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Show me another pleasure like dinner which comes every day and lasts an hour.
Charles Maurice de Talleyrand

while dating, my husband and i used to mark every special occasion with a fancy dinner out. we’d get dressed up and go to the interesting restaurant of our choice (carefully researched with the menu pre-perused) and go indulge. as someone who usually doesn’t order drinks, appetizers or desserts on the run-of-the-mill eating out experience, i always felt so special when we ate our meals in courses, in dimly lit bistros around the city.

attempting to be healthier, save money, and spend time together, we’ve lately been trying our best to make meals at home–and on special occasions we make special dinners together at home and eat them off of our wedding china at our little dining table.

but–we still enjoy going out to eat on very special occasions. it makes me feel so urban to put on my best cocktail dresses, fix my hair and actually put on make up–wear shoes that normally sit in my closet because walking in them pinches my toes–and select the needed items into my small beaded purse. we have reservations (instead of walking down the street to our favorite curry house), sit in the bar and order drinks, and start with appetizers. and instead of sitting on the couch at 7:30 watching a movie, we are in our best outfits, sitting at the bar, and telling each other stories about the parts of our lives that we spend apart–and anxiously awaiting a delicious dinner.

this year was a tough year for us, but we still spent a few occasions out-on-the-town. we started the year with a trip to victoria with some good friends of ours, where we discovered camille’s fine west coast dining. our trip was slated for new year’s day, and so many restaurants were closed. we were so lucky that limited choices led us to one of the salads i will always remember!

i greatly enjoyed the baked camembert and spinach salad: phyllo wrapped natural pastures comox camembert, spinach, toasted pecan and grapefruit vinaigrette. i also ordered the carrot ginger cardamom soup topped with creme fresh and sweet potato frites–which was delicious and rich, but still light and spicy, and finished with a delicious blood-orange tart. though we’ve tried to re-create the salad at home, we’ve had little success. and a year later, i still scan restaurant menus to try to find something similar.

~~~

this year around the anniversary of our wedding, my husband’s family sent us a gift certificate to dine at the restaurant where he proposed, eva restaurant and wine bar. this year we even got to go twice! once in march to take advantage of the 3 courses for $30 deal with our good friends, and another time near our wedding anniversary to celebrate.  there were, as always, too, too many good choices. for our trip in march, i was torn between a chicken avgolemono, an indian-inspired chicken dish, asparagus-goat cheese-and-wild-rice crepes, and the pork with pasta. i decided to go with the crepes–which were rich and delicious. i could only eat one and shared the other. for the first course, i had the celery-root soup which was topped with hazelnuts and thyme butter,  and i had the ‘eva trio’ for dessert–meyer lemon ice cream, saffron panna cotta with watermelon-rose jelly, and a maple pot de crème with walnut praline. it was a beautiful dinner.

when we went again in september, i enjoyed a sweet corn and roasted green chile chowder as a starter and the chicken breast with sweet corn and paneer fritters with mint chutney as my entree. i finished with the estrella creamery old apple tree tomme and semolina custard baked in phyllo–with pistachios and cherry glyko, paired with castellare 2004 ‘s.niccolo’ 12 vino santo. my husband had chicken soup with tomato and saffron; pan roasted duck breast with yogurt–cilantro rice; chocolate huckleberry mousse; apricot kolach; and strawberry ice cream (with dom. de durbin 2007 beaumes de venise muscat). oh, and we split a half-bottle of delaporte, vincent 2008 sancerre ‘chavignol’. we come out happy and possibly more in love with each other every time we go. or perhaps it is the champagne. and somehow my husband always requests the table he proposed at.

~~~

for years i’ve driven, bussed, and walked by 35th street bistro without going in. i’m not really sure why–we’d entertained the idea of going in a few times but never quite found the menu quite enticing enough–or whatever else. we finally went to celebrate a brief trip home by some very good friends of ours who had just moved out-of-state. as it turns out, they usually offer a 3 course for $30 dinner–and as it turns out, the dinner is amazingly lovely.

first of all, the atmosphere of the bistro is both relaxing and urban. i felt as if i were in a cafe in paris–the kind of place where time goes out the window and one feels no pressure to hurry-up-and-eat-because-the-next-group-that-wants-your-table-is-here. so we could really enjoy the company of our friends. it was exactly the right kind of place to reconnect. it was another place that offers an amazing salad–the salade de noix d’erable–mixed greens, fresh figs, pomegranate seeds, toasted walnuts, shaved goat cheese, topped with ample vinaigrette. i also ordered the poule confit–chicken confit with caramelized garlic, polenta cake, and sauteed chard. finally, i finished with the pain perdu au noix de pecan–pecan bourbon brioche pudding–with vanilla ice cream. for $12, i enjoyed half-glasses of a wine flight as well! i will certainly be back.

~~~

rounding out my dining-out experiences of late, was a surprise dinner out with my husband to celebrate graduation from my master’s program. we’d purchased a groupon for lark months ago, and he’d been saving it for a special celebration. it was a place we’ve been wanting to try for years, but have never really gotten around to. their dinners are family-style small plates, so we ordered a few things and shared everything. i went to the restroom and when i returned not only did we have complimentary flutes of champagne, but there was a small white box on my plate, with a red bow. for some reason i thought it was a restaurant favor, but when i opened the box i found an orange citrine cocktail ring that i’d pointed out to my husband six months ago or so. he had apparently postponed the dinner waiting for the ring to come (he’d ordered several so he could pick the most-orange colored one)–and as providence would have it, the ring arrived on the day of our dinner.

and it only got better. we started with 3 cheeses and the house-made crackers and marcona almonds and marinated olives. we had dinah’s cheese-silky, luscious, bright; humboldt fog-tangy, lemony, herbal; and l’alveare-salty, crumbly, bee’s wax aged. the cheeses were served with honeycomb–which was light, and sweet, but not overly so–and delicious.

then we ordered a soup and salad. my husband loves sunchokes, so we were delighted to order the sunchoke soup with chestnuts,brown butter and duck confit. as i am a big fan of goat cheese and beets, we ordered the full circle farm baby beets, apples, herbed goat cheese and toasted walnuts.  we also had one of their nightly specials, a fresh mozzarella cheese with arugula, baby carrots, and croutons, and finished with the meyer ranch hanger steak with provencale sunchokes, and truffle sauce. the steak melted in our mouths and the sunchokes were amazing.

from there, it kept getting better–we shared a theo dark chocolate pavé with hazelnuts and salted toffee ice cream and the meyer lemon parfait kumquat preserve and meyer lemon jus. the chocolate was delicious and classic, and the meyer lemon parfait was perfectly light and refreshing after a wonderful meal.

it’s an investment for sure, but romantic dinners out and lovely dinners with good friends are well worth it–memories and new flavors coincide for a wonderful experience that can be re-savored throughout the years. and every time i wear my ring, i’ll remember the lovely evening my husband and i spent together celebrating a years of accomplishments together.

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