Friday, December 23, 2011

Lovefest 2011!

If there’s a recurring theme in my writings (other than food), it has to be the sharing of a meal around a communal table and how it brings people together in a very special way.

Last night, a group of our good, long-time friends got together because, by some miracle, we were all in town at the same time. We were all excited to get around a table to share some food and some memories.

Another part of the excitement was the place we planned on meeting. A new restaurant headed up by Chef Tamara Murphy called Terra Plata.

Seattlites dined on Chef Murphy’s food for several years at the now-defunct Brasa.
Well, those who loved Brasa should be very happy indeed that she is back.

There were about 15 of us (my mind is blurred, you see, from the fabulous food and drink, as well as the late night and the early morning that followed) seated around a long table in the middle of the room.

Our hostess and event organizer, our friend Sheila, had ordered several appetizers for us to munch while everyone arrived and got settled.

I had done a little research beforehand, so I was very excited to be able to dive in as soon as I got there.

On the table were plates of delicate potato chips, waffle-cut on a mandolin so they were thin and crisp. Sprinkled with truffle salt, they were mouth-wateringly good. At this moment, I am weeping because I don’t have a bucket of them next to me while I write. I barely got to the lovely, slightly tangy pecorino-chive cream that came with them because the chips were so delicious on their own.

Also waiting for us were some gorgeous cappelletti (stuffed pasta that look like little hats) stuffed with local winter squash and served very traditionally with hazelnuts and browned sage butter. The pasta was tender and the squash filling light and creamy. I couldn’t stop eating them.

To my left on the table was a bowl of mussels, which I didn’t give a second glance. I’m not much of a shellfish person. I have texture issues and mussels and clams in particular tend to be chewy, which, frankly, makes me want to gag.

However, after handing a few over to my partner, who loves them, and listening to someone who doesn’t like mussels say they liked these, I decided to try one. And it was good. Apparently the reason I haven’t liked them in the past is that they have been criminally overcooked.

These mussels were cooked perfectly, were tender and almost melted in my mouth. The broth was savory and subtly flavored and went to very good use as a dunking liquid for stray pieces of bread. :o) So maybe I’ll try them again someday.

The star of the starters, for me, anyway, was the roasted grapes, olives and walnuts served with a small wedge of bleu cheese. It was a surprising and heavenly blend of salty, sweet, smoky and bitter. I could have eaten a plate of that all by myself.

Thankfully, however, I did not do that. Because there were more wonders ahead!

Roasted potatoes with a gorgeously fresh-tasting remoulade. The tender potatoes and wonderfully eggy sauce made me wiggle with glee and roll my eyes heavenward. I nearly stole the ramekin of sauce. The only thing stopping me was that I didn’t have a spoon handy with which to eat the remoulade directly from the dish.

There were the roasted heirloom carrots that were just warmed through, retaining their delightful crunch. That plate of carrots was just gorgeous…they looked like they’d just been pulled out of the ground, washed, roasted and rushed to our table.

The one thing I couldn’t get myself to try was the marinated beets. But the beet-lovers near me said they were delicious. I will take their word for it. I’m not quite ready to try beets again. The presentation was striking though, with pale white ribbons of ricotta salata snaking their way over the top.

When it came time to order entrees, I was already pretty full, so I decided to go with one of the starters. How could I not when it’s country pork pate? Chef Murphy is very dedicated to her pork products, her roast pig is legendary, so how could I pass up the opportunity to have a rustic pork pate at her establishment?

I was not disappointed. It was everything I hoped it would be and more. This was a pate made with love. Served with the traditional cornichons, plus some sweet red pepper, some tiny olives and two kinds of mustard, it was an incredible plate of earthy, snacky goodness. It was lovely with the Graves Cellars ’06 Syrah that was being poured at the table.

A diner across from me had the lamb sirloin, which she very graciously shared with me. It was perfectly cooked, tender and succulent. I missed getting to taste the duck, so I’ll have to go back another time to try that one. There were quite a few of our party that had the water buffalo burger and a couple that had the tuna. Everyone was very pleased and satisfied with their meals. I didn’t hear from the burger eaters (they were on the other end of the table), but the tuna eaters said it was fabulous.

There were glasses of bubbly and red wine passed around the table, all of them very tasty. And then there were the cocktails. I got to taste the Pearsephone and the Blood Orange Martini. Both very nice drinks, though the martini was a little more grapefruity than blood orangey to me. But kudos to the establishment for the use of a local spirit, Dry Fly Gin, in the drink.

I had the Monk’s Robe, a concoction of Woodford Reserve bourbon, prosecco, Benedictine and fernet branca (an aromatic bitter liquor often served as a digestif). It was a very interesting cocktail and I would love to try it again with a clean palate so that I can try to ferret out the different flavors. I love a good bourbon, so I will definitely have that again.

And then there was dessert. Oh my. Dessert.

I had the chocolate hazelnut terrine with the cardamom crème anglaise. Oh, dear GODS, was it good! Surprisingly light and fluffy (unlike some I’ve had in the past), a phenomenal bite of chocolate with a little crunch of hazelnut, a hit of extra flavor thanks to the sprinkling of salt across the top. It was airy and rich at the same time, so amazingly flavorful (I love a little salt with my chocolate)…it just knocked my socks off. It’s a simple dish, but really phenomenal.

In and amongst all of this wonderful food was the unsurpassed company of so many friends I call family. And some new friends as well.

What could be more satisfying to both body and soul than an incredible meal with so many loved ones?

And soul is certainly abundant at Terra Plata. Chef Murphy and the whole crew are obviously laying their souls bare on plate after plate, night after night.

Really. You should go. It’s a beautiful room in which you can eat beautiful food.

Next time, a holiday recap. Until then, thanks for stopping by. Happy Holidays, everyone! Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Blessed Yule!