me over. (Good thing they weren't pimping meth last night...who knows where their peer pressure would have taken me?) "Tastes like chicken!" I joked after my bite of snail and pesto-y rice. David said it reminded him of some of the meatier mushrooms. I have to concede that his comparison is more accurate.

For our mains, L and A shared the special of duck breast, David had the flat iron steak, and I had chicken with candied lemon peel. The servings are not crazy-big; I dispatched my chicken in a few succulent bites. It was really simple but very tasty. By then, we'd been there a couple of hours; the atmosphere is relaxed and no one rushed us. Our adorable waiter, Fabrice, came to offer us the dessert menu, but Alex told him we were going to Extraordinary Desserts and he said, "Well, I can't argue with that."

Extraordinary Desserts was mobbed, which seemed shocking at 9:30 on a Sunday. There was a long wait, so we admired their architecture (lots of metal) and their pastry case even more. Extraordinary Desserts isn't being the list bit grandiose with that name; these are the most over-the-top desserts you've ever seen. Instead of a gorgeous slice of chocolate layer cake, you have a gorgeous slice of chocolate layer cake crammed with ganache, mousse, cream, praline and nuts, topped with a bouquet of roses, peonies and daisies, plated with homemade ice cream, whipping cream, drizzles of three different fruit coulis, and a sprinkling of edible gold. And you pay dearly for this slice of cake--each one is close to ten dollars. Sharing helps, indeed, I'm not sure it's possible to finish anything there without sharing. In addition to a dozen or so kinds of cake, they have muffins, strudel, scones, danish, brownies, coffee cake, bread pudding, shortbread, and several kinds of cookies. And that's not counting the specials of the day.

They also have beautiful teas in flavors like Violet and Apricot and Bourbon Vanilla, which are served in individual pots and come with the most wicked temptation of all (at least to me): a bowl of rock candy sugar. I'm ashamed to admit I often crunch the entire bowl while others are begging for just a few rocks for their coffee.

Lesley and Alex shared the lemon praline cake, and David and I the chocolate strudel, melting inside and floating in a sea of cream. We washed it all down with several cups of tea, and I gasped when I saw the time. We fell into bed close to midnight, and I could already tell that my system had been severely taxed by the day's gluttony.

Still, it was fun to eat, and fun to write about. Maybe tomorrow I'll stick to watercress soup.

4 comments:

Caroline said...

Sounds like a wonderful day. I miss Casa de Pico so much! I don't know why I haven't made it to their new location. I ate at the restaurant that replaced it in Old Town, and it was similar, but not the same.

And, mmm, I still remember that delicious chocolate cake I had at ED this past spring on a lovely visit with you. :) Was it ten dollars? It must have been worth every penny because I don't remember the price. :)

With you on the pate and escargot. You were brave to try. :)

Melanie @ Mel, A Dramatic Mommy said...

I miss living down south. Case de
Pico rocks!

Anonymous said...

I am SO jealous. And I love pate. It's like a fancier, grown-up version of something I loved as a little girl, the liver spread which was served at the cafeteria where we went out for a family sunday lunch like once a year. I know, I'm wierd. :) Lix

The Wades said...

It's official--you can never, ever visit me. I wouldn't have a clue in the world where to take you to dine. Also, I would NEVER be able to cook for you!! Oh, I can get all shivery and ill just thinking about it--what pressure that would be. "Her brisket was tough--not unexpected considering it was precooked and sold at Sam's club. Her crescent rolls had a 'right out of the tube' flavor to them. Her Solo cups made my wine taste like freshly squeezed plastic. Barbaric conditions!"

Oh wait, do you like tator tot casserole? Maybe there is hope.