I'll say one thing about my little family: we can pack a lot into any given time period. We were at the Art Fair gates when they opened for business and headed first to the kids' corner where the boys each painted a mug. Ol's is an abstract, largely in goose-poop green (a most unfortunate marker color choice on his part), while Jack's is a full-on (including even the bottom of the mug) muralistic tribute to Star Wars. Oliver fell in love with a giant, plastic, black White Sox bat which I patently refused to purchase. You cannot imagine how much energy (tears, gnashing, wailing, pleading) he has expended since in a vain attempt to own this black bat. I acquiesced on the bubble gun but have just decided that the bat is not going to be ours. He's still working on new ways to weasel one for himself; presently, it is number 1 on his Santa list. We watched a magic show, a dance troupe, watched as Jack ate enormous amounts of food from the food court, indulged in two fantastic ice cream bars from Crave (the stick is a chocolate-covered pretzel), tried to actually look at the art, saw DD and D, met up with one of my college besties, Emily, and her family, laughed hysterically as Jack initiated a Monkey Bar Dash at a playground (at one point, about 8 kids were queued up to be timed by Emily's husband [he's a coach; it shows!] and parents all around were watching and laughing; it was a great moment), and finally headed back to our hotel where I fell into a deep slumber that could not be avoided.
Our wonderful babysitter returned, and I managed to get myself up and dressed for a night out with T. We had late reservations at Blackbird, a restaurant at which I've long wanted to dine, so first returned to Virant for a drink and snack- the asparagus salad with lemon vinaigrette and preserved Meyer lemon, pecans, feta and brown butter. It was a perfect, well-balanced salad. Every forkful was a party in the mouth, and I was again glad to have bought Virant's cookbook because I will definitely make the preserved Meyer compote.
On to Blackbird which was utterly alive. Packed tables, a packed bar, energy and a definite sense of hip-cool. I was fascinated by the clientele: a man who looked SO much like Lenny Kravitz, complete with dark shades, great dreads, a feathered black top, black skirt, painted toenails and a totally dissonant pair of Keens-like sandals; his date was a plump yet scantily clad woman who repeatedly applied fuchsia lipstick like it was a serious habit; older women dripping with jewels and Chanel; a thin gal, late-60s-70s, with permed-in-tiny-short-ringlets, dyed orange hair and aggressive earrings; and so on.
Blackbird's chef, Paul Kahan, has won many, many awards, most recently a 2013 James Beard. The interior of Blackbird feels Scandinavian-cool; modern, white, steel, light wood. Put more simply, it wasn't warm. Not unfriendly, but definitely not cozy.
T ordered a Saison-style beer from North Coast Brewing Co, the Le Merle, while I had a lovely CA Zinfandel. We started with the hamachi tartare with cured rhubarb, sprouted lentils and chickweed, drizzled with a chile-infused marrow sauce (divine), and the endive salad with pancetta and a poached egg in a potato "basket". In essence, grated potatoes had been shaped and fried into a highbrow, circular potato chip which held the salad and egg. The waiter then dramatically cuts the egg open and the basket apart, et voila.
I found the salad underwhelming, but the hamachi was magnificent, and the way it was plated reminded me of just why that's an important element of food presentation. In error, we were brought but got to keep an order of the asparagus with charred spring onion, goat cheese, cured egg yolks, peanuts and chamomile. This was a really good dish though I'd have preferred hazelnuts instead of peanuts; the latter took my attention away from the whole in a sub-optimal way. Nonetheless, delicious!
For our mains, T chose the lamb saddle with caramelized cabbage, cherries, smoked ricotta and lovage. The lamb was beautifully cooked, perfectly medium-rare, but overall, T was underwhelmed. I don't eat lamb but had high hopes for a major taste of the cabbage and cherry business: it lacked depth and zing. Most basically, it needed some salt which we requested and which did improve things. But an undercurrent of heat would have enlivened the dish as a whole.
I opted for the striped bass with dandelion greens, fennel bread (diced into the smallest cubes ever; I would hate to be in charge of that element of this dish), bitter almond yogurt (amazing) and caramelized chicken jus. This was a really unique, really memorable dish. T and I both felt it was one of the meal's stand-outs. The bitter almond yogurt was incredible. Easiest though not completely adequate description would be as if you'd emulsified almond extract into top-quality, smoother-than-smooth yogurt. The chicken jus was silky, the dandelion greens provided an essential and sublime tang and heft. I really loved it all.
And then, despite definite fullness, I simply had to scan the dessert menu. Some tea would be lovely, rooibos it was!, and wow on the goat cheese cheesecake I chose. Served with cajeta ice cream, burnt grapefruit and avocado, this dish was the stuff of dreams. Cajeta is like caramel and was insanely good alongside the citrus and goat cheese tangs, the avocado puree and the graham crust chunks that dotted the dish. I could have eaten eight order of this lighter-than-air, every element in perfect harmony treat. Oh my.