Thursday, January 27, 2005

A night at Grace for tsunami relief

It was just our luck to hit Grace on the night Neal Fraser was cooking at the Sundance Film Festival. But we wanted to help the tsunami victims by stuffing ourselves, and so five of us ventured to Grace. The comfortably elegant space was quieter than usual -- perhaps Neal's usual patrons followed him to Park City. We decided everyone would get tastes of everyone else's food, so we all got to taste all 10 dishes -- all except Josh, who is a pescatarian of sorts and turned down the meatier tastes. Grace is the perfect place for him, though, because not only do they have lovely fish choices, there are several seriously vegetarian dishes. We started with crab salad, langoustines with truffle foam, foie gras two ways and tuna carpaccio.

Crab salad
The langoustines were wonderfully buttery on a bed of perfect risotto. I thought the foie gras had a few too many flavors going, between the huckleberry compote, pistachio crust with cocoa nibs, red wine gelee and cherry quince compote. Just the little pot of foie gras mousse with the red wine gelee would have been plenty to start with, actually.

Langoustines with truffle foam
For mains, we had the pink peppercorn and hemp seed crusted tofu steak (that would be Josh), the pork shank, the buffalo, the steelhead salmon and "air, land and sea" -- a cute name for beef shortribs and duck proscuitto-wrapped scallop. The tofu steak was actually quite nice, with nutty, delicate brussel sprouts on the side.

Tofu crusted with hemp seed
The pork shank was reminiscent of a Chinese pork pump -- very tender, sort of a carmelized cider glaze, and huge! Easily enough for two. I have to confess I chose it for the sides -- garlic rapini and smoked shallot and chorizo home fries -- yum! These were little browned bits of porky goodness that soaked up all the juices from the shank with a wonderful roasted finish. The buffalo was also outstanding, the salmon a bit more pedestrian. And it seemed the Air, Land and Sea had way too much going on. Generally, each dish is perfectly prepared and beautifully plated, with a fascinating selection of accompaniments -- it's just that sometimes there are a few too many nuts, fruits and spices on the plate fighting for your attention.
Perhaps John can add our wine selections, as I failed to take notes. We barely had room for dessert, but enjoyed tastes of the carmelized banana and hazelnut cake with wonderful hazelnut brittle on the side.

Banana hazelnut cake and Morning After pastries
The verdict: Still a great restaurant, but I'm not used to so much rich, decadent food. Get a salad, and share the pork shank. The back room is even quieter, if conversation is a priority. And thanks to Tara (rhymes with Sara) from Citysearch for organizing the dinner!
Grace Restaurant
7360 Beverly Blvd.