Saturday, September 19, 2009

Cakes & Ale

"Dost thou think because thou art virtuous there shall be no more cakes and ale?"    Twelfth Night (Act 2, scene 3)

To celebrate our first anniversary (on September 17) Charlie and I returned to Cakes & Ale, the restaurant where we dined on the day we were wed.  This place is beyond amazing.  Every bite is a near-magical experience, the service is splendid, and the cocktails are crafted with the utmost care and attention to detail.  I cannot recommend Cakes & Ale enough and only wish I could figure out some way to dine there more frequently.  Unfortunately neither my pocketbook nor my waistline will allow.
Here's what we had (with plenty of commentary).

Arancini with Citrus and Fennel Pollen
I believe this may just be the best stuff in the whole world.  It truly is one of the best things I've ever eaten.  You know how people sometimes ask what you would choose if you could only eat five things over and over again for the rest of your life?  This is a definite on my list. I especially love how pronounced the citrus is in these little bites.  Don't be fooled by the simple appearance of the arancini in the picture to the left.  They are extraordinary.
Last month Bon Appetit magazine named the top ten best new restaurants in the country.  Much to my delight (and theirs no doubt), Cakes & Ale was selected as one of those restaurants, and
 this recipe was included in the magazine.  Guess what I'm trying out soon!  

House-Marinated Olives
Give me some.  Now.

We had a fabulous charcuterie comprised of the following:
  • Tomato Gelee -- Imagine the essence of a perfectly ripe summer tomato captured in a gelee.  That's exactly what this was.
  • Rabbit Rillettes with Carrots, Celery, and Onions -- A rillette is basically a rustic version of pate, traditionally made from pork. As the name implies, this one was made of rabbit. I love that the other ingredients reflect the diet of a rabbit. Charlie especially loved this dish.
  • Coppa -- Coppa is a delicious cut of cured pork that is thinly sliced and quite similar to prosciutto (but better!).  The slices presented by Cakes & Ale were just wonderful.  
  • Thinly sliced cured beef -- I don't remember what this was called or any of the specifics, but it was delicious.  Again, the meat was sliced thinner than paper and was quite salty.  I wish I could remember the name!
  • Pickled Japanese Melon -- I'm not sure what type of melon was used for this dish, but it reminded me of honeydew.  The pickling gave it a sour vinegary taste that was just terrific.  I wouldn't want this all the time, but it was a great addition to the plate.
  • House-Made Pickles -- Yum, yum, yum!  I love homemade pickles, and these were no exception.
Gnocchi with Zucchini, Pears, Corn, Green Tomatoes, and Walnuts
This was a really wild dish.  I really liked it, though I did feel the gnocchi was overwhelmed by the other ingredients.  Having said that, the gnocchi (when eaten by itself) was remarkably light and tender.  It nearly melted on my tongue.  The toppings were intense, and quite good, though I think they would have been better on their own as a side dish.  I like gnocchi simply dressed, and this was a little overwhelming.  And yet, I would order it again in a heartbeat.  Even the dishes with a few missteps at Cakes & Ale are extraordinary.

Cakes & Ale Burger and Fries
Charlie looked over the menu and noticed the Cakes & Ale burger (and fries).  Now, ordinarily a burger is a lousy choice in a farm-fresh restaurant with a seasonal menu, but this was different.  The server (Adam) informed Charlie that the burger was made of brisket and bacon, and he was sold.  Let me add that the bacon is not on top of the burger; it's ground in with the beef.  The result is a masterpiece, and the salty shoestring fries are positively addictive.

Phatty Cakes
We had these on our wedding day as well as our anniversary.  Cakes & Ale keeps a large domed cake stand on the counter, quite reminiscent of what one might find in an old general store, and it's always full of phatty cakes.  This is the restaurant's signature dessert, and it's easy to see why.  The cookies taste of gingerbread, and the filling is comprised of sweetened whipped marscapone.  These are the cookies I imagine Donna Reed making for her kids as after school treats -- super fabulous and homey without a smack of pretense.

Tres Leche Cake
This may be what love tastes like.  This sweet, milk-based cake is soaked in heavy cream, topped with softly scented cinnamon ice cream, and surrounded by puffs of freshly whipped cream.  It's beautiful and light, something out of a dream.  Also, it was a lovely anniversary gift from the restaurant. 

So, Cakes & Ale is my all-time favorite restaurant.  I'm sure it doesn't hurt that Charlie and I have been treated like celebrities each time we've been there, but even excepting that the food is consistently near-perfect.  The service is impeccable, and the atmosphere is lovely and understated.  If you're anywhere near the Atlanta area please do yourself a favor and go.  You will not be disappointed.  In fact, you'll probably glow when you leave.

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