Saturday, September 29, 2012

Grace Street al Fresco

So much to do, so little time.

Despite a to-do list of epic proportions, I stepped out for dinner with the best kind of companions.

The kind who not only call you a "control  freak," but who also get left off guest lists and couldn't care less, either.

We all met up at Ipanema where the mid-'70s temperatures lured us to the empty patio to check out the new "Steal This Wine List," a section of six distinctive higher-end wines priced ridiculously low ($30) to entice wine lovers.

Our opening wine was never up for debate, though. My friend was determined that we all try a wine she'd fallen in love with.

As it turned out, she was absolutely right about this one.

In fact, Ips was the second place at which she'd tracked it down, having already enjoyed it at Enoteca Sogno.

It was the 2011 Occhipinti SP68 Bianca Sicilia, a beautiful wine with an aromatic floral nose and the complexity of a red.

You know sort of like the mild-mannered secretary who finally takes off her horn-rimmed glasses and shakes out her hair and becomes a tiger in bed.

That kind of white wine.

Discussing it later with a friend inside, he observed, "Yea, I was blown away by it. That's a white?"

Accompanying our Sicilian on this lovely night were several dishes off the new menu.

There was a salad of mixed greens with apples, radishes, red   onion, walnut, smoked bleu cheese with a rosemary/white wine vinaigrette boasting contrasting flavors and plenty of stinky cheese.

It also made us feel virtuous before the spud fest that was to come.

The chalkboard had seriously tempted me with a tease of brandade, which sounded amazing although I had no idea what it was beyond cod and potatoes.

Turned out to be a puree of salt cod and potatoes and came with a Pecorino layer au gratin and enough bread to carry huge spoonfuls of the savory dip-like concoction to our mouths.

It was a perfect example of simple ingredients elevated to a dish much greater than the sum of its parts.

Meanwhile, conversation flowed as we heard stories of crashing cabinets, broken lighting and sheepish looks from a favorite couple's day.

Ours had more to do with hunting and gathering so was far less dramatic.

With wine #1 long gone, we moved on to the essence of a good autumn wine, the Bernard Baudry Chinon "Grezeaux," an earthy Cab Franc that had both minerality and fruit.

Now we were two for two, having found two stellar (not to mention, under-priced) wines new to us.

We moved on to oil-poached shrimp with turnip and potato puree, sauteed spinach and an herbed butter, truly a triumvirate of complementary flavors.

Who says a pig-lover can't find plenty to demolish at a vegetarian restaurant?

Along with our rapidly emptying plates, on the table were such topics as Campanile views, Ghostbusters look-a-likes and '90s music.

Fair warning: don't tell someone whose youth was spent in the '90s what songs are worthy of a '90s mix.

Because it will get ugly.

Best line of the evening, "I'm pretty positive I never said, 'The problem with you is anything."

Ain't love grand?

It had been early when the four of us had gathered, but as the evening wore on, Grace Street got livelier with people beginning their Saturday night.

Since there's no reason to eat at Ips and not have dessert, we went with apple cinnamon cake a la mode, mainly to ensure that we exploded on the patio.

The subtly flavored spice cake had the best kind of frosting, the kind that's more fat than sugar and leaves you feeling indulged rather than in diabetic shock.

Of course, by then we were in a food coma anyway.

It put me in mind of that old Italian proverb, "At the table with friends and family, you do not become old."

Not sure how much of that is the food or wine but I'm almost positive it's got something to do with all the laughter.

Besides, old is in the eye of the beholder.

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