I’ve always loved a good olivey, anchovy-laced tapenade. Which is why the name first caught my eye when looking for a restaurant in San Diego, to take my girlfriend, Joan, for her birthday dinner.
After reading one rave review following another, on La Jolla’s Tapenade Restaurant, we decided to celebrate there. It turned out to be the perfect pick! Although this award-winning restaurant is almost 10 years old, Chef Jean-Michel Diot offers as fresh and inspired a dining experience as one could hope for. His sauces were some of the best I’ve ever delicately dipped my bread into (OK–so I wiped the plate clean….) with haunting flavor nuances that never overpowered.
The lightness of the food paired well with the casually elegant decor. We were there during a heat wave, so we decided to eat in the bright, airy, dining room rather than the oh-so charming French patio, which would have been my normal choice. But this way we got Jeff as our waiter, which only added to our wonderful dinner. Jeff was funny, polished and really knew his wines. He has also worked there since the restaurant opened, and was still a very happy camper.
Since Joan had put in a long day at work, she didn’t care what we ate as long as she didn’t have to cook, so I simply ordered a bunch of different things for us to share. We opened with a gorgeous California-chic Crab and Mango Salad presented next to a pile of micro greens and a dramatic modern art slash of orange dressing. I sweetly ate my half and then passed the plate over to her. Our pastas arrived next, a Potato Gnocchi and Braised Artichoke dish was given to me, and the signature House made Wild Mushroom Raviolis in a Port Wine Truffle Sauce, placed in front of Joan. And that’s when my so-called best friend who was always on a diet, transformed right before my eyes.
She took a bite and it went something like this…” OHMYGAWD, what is in this sauce? It’s simply nirvana.” Next bite, “I could bury my face in this and die a happy woman… these raviolis are divine and this sauce is incredible!” Another bite, “I don’t care how expensive and fattening these are… I’m coming back and ordering three plates of raviolis all for myself… with an ice-cold beer!”
In all honesty, I was loving my light-as-air gnocchi under a parmesan, basil sauce that was also very tasty… however, you didn’t see me making a scene, as I ate “My Half” patiently waiting for her to trade dishes. When I saw her greedily going for the last ravioli, birthday girl or not, enough was enough! I grabbed her plate and whisked it over to my side. And that’s when my tacky bread wiping began… Yup, the sauce really was all that and more!
When I realized that somehow Joan had forgotten how to play nicely with others, I decided to double our order of Lobster with a Tahitian Vanilla White Corn and Lobster Sauce. Another still-art presentation with generous chunks of lobster, bright green peas, potatoes and porcini’s all kissed with that aromatic vanilla. And good thing I did, because once again… the “OhMYGAWD what is in this incredible sauce?”– song began playing again. When she finally came up for air, Joan said she simply could not fit in any dessert..but somehow she managed to make more than a small dent in the warm chocolate “fondant,” with a refreshing mint, honey ice cream.
The arrival of petite almond cakes and rich butter cookies signaled the end to a glorious birthday dinner. I really was glad that Joan enjoyed herself, although her loud “oohs and ahhs” could have been a bit embarrassing. (Thankfully, it wasn’t my home town!)
I put a copy of the Happy Hour Bar Menu in my purse, just so I’d have the restaurant’s contact information, and never looked at it until I wrote this story… and now I have a real moral dilemma!
During the week they offer incredible happy hour deals at the bar..and one of the offerings is “THE Mushroom Ravioli” for only $7.00! (And beer is $1.00 off) Now would a real friend withhold that information so Joan would not become a candidate for that Biggest Loser reality TV show or not?