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Sunday, February 01, 2004

Quince, it is now soup.

I am not usually one to rush to the theatres on opening weekends, and have the same habit with new restaurants. I usually hang back until they have a chance to become soup.

I've been holding off going to Quince, which opened in the space that used to be the (lovingly missed) Meeting House in my neighborhood almost two months ago. I've been hearing good reviews of them in Chowhound, so I thought it's time to give them a try.

So, my dear friend Bipin and I went there last night for dinner. I, in my usual harried form, called quite late in the day for a reservation, fully expecting to be told to try my luck as walk-ins, but I was pleasantly surprised that they could seat us at 7.30 pm for dinner.

Bipin, also in his usual form, called from the freeway to tell me he was stuck in traffic and would be late. I called Quince, the obliging hostess told us to come in at 8 instead. Staying in form, Bipin called a bit later to say he might be even later than eight. Not in the mood to call back to rearrange the reservation yet again, I decided to show up on time and wait for him there.

I arrived to find the cozy room that used to be the Meeting House changed a bit. The tone is now greenish yellow, or yellowish green, perhaps, with pictures of quinces on the wall. I was surprised to be seated immediately at a table by the window. One waiter took my coat to the back, while another arrived to ask if I wanted water, without skipping a beat. Promising signs, no?

Bipin finally arrived, fashionably late, ready for dinner. Going out to dinner with Bipin is a bit of a challenge, as he is what I call “Chicketarian”. The only meat he eats is chicken, and nothing else. But he is a dear friend and I am more than happy to put up with it. Some restaurants simply can't deal with that and sometimes get all snide and nasty about it when we ask to be accommodated. The waiter at Quince was, on the contrary, very sweet and helpful, and even suggested that he could ask the chef to do a pasta dish with cheese alone for the second course.

We decided to start with a salad of local radicchios with pork belly braised in Vin Santo with hazelnuts (for me) and the French pumpkin soup with pistachio butter (for him). For a second course, we decided against bothering the kitchen with an off menu dish and settled on a wild nettle Sformato each. The main courses were oxtail braised with clove for me, and a ballotine of Hoffman Farm chicken with celery root and yams for Bipin.

I was pretty happy with my salad. The radicchios were crisp and well dressed, the hazelnut provided a lovely crunch and the slices of pork belly quite tasty. The small issue I had with that salad was with the pork belly, which, though tasty, was all fat, lacking a good balance of fat and meat, and looked oddly pale. Bipin seemed quite happy with his soup, though I myself found it slightly under-salted.

The nettle Sformato was quite interesting, a soufflé-ish dish of puree wild nettle. It was tasty and something of a specialty of the house. It was pretty good, but now that I've had it I'm not sure if I would be compelled to order it again.

I was extremely happy with the main dish. The braised oxtail in red wine and clove was very flavorful, and ever so tender. A perfect dish for this weather. The ballotine of chicken was also very nice, tasty and beautifully presented. We both had very little problem doing away with them at an astonishing speed.

The waiter suggested a nice and inoffensive red wine to accompany our dinner. It must have been quite inoffensive, as I am drawing a complete blank on how it tasted.

For dessert, we shared a hazelnut cake with candied kumquats and blood orange sorbets with citron and zaletti. The hazelnut cake was nice, if a bit on a dry side, and the sorbet divine. I had a glass of 1999 Rieussec Sauternes with my dessert. The sauterne was great, if perhaps a bit overwhelming for the sorbet.

The bill came to be about $70, each, sans gratuit. A bit on the high side, I suppose, but worth it. I would go back again because of the oxtail alone, but added to that the very pleasant room and attentive service, Quince has proven itself to be soup, entirely worthy of another visit. I also have to go back to try some things on the second course menu, which this time I skipped entirely to accommodate my friend.


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