Monday, January 02, 2012

Dining Out: Celebrating New Year's Eve at Mission Beach Cafe

For New Year's eve cubes and I had dinner at Mission Beach Cafe. They offered a special five-course dinner. I chose Mission Beach Cafe for dinner, because 1) the great food, 2) the friendly staff, and 3) it's where cubes and I celebrated our first new year's as a couple.

We dine at Mission Beach Cafe a lot as they regularly serve up food (and desserts) that satisfy my pregnancy cravings. In late summer, early autumn, I devoured their gazpacho - made with pickles in place of cucumbers. Then I fell in love with their bean soup. Now, I'm loving their winter squash soup, which I had just this past Thursday. Of course, there's the given that I'll end my meal with Sour Cherry Pie. The only decision is whether I'll be taking two slices to go or eating one in the restaurant. (Sometimes I've so overindulged on the food that I've left no room for dessert.) A not so subtle hint to any friends reading - Mission Beach Cafe would be an awesome place for my baby shower; they do special occasion lunches and dinners for up to 18 people. Whenever we go to Mission Beach Cafe, we have very high expectations, new year's eve was no different.


For most of the courses, there were two options - one being vegetarian. cubes and I ordered something different for each. Overall, my top three favorite courses were: Dungeness Crab Cake (Second Course), Braised Lamb Leg (Third Course) and Red Velvet Gateau with Sweet Cheese Mousse (Fifth Course) (pictured in the collage above from top to bottom). More full-size photos from the rest of the dinner are up on Flickr.

The meal started with a toast of Gloria Ferrer champagne and an Amuse Bouche - oyster with caviar. (I can't wait until I can have oysters and caviar again.) cubes benefited from this restriction, getting two amazing mouthfuls. Jeff created a wine pairing for cubes' meal (Navarro Sauvignon Blanc for the first course, Brophy-Clark Chardonnay for the second, Forager Pinot-Noir for the third, Unti Vineyard Syrah for the fourth, and Ojai Viogner Ice Wine for the dessert), serving half glasses so that we'd be able to walk home. (We're definitely going to have him do this for us again, his choices were spot on!) Throughout the meal, cubes and I commented on how tight the pacing was. At no point did we feel rushed (and I'm the world's slowest eater). As soon as we finished a course and the plates were cleared, the next was coming out. This is a hard feat to accomplish - one that we hadn't experienced at a holiday meal before.

For our first courses, I chose the Flatbread and Spreads while cubes chose the Wild Mushroom & Consume. The presentation of the Flatbread and Spreads was amazing. I loved how the two spreads - one a take on Basil Pesto and the other a take on Romesco - were "swooshed" across the plate. The slightly sour pickled onions and radishes paired nicely with the sauces. I took to dipping my flatbread in both sauces and then topping with the onion, radish, and sundried tomato. Even though I knew I had four more courses to go, I cleaned my plate completely. I couldn't get enough of the spreads. I would have liked just a touch more onion and radish. I got to sample a little of the Wild Mushroom & Consume. I loved the subtle hint of chili in the broth. Often times in soups, mushrooms end up being mild in flavor, not so in this entree - the mushrooms were amazing - neither cubes nor I knew how they managed to do this.

Of the second courses, the Dungeness Crab Cake was the standout. For variety, cubes and I ordered different dishes. After tasting cubes' crab cake, I'd wished that I'd also ordered the crab cake. Often crab cakes are heavily breaded and overly fried, leaving the crab cake dry and greasy. Mission Beach Cafe's offering redefined what a crab cake should be. The mouthful was moist. The crab noticeable on the palate, not hidden beneath breading. And not a hint of oily aftertaste. If this makes it to the Mission Beach Cafe dinner menu, you can bet I'm going to be ordering it. (Keep your fingers crossed!) I enjoyed my second course of Marinated Beets, again almost completely cleaning the plate. The dish was a little too sweet for cubes. I gave him a second bite with a little more Creme Fraiche which balanced the sweetness for him.

Of the courses I ordered, my favorite non-dessert course was the Braised Lamb Leg. Since becoming pregnant, I've become a connoisseur of braised meats. The dish was moist, tender, and flavorful. The meat was easily "cut" with a fork. Here I wished I hadn't cleaned my plate for both the first and second course and that's saying something as I'm not usually a fan of lamb. It's often too stringy and chewy for my taste. But this offering melted in my mouth; I really wanted to finish this dish - it was that good. For his third course, cubes had the Stuffed Quail. His one ding to the dish was the mouth feel of the stuffing, which to him was a little mealy.

Every course was hearty, not the typical portion sizes one would expect from a five-course menu. We definitely felt that we got the better end of the deal for our $75 (we didn't feel this way after our New Year's Eve dinner at Bourbon Steak last year). By the middle of the third course I was pretty full. (The Braised Lamb Leg was too good to leave on my plate so cubes finished off what I was unable to eat.)

My fourth course, North Coast Rock Cod, was perfectly cooked. It was served with a cabbage roll, smokey butter, pumpkin seed oil, and shiitakes. I dislike fish with bones and the cod had a couple of bones. Also, because I was pretty full, I wanted to save space for the Fifth Course - dessert, so this was the one course I sampled but did not finish. (I even did this at The French Laundry when we dined there, so I really hope no one took offense.) cubes tasted it as well and agreed it was good. Served together with the other courses, it failed to wow - the chef Thomas Martinez had set our expectations too high. (I'd also had a different presentation of Cod on Thursday night that I absolutely loved; hopefully it'll be on the menu in January because I'd love more of it.)

For his fourth course, cubes chose the American Kobe Bavette. His first bite of Kobe was a little oversalted. The rest of the bites however weren't, they were perfectly seasoned. We weren't sure what happened, but were glad that the first bite was an anomaly.

With the fifth course, mine outshone cubes'. cubes ordered the Red Wine Poached Pear Engelee with Silken Chocolate. The silken chocolate on its own was delicious, but the pairing of the chocolate with the pear didn't work for us. My dessert on the other hand was sheer heaven. For my fifth course, I chose the Red Velvet Gateau with Sweet Cheese Mousse. I've never had a gateau before. I was expecting a dense chocolate cake and was pleasantly surprised. The gateau was light and airy. As I was stuffed from the previous courses I was unable to finish it. I took it home and had the rest for breakfast on New Years (such a decadent way to start the New Year!). I'd love to see this dessert on their dinner menu or available for special order. I'd love to have it for my birthday in February.

From Tim greeting us at the door in a tux to Jeff ushering us to his table to the last bite of dessert, cubes and I had an amazing night. We both agreed that this was the best holiday meal we'd ever eaten. Mission Beach Cafe got both the food and the service right - something that's rare when a kitchen serves up a special menu that's different from their regular offering. I'm hoping that they offer a special menu for 2012 as they're first on our list for where we want to celebrate.

Happy New Year!
Credits: All images taken by Eden Hensley Silverstein for The Road to the Good Life.