Saturday, April 17, 2010

Eating Out My Uncle Vin's Ribs n Eyes

I sit before you, dear readers. Full to the gills, simmering in a fabulous gut stew of well wrought culinary artistry and not a little bit of the vintnery, distillation and brewery arts. And though the booze doth drive me to write out the insanity that dwells in my brain, the food is what gives me a subject by which to humble myself.

So has Veni Vidi Vici made me this evening. As Tower jewels go, this is the Star of India of the district. We all hear about it, but far too many people have never seen it’s beauty. I mean, we’ve all had drinks with friends on the most awesome patio in the entirety of the Tower. But how often do you eat there? I’ve studied the menu many times and for some reason the dishes never seemed to fire my imagination. They’re certainly not lame, boring, same old same old. But somehow it lacks the WEIRD that most “gourmet” restaurants have. No smashed duck livers or baby cow cheeks or artfully sautéed buttholes in a fabulous doo doo sauce.

What a fucking pretentious dick I have become. By reading a few French cookbooks and figuring out how to make a not-ass cream sauce, I have somehow joined the ranks of “holier than thou who dost not watch Alton Brown” set. If it doesn’t have the stench gland of a Micronesian weiner beetle in it, it’s not cuisine, right?

Thank god for Veni’s showing up on the set this evening to remind me what a high-falootin’ jackass I am. Their cuisine isn’t boring or plain by any means. But despite the many compliments that wiser Tower goers than I have offered, I always looked at the menu outside and felt that it just didn’t challenge me. Dinner tonight taught me beyond any doubt that familiar ingredients can be used in new and fabulous ways. Foods you know can turn into amazing nutritional chameleons of flavor.

Kicking off dinner we had the goat cheese appetizer. A nice little pond of olive oil, with a modest tower of peppered chevre and a flotilla of calamata olives in attendance. Tasty and nicely spicy from the coarse black pepper. Good amount of acid and tang from the olives, smooth creaminess from the cheese and a bit of girth from the olive oil. Smash some of the garlic confit into the bread and you’re in heaven.

Middle course was the absolute weirdest! This was the first lesson. I knew each ingredient fairly well. But what they became in combination in my gob was astounding. We ordered and split their pear salad with arugula, spinach, bleu cheese and candied pecans with a mustard vinaigrette. I swear to you, with the whole affair in your mouth a’chewin, it tastes just like a strong cumin pork. Not a lick of meat in the salad obvious. For a neophyte still learning what food means as an art form, it was a big epiphany.

Ok, touchy feely hippy crap over. Main courses are on and it’s animaltastic. First there’s the juniper crusted pork chop. Sweet! Crusty, the flavor of fire mixed with spice and the flavor of sweetness. Juniper didn’t leap out at me, but it blended well with all the other players. Then there was the portabella ravioli with andoulli sausage and cherry tomatoes. Lord how I hate un-pureed tomatoes. But this rocked! Earthy and shroomy as hell. The evil woman stole all the sausage goodness, so I assume it was fabulous. And I scored on their rib eye.

A quick aside about the eye o’ the rib as it was described. I was thinking it was going to be a rosemary and blue cheese with maple syrup affair. How pleasantly and non-advertizedly surprised was I going to be! It’s still on it’s roasted new potatoes (CRISPY! Look burned, but that’s the caramelized spices on the top) and broccolini. But my toppings were a crust of goat cheese with a ribbon of Guilden’s Brown mustard and stripe of Sriracha, or as I prefer to call it, Cock Sauce (there’s a rooster on the bottle!). Food snob says, “I can totally tell what’s on here, this is therefore crap!”. But fortunately, people I consider wise have given Vin’s food much praise, so I STFU and saw some meat into my face. And….dare I say?? Toppings made from shit I have at home can actually taste so hella good I won’t whine about it being served at a restaurant! Ok, doesn’t hurt that a friend was comping dinner…but still! I’m a huge pain in the ass about restaurant meals and this shit tasted good as fucking on a school day! I'm totally stealing their recipe and plating. Now I just need their meat vendor and I’m set!

So, I’ve picked on my foodie-wannabe ways for a bit. Time to pat myself on the back. For, you see, my dinner mates had no stomach for attempting to further stuff their frames with the wonders of dessert. But there’s friggin bananas foster out there! Braving the first step, we also score some of their white chocolate ice cream. The foster was fab. Nice caramel sauce, ripe sautéed bananas and a filo crisp for a bit of crunch. The white chocolate ice cream was really subtle, maybe a tiny bit icy-crunchy but really nice. But the (raspberry?) sauce at the bottom was hard as heck to taste outside of the vanilla base.

Hands down, great experience. We had all psychically decided on goat cheese for the appetizer, and from there we ate nothing but recommendations from our server. Everything was damn well made, my steak done to actual medium rare perfection and even then, rested properly. And the one taste I got of the pork chop was a huge reminder that swine can be divine when well cared for. Veni’s rep is safe and even well deserved in my eyes. There might not be fois gras on the menu, but that doesn’t mean that they’re not turning out meals that are well worth the ticket price.

At first I was a wee bit worried being the Eating Out Fresno guy offering to show a good friend where to eat well in town. Especially since I had my own worries about the lack of oddities on the menu, but I wanted to take them where it’s easy to relax and have fun. In the end, it couldn’t have been a better call. Erna’s Elderberry might have been fancier, Trelio might have been more haute cuisine. But Veni Vidi Vici perfectly fit the bill for friends to enjoy wildly delicious food and to feel able to be very casual and catch up on each other’s current lives. Right now, Vini’s is holding the trifecta top spot in my heart with Cracked Pepper and Tower Dogs. Odd combo, but to me it means love.


P.S. and special shoutout to friend of EOF Tracy and her magical Italian stallion.  Many heartfelt thanks for a wonderful mealsperience and fun ass evening of draining the local watering holes of all of their booze.  This must occur again in your neck of the woods.  So it is written, so it must be!