My 40th Birthday – Part 1 The Dinner

While I’d like to think that my 40th birthday was a nice low-key thing (as my 10th anniversary being married to  J is next year and boy are we celebrating!), it ended up being a big awesome weekend o’fun.  It was so awesome that I am writing a multi-post review of the weekend.

So on my actual birthday (May 11th), I spent the day cleaning and cooking for my birthday open house that Sunday.  I met up with J in SF at Barbacco for a drink.  Our friend Belissima works there and we had her choose us a festive bubbly to ring in my birthday.   After our drinks we told Belissima that we were headed to Claudine  for dinner.  We have a history with Claudine, a restaurant we’ve never been to.  You see, the chef de cuisine Caleb Jones used to cook at one of our neighborhood haunts.  We LOOVED his food and called him the “pork king” for his way with the pig.  When Caleb left the restaurant, we hoping that he could land a senior position somewhere that could give him the freedom to cook his stuff.   One night we had a sumptious meal at Claudine’s sister restaurant Gitane with Belissima and we found out that Caleb was chef de cuisine at Claudine.   Since then, we were dying to hit Claudine but trekking over the Bay Bridge into the city can be challenging.

Finally, J decided to take me to Claudine for my birthday.  When we told Belissima about she offered to call them.  We pooh-poohed saying he had a reservation but she insisted on “calling them.”  And call them she did.

So we got a WARM welcome from everyone once we got there starting with the wine director.   Talking with our server, we wanted to hit all the high notes on the menu so we “ordered” the crudo appetizer (I cannot pass by an impeccably prepared piece of fish) and the famous meatball and fregola soup with the option of getting the chicken liver mousse (we’ve had Caleb’s mousse before and it’s divine).

The crudo comes and while we have said we were sharing the appetizers, we get a serving each.  It’s exactly spring on a plate – perfect piieces of fish with citrus, microgreens and a fresh fruit olive oil.  The soup comes and it lives up to the hype.  Not to gush, but it tastes like it’s supposed to.  There’s a hearty yet simple flavor to the broth and there’s a warm but not heavy meatiness to the meatballs.  Everything just works.  It’s perfect when you are sick in bed.

Without asking us, they serve up the chicken liver mousse which is as good as I remember (if not improved by the strawberry-brandy jam).  Holy cow it’s perfect.  At this point we see Belissima’s hands all over this.  We KNOW she’s gave a friendly admonition to treat us right.  At this point we get a visit from the general manager of Gitane who wanted to wish me a happy birthday. WOW!  And at this point we get a SPECIAL COURSE MADE JUST FOR US.  WHAT WHAT????? Now THAT’S a 40th birthday present.  The dish was squash blossom pakoras on top of a shaved asparagus salad and a cold poached egg.  I know that cold poached egg sounds gross but really it just melted into the salad to make a luxurious vinaigrette.  We got envious comments from the staff about our SPECIAL COURSE.

And finally the entrees.   We shared the farro risotto with nettles and the roast chicken.  While the roast chicken was perfectly cooked (REALLY MOIST AND TENDER), the risotto was OUT OF THIS WORLD.  For those of you expecting a more creamy, saucy risotto, you might be disappointed.  This was drier.  But the flavor was out of this world.  It was wonderfully complex with a nice aroma of lemon zest to balance the savory farro.

J and I were contemplating our full bellies and decided not to get dessert but alas (HAH!) the choice was not ours.  We got a panna cotta with candied fennel and strawberries to share as a dessert.  Now we knew the panna cotta was going to be out of this world (and it WAS) but the candied fennel was AMAZING.   The fennel was not candied to the point where it was cloying but enough to soften it and take away the acrid bite.  What was left was a aftertaste of anise.

One treat among the many treats of the night was actually getting a visit from the notoriously shy Caleb.  It was really nice to talk to the guy who gave us so many memorable meals.  And the whole evening was a wonderful way to enter the 5th decade of my life.

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