Restaurant Week. I often struggle with deciding between avoiding it altogether and giving it a chance. Some restaurants do it right; some don't. I've had both experiences over the years. I've always thought of Restaurant Week as an opportunity to try out a restaurant that I would love to visit at a lower price point. I figure if a restaurant can impress me during Restaurant Week, then it's worth going back to and splurging on the full price menu. If a restaurant can't be bothered to put its best foot forward during Restaurant Week, then I can't trust it enough to go back. Luckily, this year I was absolutely blown away.
Granted I spent more than the typical Restaurant Week price and the restaurant we went to was not participating in the official Restaurant Week. Menton offered an Unofficial Summer Restaurant Week Menu -- a prix fixe three-course tasting menu for $58. When you consider that Menton's regular four-course prix fixe is $95 and the chef's tasting is $155, this is an amazing deal and a great way to see what Menton is all about. Menton opened in 2010 and is one of Barbara Lynch's restaurants. I'd been to B&G Oysters, Drink, and The Butcher Shop before and was very optimistic about my dinner at Menton based on those past experiences. Adding to my optimism and high expectations, Kristen Kish, who recently won Top Chef, was promoted to chef de cuisine at Menton this past June and was there the night of our dinner.
I met Meghan, Daisy, and Lin for a pre-dinner drink at Drink and then we headed upstairs to Menton. From the moment we walked in, we were made to feel welcome, important, and special. Our waiter was friendly and informative. He joked with us, he answered our questions, and he made us feel at home.
At Meghan's suggestion, we kicked off dinner with some bubbly. We shared a split and sipped and chatted while we decided what to order. There were three choices for each course, and it didn't take us long to figure out what we were each in the mood for. We placed our orders and all of us included the optional wine pairing.
Soon, we were presented with a tray of miniature (adorably miniature) corn madeleines topped with caviar and equally adorably miniature caramelized onion macarons filled with goat cheese and adorned with nigella seeds. It was like the restaurant knew all about my affinity for tiny foods. These diminutive first bites were impressive, packing so much flavor into such a small form. I hoped they were indicative of what was to come.
And then we were served small croissants with a touch of honey, along with a dish of butter glistening with salt crystals. The croissant was soft, plush almost, and so buttery. It didn't need the extra butter, but I used it anyway because I love butter studded with crunchy salt crystals.
My first course came with a glass of rose, an easy-to-drink, summery pink wine. (I didn't write down the name, but I think it was from Five Roses and made with grapes from Puglia.)
The rose went sublimely with my heirloom tomatoes with roasted garlic nougatine, burrata, and orange vinegar. The tomatoes were clearly wonderful; it's tough to go wrong with ripe summer heirloom tomatoes. But the roasted garlic nougatine brought the dish to a whole new level. These almost cookie-like pieces added crunch and intense bursts of garlic flavor. The burrata was soft and mouthwatering. And the orange vinegar provided bright notes.
In between courses, a server came along with a bread basket and asked us if we'd like a tiny baguette (more tiny food!) or a potato roll, and we soon found out -- as we took forever trying to decide which to take -- that we could actually have both. Decision made.
My next wine was an earthy, funky Cabernet Franc that I was assured would complement my dinner perfectly.
It was an ideal match for my Grimaud Farms duck breast with its unctuous, crispy skin and the cake of nutty, crunchy farro that came with it. Along with the farro and duck were cherries, beets, and a rye crisp. The duck was cooked a rosy medium-rare, and I loved every bite of it. The farro basically hit me out of left field. It was not backup to the duck but rather its co-star. It was just so flavorful and there was shredded duck mixed in with the ancient grain too. (I've never cooked farro at home and am inspired to now.)
Lin and Daisy ordered the Dèlice de Bourgogne cappellacci, which came in a broth with radishes and apricot. The cheese inside the cappellacci was incredibly creamy and had that bite blue cheese is known for. Our waiter explained that the cappellacci get an almost soup-dumpling-like texture. Meghan had the red snapper in a lobster nage with tendersweet cabbage and fines herbes. The fish was moist and the lobster nage really bolstered the flavor of the dish. I thought these other dishes were wonderful, but I truly loved mine best.
Dessert options were a selection of artisanal cheeses; angel food cake with watermelon, lemon, and pistachio; or a chocolate parfait with coffee, banana, and popcorn. Meghan and Lin went with the cheeses while Daisy and I gave in to our chocolate cravings. I don't even know where to begin describing this dessert. It didn't just satisfy a chocolate craving; it had everything you could want in one dish. Sweet, salty, creamy, crunchy, cakey, fruity, rich, smooth... popcorn, caramel, coffee, chocolate, cake, bananas. Every bite featured different flavor and texture combinations. It was my kind of dessert -- the dessert for the indecisive... and the indulgent.
And just when you think the amazing meal is over and can't get any better, some last little goodies show up at the table. Caramels, cookie dough truffles, and little cakes with dollops of jam offer final sweet bites.
Miniature macarons in flavors as diverse and interesting as corn, basil, earl grey, and berry show off more of the kitchen's talent and capture my heart. They are adorable. They are creative. They are perfect.
At the end of the meal, we were all amazed that we were full, not stuffed, but pleasantly full. The courses were just the right size, and all the extras filled in as needed. This was definitely the most expensive (official or unofficial) Restaurant Week dinner I've ever had (and yes, I paid for it), but it was also the best and one of the best dinners out I've ever had in general.
Menton, thank you for doing "Restaurant Week" right. Thank you for helping a group of friends have an enjoyable evening out with some of the best food any of us have ever had. Thank you for leaving me wanting to come back, wanting to share my experience with others, and wanting to relive this meal over and over again.
What has been your best Restaurant Week experience (official or unofficial)?