For the past five weeks, we've been enjoying house guests. Maybe you'll think we're nuts, but we do enjoy having people come to visit and stay for long enough to get some serious catching up done. And when the house guests are as easy and cooperative as these three couples have been, it's a joy.
We waved goodbye yesterday to the last one for a while, although I did get a call from my cousin who might be coming for a short stay at the end of the month.
But what I really wanted to tell you about was a restaurant My Beloved and I tried on the last night Mark, my Fairy Godson, was here. It's in Berkeley, has been there for ten years, and is a wonderful find.
It's called Liaison. As you enter, there is a funny little sign affixed to the reception desk; it say, in French, "The chef is always right." The sign is correct.
If you like traditional French bistro cooking, this is the place for you. We tasted each other's dinners and all were excellent. I had Tarte Flambée to start and it would have easily been a meal in itself - I brought home some of both courses I ordered. It was delicious, really well made and perfectly cooked. My Beloved and Mark had the onion soup, which was similarly hearty - almost a meal in itself and intensely, richly beefyoniony.
For the main course, Mark had Boeuf Bourginon, which melted in the mouth, and My Beloved had sweetbreads, which he said were easily the best he has ever eaten, mild, sweet and tender. I tried the steak and frites just to see how their version of that standard stacked up; the steak with Bearnaise sauce was perfectly cooked and the sauce perfectly composed. The frites were not in the French style, sadly, but the aioli served with the frites was a revelation for garlic lovers like me. Dipped in the aioli, those fries were out of this world.
When the waiter came around with the dessert menu which, delightfully, she stamped onto the paper table cloth in front of each of us from a huge rubber stamp, we were all too full for dessert and more's the pity as each looked more tempting than the last. We settled for coffees, decaf for us and espresso for Mark (he's young). Mark said the espresso was simply delicious, as were our decafs. For me, the coffee at the end of the meal can make or break a restaurant - this one confirmed that we will be coming back.
Best of all, each coffee was served with a small square of dark chocolate on the saucer, as they frequently do in France and Belgium. It was the perfect ending to a spectacular meal - easily the best dark chocolate I have eaten in a decade. The shiny surface said it had been well tempered and the flavor was an explosion. It melted between my fingers within a few seconds, too - a sure sign that it hasn't had wax added to give it longer shelf life. Even better, it is locally made at Le Belge Chocolatier in Napa so hopefully I can get some for my own future dinner parties.
On the way out, I asked the hostess to thank the chef for such a lovely meal and she gave me two additional squares of chocolate for the road, so to speak. A small gesture that gave so much good will.
If you'd like a special night out at a very nice East Bay location, you can't go far wrong with Liaison. The wait staff was attentive but not overpowering, the ambiance is busy but not frantic, the food is really, really good and that chocolate...! Mon dieu, that chocolate was nearly as good as waving goodbye to the last house guest.