Saturday, September 24, 2011

Santceloni Part II

This is the continuation of the post above, it covers the rest of the meal.

I had just seen a video shot at Next (a restaurant in Chicago, everyone should look it up on youtube, it’s the same people who did Alinea, which you should also look up) that showed an antique duck press (see picture above) being used to create a sauce for the duck dish they were doing. Needless to say I was incredibly excited to see a duck press sitting on a table in the entrance of the restaurant. I knew as soon as I saw the press I would be ordering the duck. They brought the duck out whole and carved it on a table next to us. The breast, legs and wings were carved off and the carcass hacked into manageable pieces to fit into the time machine-esque press. The press was used to extract the blood and other juices from the duck and those juices were then mixed with a reduction sauce to make a wonderfully rich and intense sauce. The duck itself was cooked very rare, but the meat was so flavorful that I think it would have lost a little bit if it had been cooked longer. It was a little tricky to eat since it wasn’t cut for you, but I wrestled through it and had some amazing duck. 
Whole duck pre-pressing

The duck was presented in two servings, the breast and leg served with the pressed duck sauce and caramelized pears, the wings served with a simple salad. The pears worked perfectly with the saltiness of the duck sauce and the gaminess of the duck, providing a touch of burnt sweetness that lingered  after you had swallowed a perfect bite. After the first serving I was pretty full, but who am I to turn down a second helping of something delicious? Fried chicken wings meet duck wings. If some place served duck wings instead of chicken wings, I would be there every day. Such a different taste and with the layer of crispy fat that rendered duck has, it was succulent, fatty and yummy all in one. The salad was there.
Look at the sheen on the sauce, yummy bloody, fatty goodness.

Words of wisdom: anything slow braised will be good. The white veal knuckle came out as a huge piece of meat-on-bone, Flintstone sized. This was no exception to my words of wisdom, except for the fact that it was not good, but excellent. The meat was set upon a velvety potato puree (yes, a glorified mashed potato, but luscious and amazing). There was a crisp layer of skin that encased the outer layer of meat and provided a nice textural contrast. It was heavy, delicious, rich and there was so much that our table couldn’t finish everything, although we certainly tried. 
Served on a silver platter

When we first walked into the restaurant the first thing we were greeted with was a huge table packed full of cheese. It was a rectangular wooden table with at least 40 different types of cheese on it. Instead of dessert we opted for a tasting of cheeses. When we ordered the cheese, two waiters picked the table up and brought it over to serve us tableside. It was an astounding array of cheeses, but one that I was more than happy to attack. Our waiter recommended that we try a selection of cheese exclusively from Spain. He deftly picked out seven cheeses ranging from a soft cheese to manchego to a strong bleu. I alas cannot remember each and every cheese, but aside from the soft cheese and the bleu, they were fairly sharp in taste and quite similar in texture. Our favorite was the soft cheese, delicious with the quince paste (cut the saltiness of it). It was slightly sharp yet had a mild finish. The manchego was good, but I've never really been a fan of it so I wasn't as thrilled as I was with the first cheese. Now bleu cheese and I have never gotten along well. Its been harsh, overbearing and all around unpleasant to eat in anything, but I tried to put all that in the past and mend the broken fence. It was surprisingly good, and by all accounts it was quite bleu-y. Make no mistake, it tasted like a bleu cheese, but it had a fruity undertone that made it quite enjoyable and the taste dissipated quite quickly. An excellent selection, I was quite happy to have tried entirely Spanish cheeses.

Bleu cheese at 9 o'clock

At the end of the cheese course we were all ready to waddle out, but the meal wasn’t finished yet. They brought out an absurd dessert tower that had little sweet delicacies scattered all over it. They were actually quite light, and despite the fact that I was stuffed beyond stuffed, I sampled one of each. Honestly I couldn’t tell you what each thing was since there about eight different options, but they were tasty.  

Final Grade: A+, service, atmosphere, food, all were amazing. The waiters were coordinated in their movements while placing new plates, silverware and food, something I have never seen before. The food was delicious, one of the best meals of my life. Everything was refined and yet there was a certain playfulness to the whole meal that I enjoyed immensely. I was lucky enough to be part of this meal and I will forever savor the evening. 

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