Saturday, July 19, 2008

Chef's Kitchen

Last night, I felt like I had died and gone to culinary heaven.

I have eaten at fine restaurants. Critically acclaimed ones. And certainly I've enjoyed the dishes at these restaurants. But I have never eaten anything that completely left me speechless. Literally, I forgot the English language.

I heard about Bruno's Chef's Kitchen from my hairdresser, Annie. Martin and I have been on a hunt for a good place to have our wedding rehearsal dinner. So we decided to give Chef's Kitchen a try.

The place is hidden in a decidedly untrendy part of town -- in a small strip mall which also hosts a laundry mat, of all things. But you could tell that the place is very well taken care of -- not because it's full of shiny new things, but because it's decorated with so many little details that only somebody who loves the place would spend the time to do. There are little statues of owls, and buddha faces, large garden pots with animal tracks painted on them, walls with bright but rustic colors. We sat in a corner on the covered porch, where, above our heads, some birds have made a nice nest where a pipe met the ceiling.

I lost my speech when our appetizer, gnocchi, came. These little dumplings are clearly freshly made, and there is just the right about of bounciness in their texture to make them interesting to chew, and it takes just long enough to chew each one that you get a chance to fully examine the flavor. Many a gnocchi have died flat in my mouth. Not these ones. And these came garnished with fresh summer berries. Who does that?!?! It's so unexpected but so tasty! I'm afraid that this is the gnocchi that has ruined all gnocchi for me. After dinner, we went grocery shopping. I didn't even want to *look* at the packaged "fresh" gnocchi at the store -- and I look at the gnocchi *everytime* I go grocery shopping!

Martin got the one and only vegetarian dish, Asparagus and Porcini Pasta, garnished with happy little pink ribbons of turnips. It came in some cream/cheese sauce, though not at all overdone. Martin's usually not a fan of cream/cheese based sauce, but he ate the dish so fast that I only had a chance to taste the porcini. Of the little porcini I did eat, it was excellent. A bit on the crispy side, but very fresh.

I decided to get the Pear Sake Duck for my entree -- I figured, I owe our wedding guests to test out how the meat dishes taste. It's hard to imagine that an Italian chef could do an Asian-inspired, sake-soy duck so well. The duck is thinly sliced, cooked medium-rare. The tangy sauce breaks up the fattiness of the duck just enough that you don't feel greasy eating it at all. It's just all about the tender meat of the duck. The skin is very slightly crispy, but not burnt. I'm not a food writer and I probably shouldn't pretend to be one. But let me say this, it was *gooooood*.

The most fun part about this place is that the menu changes every week! So you never get bored! Everything is fresh and local. And, for a place that serves quite fancy and high quality food, it's shocking to see a drive-through take-out window. Apparently, you can call in orders. And, if you're a regular and Bruno and Bessie (co-owner and Bruno's wife) love you, they'll fax the current week's menu to you! Although, in this digital age, that's hardly necessary.

Bruno and Bessie has the cutest love story, too! Apparently, Bruno saw Bessie across the bar, and, never having believed at love at first sight, Bruno said to his friend that he was going to marry Bessie. Obviously, I like the story because of it's slight resemblance to Martin and my story -- if you replace "bar" with "OOPSLA '04".

You might be wondering why I haven't talked about the dessert. Well, Martin got the tiramisu and really loved it. I got creme brulee. I am very traditional in how I want my creme brulee -- I like the burnt sugar on top, and I like tapping it lightly with my spoon until I hear the crack in that layer of burnt sugar. Bruno's creme brulee, like his other dishes, is of his own creation and a bit less "traditional". There's no burnt sugar. Instead, you get a piece of almond toffee. Now, the creme part is very good -- it's sweet and creamy and not too eggy. But I can't quite get over the fact that there's no burnt sugar. Martin insisted that I declare this as a matter of personal taste -- this person clearly really enjoyed the creme brulee.