I don't do a lot of "fine dining" but my wife Rachel and I have tried several new places over the past couple of years mostly due to Groupon.
Crofton's on Wells was my number 1 dining experience for a long time. Brunch at Signature Room was great for the all you can eat seafood and the view. Bistro 110 was a good experience. Last night may have edged them all out.
I took Rache to Gaetano's at the suggestion of our neighbor. Our neighbors know Gaetano from cooking classes they've taken from him and just from going to his restaurants over the years.
We opted for the "Chef's Choice." I told them I'm lactose intollerant so they worked around that for me.
They started with Carpaccio di bresaola - Bresaola della Valtellina carpaccio topped with arugula, shaved parmigiano and roasted blue oyster mushrooms, drizzled with citronette.
They made me a seperate plate of this so I could enjoy it without the cheese. The carpaccio was at the bottom and seemed sort of like a prosciutto but I think it might have been beef not ham. The most interesting thing about this dish was the oyster mushrooms. It took me a while to figure out the nutty flavor I was getting and realized it was sunflower seeds. I asked the waiter, Dave, if they used sunflower oil in the dressing but he said that was just the mushrooms flavor. Good start.
Next was Carpaccio di barbabietole - Yellow & red beets roasted in the wood-burning oven, sliced carpaccio style and drizzled with champagne vinaigrette, paired with mache greens, topped with fried goat cheese
They put the goat cheese on the side for others to use. I've never had a beet before that I liked. Even at Crofton's she served us some beet appetizer that I took one bite of and gave the rest to Rachel. This one surprised me. It was sweet and the beets were mild and it was actually pretty damn tasty. This would be my least favorite dish of the night and I still enjoyed it quite a bit.
Next up Carpaccio di kobe con salsa piccante - Pan-seared kobe beef served with toasted pumpkin and sunflower seeds, crystallized garlic, pumpkin oil and Calabrian pepper paste and soy-lime vinaigrette served with garlic crostini
This beef was sooo tender and was a perfect rare. The crostini bread that came with it was tasty as well. It had cheese on it but I had some anyway. This dish was just fantastic.
They strayed a bit from their regular menu items at this point bringing out pan seared scallops dusted with cocoa with a sardine on top. There was more to it than that I think but the sweet from the cocoa and salty from the sardine just worked so well with this. I don't typically like sardines but I dove into this. It was by far the most tender scallop I've ever eaten. It practically melted in your mouth. Best scallop I've eaten by quite a large margin. The sardine and cocoa complemented each other really well.
Then came the Foie Gras - I've never eaten Foie Gras before and have never been inclined to try it. But, since they put it down in front of us I figured what the heck? This was surprisingly good to me! It was like little balls of fat that just melted on your tongue. They were served with halved figs mixed in and the combination of flavors was out of this world. I want to try foie gras again somewhere just to see how it compares. This was amazing.
Dave told us "this will be the last appetizer" as he served us Calamari ripieni al Porto Rosa -Tempura-fried calamari rolled with asparagus, topped with sun-dried tomato spicy shrimp sauce, served with soy-lime citronette and borlotti aioli.
I couldn't believe this was calamari when I bit into it. Much like the scallop it was the tenderest I've ever had. The tempura batter was thin and crunchy and came across almost like bacon. Holy yum!
At this point our neighbor, Doug asked us which dish was our favorite so far. I really couldn't decide, the beef, the foie gras, the scallop, the tempura...I just couldn't pick a favorite out of those, still can't.
Dave asked me if I could tolerate a bit of butter and heavy cream in the next dish. He said the chef wanted to make this for us and he didn't want to deprive the others. I said "lets do this thing" He came back with a mostacholi type of noodle dish tossed in butter and heavy cream. Dave shaved a black truffel over the top of this. That truffel really set this dish off. Really really good stuff.
Along with that came
Ai frutti di mare rossa - Assortment of: calamari, scallops, mussels and shrimp sauteed with garlic, E.V.O.OIL, white wine, herbs and tomato sauce
They used squid instead of shrimp in this dish and the mussels were still in the shells giving it a great presentation (like everything else.)
Again the mussels and the squid were the most tender I've ever eaten. Usually there's at least a bit of rubberiness to them. Not the case here, they just melted in your mouth. I was really stunned when I realized I was eating squid and couldn't tell that at first because the texture was so smooth. The rissoto they served this over had a great texture as well.
Next came a Tilapia dish served with some kind of sauce over it with capers mixed in. The capers really set this dish off. Definitely the best tilapia I've ever eaten. He took that fish to new heights imo.
Along with that came a plate of braised beef short ribs. These had a pumpkin type paste/sauce over the top of them. I literally had to laugh to myself when they put this down in front of us. I smoked short ribs on Monday and had them for dinner that night. At the same time I was smoking I braised a batch as well and we're having those tonight. So, short ribs 3 nights in a row I guess.
These were tasty. I'd like to know how to make their paste/sauce but the rib itself was a bit fattier than the ones I made Monday. Still a really good portion.
Next up came dessert. First they brought a lemony custardy kind of thing on individual spoons. It was a single bite and very tasty.
Next they brought a platter with 3 items;
Torta di Cioccolato con Gelato al burro di Noccioline - Chocolate flourless cake with gianduia semifreddo & raspberry coulis. This looked like it would be dry but was very moist and delicious.
Tiramisu - Layers of cookies dipped in coffee, flavored with Kahlua and Amaretto with marscapone cream and cocoa. This is served in a small flower pot with a fake flower sticking out. I can't eat much of this but what I had was fantastic.
Last was a strawberry sorbet which was delicious.
Rache and my neighbors stuck to wine all night and I had a couple of chocolate cherry martinis that complemented the meal really well. Everything we ate was nothing short of fantastic. The service was amazing and personable.
Once we paid the bill (actually my neighbors picked up the tab) Dave came back over with a bottle of limoncello (which I've never had before) that they make in house with grain alcohol. He put down 5 small flute shot glasses and poured a shot for each of us and himself. We all toasted a great night together and chatted a bit about Forest Park as we're all locals. Dave poured us another shot and excused himslef to the kitchen.
We lingered a bit to let the food digest and called it a night. The whole meal lasted over 3 hours and thinking about it more I believe it was the best dining experience I've ever had. Just fantastic from top to bottom.
Sorry this is long and sort of comes across as gushing but man I just had a great meal and experience there last night. My wife said it was her best birthday ever. I told her "Now you know where I want to go for MY birthday."