A night off from the play— my mother and sister-in-law are visiting, had a wonderful dinner at À Côté last night, and, naturally; cheese! Pretty much a perfect evening in so many ways…
Good quality, well crafted cheese is rarely cheap, and this is twice as true when at a restaurant. However, getting the opportunity to have a well selected cheese plate, along with a fantastic meal with friends and family, is well worth the money.
À Côté in Oakland, California, near the border of Berkeley, is described as being a “small-plates restaurant” (read as: Tapas-style servings and portions, shared in a “family style” manner). Selections on the menu can change almost daily, with many excellent permanent selections as well. They also have a wonderful wine list, assembled bi-weekly, and they offer well-selected flights of wine to accompany your meal.
Wine, that’s OK, but what about the cheese?
I’m getting to that, inner cheese voice… There were six to choose from, any and all to be served with candied walnuts, toasted (and heavily salted) almonds, apple slices, poached figs and an excellent walnut levain bread. The three I choose were the following (pictured starting from left to right):
Majorero [semi-soft, goat milk, from the Canary Islands]
La Tur [three-milk soft cheese from Piemonte, Italy]
Ossau Iraty [semi-firm, raw sheep's milk, from the French Pyrénées]
All three were amazing, and I was most looking forward to the La Tur, which I don’t think I have ever tried (read about it, sure, but to finally try it…). La Tur is typically made from either cow, goat or sheep’s milk, but since À Côté’s menu stated; “Creamy Three Milk”, perhaps we can assume that it had all three? It was the most earthy-tasting of the cheese we tried, and perhaps my favorite. It was the least favoirte of Kathy’s mom, Karen. The Majorero had a much more complex taste than I had expected… initially it played lightly, almost tasteless, on my tongue, but then developed into a nut-like taste. Accompanying the taste was a satisfying textural smoothness, most likely caused by the high fat content of the milk. The Ossau Iraty was also a good choice, it tastes like a cousin to some cheeses produced in the alps, except that it utlizes sheep’s milk instead of cow. This may make it easier to digest for people who have a physical aversion to cow’s milk.
Despite the “small plate” servings of the menu items, we ordered too much for the four of us. We all felt happily stuffed by the time we were done. Our other items? Gazpacho, Pommes Frites (with aioli), Croque Monsieur , Fig & Pancetta Flatbread (pizza), Gnocchi (with creamy pesto and cherry tomatoes) and for desert; “Triple Bittersweet Chocolate Ice Cream with Hot Fudge, Caramel Cream, Pecan Praline & bite-sizzed Brownies”… With all of that, AND the cheese plate AND flights of wine, they practically had to roll us out of there.
The Croque Monsieur was perfect, made with a Béchamel sauce, unlike the one I spoke of in a recent post, and was accompanied with pickled caper berries. There’s nothing quite like biting into the salty, briny taste of a pickled caper berry and following it immediately with the perfect balance of Gruyère, Béchamel, thinly sliced ham and buttery toasted bread… am I making you hungry yet?
The flatbread fig pizza was also very salty… It is kind of a tradition of Tapas-like foods to be salty and (typically) inexpensive. The idea is that you’ll buy more to drink. In some European countries, such as Spain, bar food is often affordable, but salty, and the majority of a bar or bistro’s profits are from drink sales. A nice touch to the pizza though, was a Crescenza Stracchino cow milk cheese from France. As a soft cheese, it melted very nicely on the flatbread, and retained it’s flavor set against the other toppings. This brought the cheese count up to five for the meal, so I was very happy.
You’ll notice I didn’t go on and on about “Pride & Succubus” (until this second), but I’m proud to say that the remainder of the shows have sold out. In fact, 87% of the entire run (that’s 87% of all available seats for the entire run) were occupied. The audience seems to have eaten it all up, laughing uproariously throughout. Couldn’t be happier for the cast and crew, writer, production team and the theatre company as a whole. It is always a lot of work, but always a lot of fun. I’ll post a few photos below.
So; more cheese posts to follow soon. The play will end and I’ll have more time for cheese again. Kathy and I will be taking a “road trip” vacation to New Mexico in early September, so if you have advice on things to do or see (involving cheese or not), please use the comment section below this post on the right. Thanks!