Sunday, February 15, 2009

ZINC Bistro a Vins for Post-Valentine's Day Dinner

If you're suffering from Bella Vista Bistro Burn-out, then head up to 11th & Locust for Zinc...just don't go after the culinary equivalent of the Bataan Death March...Restaurant Week X 2 with Valentine's Day for the caboose.

My wife & I had dinner here one night after the dining Apocalypse that is Valentine's Day. We were one of three couples in Zinc that night and were quickly seated and served; the decor was evocative of 'Bistro' , but the calm and comfort of the room seemed to echo the relaxed vibe of the service.

Little did I realize that I mistook the quiet, easy manner of the server as we ordered our meal it slowly dawned on me that the kitchen & wait-staff were suffering from PTDD..Post-Traumatic Dining Disorder.

The battle-ravaged menu bears witness to the intensity of a restaurant being enjoyed-to-death...three of the entrees we were hoping to try had been 86'ed by the hordes of diners that we had witnessed last night packed into the dining room...we walked by Valentine's Night and even remarked..."Wow, that place is packed?!?! Let's go tomorrow night."

Normally I'd go three-stars when met with such setbacks, but the highlights of Zinc's menu were enough to suggest better times lay ahead for me...on a regular night, the promise of good food, drinks and atmosphere has forced me to slide the star-o-meter one more notch over to the right.

Drinks were the initial attraction. The selection suggested a forgotten 'sophistication'...if you want to venture off the beaten-path of wine, the aperitif and digestif offerings point the way to some forgotten classics. My wife had a Cassis & red-wine cocktail and I tried a martini w/ Lillet & orange. They have an arsenal of brandy. I finished the meal with a glass of Framboise Eaux De Vie...the pleasant burn and aromatics reminded me of a more flavorful grappa.

The wines themselves are offered simply by varietal... glass or bottle...the service made decent recommendations...they had a red from Loire (Chinon) that I'd never heard of and paired nicely with the Calf's Liver (server recommended after we already decided on it).


Escargot Pastis - Little sauteed escagot floating on rafts of puff-pastry adrift in a sea of buttery pastis-spiked sauce. The escargot were delicious, with an earthy texture, but the combo of top-half flaky, bottom-half butter & pastis soaked puffs were beyond description. I was using the usually ignored starter bread to sop up every drop of this had a fennel-tarragon/anise layer that soaked into every bite of pastry.


Lobster Bisque - This may have been great when it peaked around dinner time, but we usually dine late and by 9:30, the soup had crossed over into that too-thick stage...lobster flavor was overwhelming, but a harsh salty note killed that rich-savory taste of lobster that lingers on the palate when it's in a bisque.

Calf's Liver - This was NOT how I imagined liver. Far from the flat shoe-sole filet I always see in the grocery store, this was a veritable Gibraltar of deep, earthy meat. Seared and medium, drowned in a sweet shallot and sherry vinegar sauce, the liver was a dish that opened my eyes to how good offal could be. I kept trading fork-fulls of my now humbled mignon for slabs of the pink-center, crispy seared liver with my wife. Paired with the soft but aromatic red from Loire, Chinon, this dish was a return-trip on a plate.


Filet Mignon - It was perfectly cooked and served with a side of root puree, which seemed to accompany many entrees...the puree was excellent and could fool you into thinking it was a whipped mashed potato. Having said that, I really wanted to try Skate & Pork Belly (86'ed strike 1), the Roast Quail (86'ed strike 2) and the Sea Scallop & Buerre Blanc (86'ed strike 3).

The desserts were mercifully modest proportions of chocolate pot de creme and an praline studded ice-cream with tart raspberry sauce.

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