Sunday, August 31, 2008

The thing that sucks about being a foodie

Yes, I used the word "foodie." Live with it.

Anyway, the thing that sucks about being a foodie is the lack of being able to go out and enjoy a nice dinner without a running critique of the food - what it needs, what it could do without, how one could improve on it in one's own kitchen.

For our anniversary dinner, we went to Cloud 9 Grille (the choice of which was due in no small part to our possession of a gift certificate), and critiques, they were a-flowin'.

I will admit that the first thing I did when we managed to roll ourselves in the door at home was check JM and Nichole's review over at Madison A to Z. A few of the dishes referenced in their review are no longer on the menu, so it was nice to see a different perspective.

Menu descriptions in italics.

For our appetizer, we split the white cheddar and sweet corn fondue with fresh breadsticks and homemade tortilla chips. The breadsticks were split and toasted and wonderful. The tortilla chips were incredibly thick, and tasted faintly like the other foods that have gone for a hot, bubbly swim - we enjoyed the extra flavor, others may not. One of my foodie pet peeves is that many restaurants don't understand or take into consideration a standard cheese equation: melting + adding other ingredients = less flavorful cheese. The fondue was tasty, but would definitely have benefited from a sharper cheddar.

I had a cup of their American Onion Soup similar to French onion without the sherry wine. - With melted provolone cheese and a crouton. This was seriously one of the best onion soups I've had. French onion soup is one of my favorites, and I am often disappointed when I order it. More often than not, it seems to be a case of "let's throw some sliced raw sweet onion in a pot of water and add some bouillon cubes and maybe some sugar." As a result, it is very watery, the onions are far too crunchy, and the only true flavor is an overwhelming sweetness. And there is always way too much cheese on it. Don't get me wrong, I love cheese, but even I know when to stop. This soup was beautifully rich, thick and savory, to the point where hubby and I suspected a demi-glace (pre-packaged no doubt, but still lovely). The onions appeared to have been lovingly caramelized. The crouton and cheese were pulled off quite well, also.

For his entree, hubby chose the Grilled Rib Eye 12 oz Served with mashed potatoes and vegetables, The steak was cooked perfectly and was tasty, but not any better than anything he's had elsewhere, and certainly not as eye-rollingly good as the one he had at Smoky's. I'm not typically a fan of restaurant mashed potatoes, so I didn't taste them, but they looked grainy to me. And, if you're going to try to make them look nice by garnishing them with sliced scallions, for heaven's sake, don't plop them on the plate with a disher - très lunchlady. Hubby loathes asparagus in any form, so one of the first things he did was transfer the grilled green spears to my plate. After suffering many years in a hate-hate relationship with asparagus (due to my mother's love of canned vegetables), I have recently discovered an affinity for the fresh stuff, so I was excited. Unfortunately, the asparagus was way overseasoned. And by "seasoned," I mean "salted." It was inedible.

Libra that I am, I could not decide between the salmon and a steak, so I chose the Grilled Wild Salmon and 5oz. Filet Mignon 4oz cut served over our mushroom risotto and topped with lemon butter sauce with seasonal vegetables. The salmon wasn't actually served over the risotto, they were on opposite ends of the plate. I normally wouldn't bemoan such a technicality, but it was unfortunate, because the risotto would have been greatly improved by the lemon butter sauce - had there been enough of it, anyway. The risotto, described elsewhere on the menu as seared portabello, shitake and crimini mushrooms over creamy risotto, had probably been made much earlier in the evening, as it was fairly gloppy, not the smooth creaminess I'd been anticipating. It wasn't very flavorful, either, despite being topped with a mound of shredded parmesan. It was almost like a dry, savory, crunchy rice pudding - you know the kind I mean - the stuff that looks so good in the deli, but is just so incredibly disappointing once you get it home that it immediately becomes garbage can fodder. I cannot abide dry, crunchy rice pudding. The mushrooms were difficult to find, and the pieces I actually found were woody. When I originally placed my order, our server asked how I'd like "both" cooked, so I assumed she meant both the salmon and the filet. I asked for medium rare for both. The filet was cooked perfectly. The mushrooms atop it, notsomuch. The salmon ended up being cooked all the way through, but I suppose I shouldn't complain (too much), because while it was not medium rare, as I requested, it wasn't overcooked, as is so often the case. It was still moist and flavorful, and deemed "not bad," by my husband, who normally has no use for salmon that's not a) served raw over a ball of rice, or b) served smoked on a bagel and schmear.

The one place they almost redeemed themselves was dessert. Upon taking the first bite of his Apple Crumble Tart baked with brown sugar and served with cinnamon streusel and vanilla ice cream, my Groom exclaimed "sweet zombie Jesus!" and proceeded to devour the rest of it with the zeal of a cult member. Half of my dessert, Chocolate Stout Cake a flourless chocolate cake served with strawberry ice cream in an almond lace cup, was equally amazing. The cake, about the diameter of a hockey puck and about half as thick, was to die for. The strawberry ice cream was standard megamart fare. Unfortunately, the almond lace cup, while it could have been so good, sported edges about as black as a cajun fish filet.

We retired to the bar area for an after-dinner cocktail. We each ordered the drink we consider our personal tests of any alcohol-serving establishment to which we've never been - a martini and a cosmopolitan (I'll let you guess who ordered what). Both were mediocre. The martini "showcased" a few pussy, tiny little olives, and the cosmo was bright shocking pink and served with a lemon wheel. Neither was impressive in the least. I noticed that their rail gin was a brand I'd never heard of, Taaka, which retails for $7-10 a liter. The martini was $7.00. A liter is approximately 33 ounces. You do the math. I know the markup on cocktails is significant, but at 3-4 ounces per martini, that's more than a little ridiculous.

There were a couple of hits, but some definite misses. I can honestly say that I will likely only be back if a friend reeeeally wants to go there, or if I reeeeeally want to see that awesome Madison view again. But likely only for drinks and appetizers, and then, only for drinks that come from a screw-top bottle. Smirnoff Ice, anyone?

It may have sounded bad, and we were marginally disappointed in what we got for the money we spent, but there were a couple of shining stars, and it wasn't a bad evening. It was a nice night out with my husband, which we don't get nearly often enough. But for the money ($85 before gift certificate and tip, plus another $14 plus tip at the bar), we probably could have gone to any number of other restaurants in town and had much better food.


nichole said...

A kindred spirit! :) Good to hear Cloud 9 has changed up their menu items a bit; bad to hear it sounds like it hasn't helped too much. The more things change...

Jona said...

I had heard really bad things about Cloud 9. It sounded like your meal was better than the one we had at Johnny Delmonicos. We were there for 45-minutes before the waitress asked if we wanted some bread. The meal didn't look up from there.

I think my favorite place for a night out and a guaranteed wonderful dinner is Lombardino's.

BTW, I miss you!!