Monday, February 22, 2010

SOIZIC BISTRO - Dear Diary... YUM!

Date: February 3, 2010 - Journal Entry:

I came to this “foodie” party a little late, being cajoled and nagged into it by a good friend. Looking back, it’s ironic to think she needed to use so much persuasion, since I was practically raised in the kitchen and have always understood the importance of food in the bonding of family, heart and home. Feeding people to bring them joy was a tradition instilled in me by parents, aunt and uncles, and grandparents alike. As soon as I could eat, I began to be schooled in the “joy of feeding.”

Though late to the game, this new hobby of sharing the love proffered by those in the food biz has rapidly become one of the great delights of my life. Today I am at Soizic, so it seems only fair that I give a shout out to the woman who got me started along this path. Soizic was one of her favorite places when she still lived here in the Bay Area. Erin would make us come so she could savor their beautiful giant ravioli. She said they were the best anywhere she’d been. Having sampled them often, I must agree. Though she was from Indiana, she lived in San Francisco at the time, and she really, really knew her food.

I remember she used to plan every meal in advance before traveling and I would torture her about her compulsiveness. “How much do you want to be on a rigid schedule?”, I would ask. She patiently assured me that planning allowed her to enjoy the best meals on her trips, as it allowed her to secure reservations at all the best restaurants. She would return from her trips with stories of good times and fantastic foods, so as I began to travel more, I began also to follow her strategy. Needless to say I got recommendations from her for good places at which to dine as well. These days I wouldn’t venture anywhere without advance reservations. When I arrive at a restaurant and my husband and I are ushered to a table past the folks who are sitting at the bar for hours having ‘just dropped in spontaneously’ I have to say, it is so nice to be the people with reservations. Thanks, E!

So back to my meal. We began, as we often do, by partaking in a house specialty cocktail. These days if they offer a specialty beverager, I feel it’s my duty to try one and report in. Today I ordered a Chez Nous, which was a lovely brew of Courvoisier Brandy and Canton ginger liquor. The alcohol was cut with some fresh mango juice and lime which combined beautifully. It was tasty!

My BH enjoyed their signature Cosmo, which was a smooth blend of Hangar One Vodka and cranberry juice, layered with a hint of Mandarine Blossom and St. Germain. Top that all off with a splash of fresh lime and voila! The addition of the elderflower, which is a tiny bit herbal, made the drink much less saccharine and cloying than I am used to in a Cosmo. I thought it was much better balanced that way. The last of our company enjoyed the Basil Gimlet, which was a simple concoction of Tanqueray Ten and Lime, with a bit of Basil muddled in for good measure. The drink was refreshing herbal and very STRONG!!
We shared an order of their Baked Goat Cheese as an appi, and the cheese arrived warm and squishy having been rolled in bread crumbs and baked. It was accompanied with butter lettuce, and a few warm slices of toasted levain bread. The result was a deliciously creamy & slightly sweet spread that covered the bread well with a nice tangy balance of cheese and herbs.

Several of us also indulged in the Butternut Squash Soup, which was really that last breath of fall weather in a bowl. The silky pumpkin-esque flavor of the squash was spiced to perfection — the subdued subtlety of its flavors were rounded out with a light squiggle of creme fraiche and a handful of croutons laid gently over the top.

The BH ordered their Mussel Soup. He fell in love with the saffron cream broth and I was close behind him. It had this lovely cream and butter taste, with just a hint of the fennel coming through to tease the palate. The soup itself was full-bodied, a steaming bowl of hot, lovely mussels, all blanketed with golden broth and snuggled among Yukon potatoes that still had a bite to them. I like my potatoes to give me just a touch of resistance to the teeth, almost like biting into a grape. If their mushy, it’s no good. The addition of the spinach gave the dish a nice earthy finish. This was a rock-star version of a traditional white clam chowder. Inventive and pretty, that broth was heavenly perfection.

I ordered the Loch Duart Salmon. My girlishly pink slice of fish had a lovely crisp on its top, but remained moist and juicy inside. It arrived blanketed in delicious creamy goodness, and plated atop some lovely winter greens — capers, roasted red pepper, green beans, brussell sprouts, zucchini, cauliflower — all beside a creamy hot polenta amounted to an elaborate set of contrasting flavors all working my palate in harmony. There is nothing quite as satisfying as the taste of really well prepared fish. For me, it is always a delightful surprise. The house-made aioli added the perfect acid finish to compliment the flavorful, slightly fatty meat of the fish.

The BH ordered the Coq Au Vin, which I believe was what I ordered at my last visit. The only other place it might be better is Claude’s Bistro in San Francisco (or maybe I just remember their Coq au Van more favorably because they have such good-looking waiters and I’m always a tiny bit drunk when I’m there). But if there is a difference it is a subtle one. This dish should be chicken that has stewed for a good deal in red wine, braised until the meat is falling off the bone, seeped with the flavor of the stewed vegetables that accompany it. In this case pearl onions, crimson mushrooms, chunks of bacon and arugula. Today was polenta-fest at Soizic. As you can see, all the dishes were served beside the creamy rough-corn pudding that is a staple in Italy and has finally made its’ way to American tables.  This was a light airy version of the dish and quite tasty.

The Grad Student indulged in a beautiful Braised Short Rib which she said was done exactly to her liking. Our PFC tried the Smoked Penne Pasta with Mushroom, sauteed onion, sun-dried tomato and broccoli. The dish was being served with either mushrooms or chicken, but he requested both and they obliged. It was good, topped off with a lovely fresh-grated parmesan cheese.  Two solidly good, if not fanciful or awe-inspiring, dishes.

We did not linger for dessert, we were stuffed. Another extremely successful meal. Soizic is not the newest of Oakland’s treasures, but it is certainly a reliable visit. Check it out for yourself, and Bon Appetit!
Soizic Bistro
300 Broadway  (at 3rd St)
Oakland, CA 94607
(510) 251-8100

Table size: adequate
Noise Levels:  ONE BELL = Pleasantly quiet (less than 65 decibels)
Service:  attentive and rapid
Dining Time: in and out in an hour when necessary

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