HAPPY NEW YEAR! I am not sure I ever thought the year 2010 would be real to me when I was a kid. That seemed so far away! And here we are, 4 days in and we should probably start Christmas shopping so we don’t get too far behind! Just kidding…sort of. Did you ring in the new year? To many people I know it is not really a big deal, though I love celebrating the new year even if I do celebrate it on East Coast time. I have been excited to write this because our New Year’s Eve celebration dinner was SO FABULOUS that I even got a copy of the menu so I would not forget a thing about it. Mark and I went to Brix 25 because we know we can depend on them for fabulous service and food… and it was even better than we expected!

First, I know you are dying to find out how the wine was. Mark’s Uncle Johnny gave us a bottle of wine for Christmas: Siskiyou Vineyards (Oregon) 1987 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. (Siskiyou Vineyards is now Bear Creek Winery) and we had no idea how it had cellared all these years. We got to the restaurant and were greeted by manager Jason Winniford who was on crutches and sporting a cast boot! I was feeling for him for sure since my ankle has still not fully recovered from that fateful fall in the kitchen-but I digress. Jason took our bottle and brought a decanter for it. As he peeled away the outer layer to reveal the cork, it did not look promising. The cork was soft and there was quite a bit of ‘crud’ that was crumbling off it. He was very careful in opening the bottle and did a perfect job of not getting any cork or crud into the wine. He decanted and then poured…and we sniffed. So far so good… swirling and letting it open and sniffed again: It smelled great! I took a tentative slurp and it was glorious! Jason shared a glass with us and this wine really was a very good wine. As it opened and blossomed throughout the evening we went from plums to prunes, molasses, tobacco and a little spice. It went nicely with a few of our courses and it was a marriage made in heaven with the beef.

They start every guest with a glass of sparkling wine and that is only the beginning of the great service they offer at Brix. Next comes some fresh bread and 2 compound butters that change nightly (I think). Ours was a black pepper butter (YUM!) and a marsala butter, which had a hint of sweetness to it. This is the only restaurant where I actually put butter on my bread! After all, if they are going to focus on details so well as to personalize their butters, I am going to appreciate that. As Mark and I perused the main menu I saw sturgeon and knew I was in for a treat. It is my favorite swimming fish, after all! Then Mark said-rather tentatively- that I should look at the fresh sheet. There were 2 special menus: A 4-course New Year’s Eve Menu and a 5-course Old Year’s Night Menu. (Each course was offered with a perfectly paired wine, which would have been great but we had Uncle Johnnie’s wine and did not need 11 more glasses.) We decided to share those 2 menus and we did not regret one single thing..unless of course you count wanting more oysters as a regret.

The first course was the Grilled Romaine Caesar (which is on their regular menu and remains my favorite salad ever!) and an Apple & Endive Salad with apple cider dressing, Rogue Creamery (Oregon) Blue Cheese, & toasted pecans. Luckily Mark loved that one even more than I did so I got a bit more than my fair share of the grilled romaine. Yay!

Next came the broiled oysters that had a touch of sweet and a touch of acid, both from a sabayon (fancy for foam) of preserved lemons, and dropped down on them was some caviar. Divine! We really did want more…though we by no means left hungry!

The next course was a Seafood Bisque with butter poached lobster, jeweled yam gratin, and a buttermilk foam. It was rich and velvety and truly lovely. We also got the Japanese Braised Pork Belly (I forgot to ask what made it Japanese) with a drizzle of mulled berries and molasses, and a drop of dijon. This pork belly was so tender and supremely cooked that I wanted to run back and kiss Chef Lyman! It melted in my mouth and the cuts were carefully chosen and had a fantastic meat-to-fat ratio.. I have never had pork belly done better than this. It brought out beautifully a smokiness, and certainly the molasses, I was tasting in the wine.

The ‘main’ courses were Grass Fed Filet Mignon, cooked perfectly medium rare, and served with a caramelized onion bread pudding, baby carrots and green peppercorn ‘jus’. A bite of this beef with a sip of the wine and our tastebuds were transported! Then I tasted the Oven Poached Black Cod. The fish was poached in white wine with capers, dill and shallots, and served over a bed of kale, which topped lemon risotto, and the whole thing was topped with a buerre blanc. Now I have to admit I was not overly excited about having boring ol’ cod with a too-rich butter sauce. I knew it would be good, you know, just fine for sure. HA! How I underestimated the talents of this kitchen! First of all the cod was as tender as butter and the flavors were full and beautiful! Then I tasted the lemon risotto, which you know I was skeptical of since I make a mean risotto…and the bright lemon flavor floored me! The rice was creamy and perfectly cooked, which is so hard to do in a restaurant! Ok so all aspects were superb until I tasted them together: buttery (and NOT too rich!) sauce, tender fresh fish with a salty tang of capers, a fresh herbiness of dill, a sweetness from the wine, shallots & rice, and then the burst of lemon combined to make it SUBLIME! I will rethink my attitude towards black cod, thank you Chef Lyman!

We were quite sated at this point and with dessert still to come we needed a moment. We had taken our time through these courses and 2 hours later we were just finishing up. Yes, I asked for more bread so we could sop up the sauce…I am always willing to forgo class when the food is that good! Be warned if you are dining with me! Mark did it too…

We enjoyed their locally roasted coffee and then our lovely and talented waitress, Holly, brought out our desserts. Mark had asked her to bring the recommended wine pairings with this course, so we enjoyed: Whipped White Chocolate Mousse with cinnamon poached pear and fresh berries, which was paired with 2007 Nobility Late Harvest Riesling. The other dessert that I ate way too much of was: Valrhona Chocolate ‘Snickers’-a de-constructed dish of house-made chocolate/almond nougat, hazelnut semi freddo (sort of like an ice cream) and crispy salted caramel, which was presented in sheets (like gelatin sheets, only way better!) and this was served with Churchill’s 20 Year Tawny. Oh. My.

We savored each course, lingering and enjoying every bit of it. We made reservations for Valentine’s weekend on the way out. This particular location has been our favorite restaurant since we moved here 12 years ago. First it was an Italian style restaurant called Marco’s, then it was Brix 25 under different owners than it is currently, and now Katie Doherty & Chef Thad Lyman have improved it even more. Keeping the manager was brilliant, and (as I know all too well) not changing too much about the menu, though improving it with their own twists is a great business plan! And their menu, much like ours, changes with the seasons and available foods, and that gives them a much greater creative license than a restaurant with a set menu that never changes. Fantastic service and fabulous food will win me over every time! Exceeding my expectations will keep me coming back and of course I will blab about it all over town so that you will go there, too! They are the best restaurant in Gig Harbor and one of the best restaurants ANYWHERE. They are world class and we are lucky to have them so close!

Ok, ok, I will stop blathering, I think it was revisiting the menu that got me going. Now it is back to earth! For New Year’s Day both sets of parents came over and we made our Halusky (my family’s tradition) and Mark’s mom brought their family’s tradition of sweet rolls to go with it. We had a really wonderful afternoon of visiting, and Mark finally got to show his parents ALL the Italy pictures (it took awhile) and we got almost all the holiday decorations put away. Or rather, Mark got them put away. It’s a nice deal: I put it out and he puts it away. On Saturday we went to see the Sherlock Holmes movie and I remembered that I hate the seats at the Gig Harbor Uptown Theater. It’s a great theater with great sound and all that goes with being new, but the seats force you to sit back, which cuts off circulation in my legs and bothered my already sore (from coughing last week) neck. I prefer the rocking style seats where you can sit back if you want to, or sit up straight which I always prefer unless my legs can be up, too. How whiney is that! Sheesh!

We are gearing up for the week and I think that this Friday/Saturday will be the debut of our biscuits and gravy for the morning! Then next week we will have Chicken & Dumplings for our Monthly Comfort Classic Meal. Farm fresh chickens and veggies, how can that be anything but fabulous?! We are also focusing our soup & salad specials (as always) towards wholesome, healthy options for those who are renewing their commitment to healthy eating, and we are even going to have some smaller cookies and ‘better’ dessert choices offered this month to help folks get on track. We are nothing if not supportive of our community!

I saw my favorite tv chef (Anne Burrell) do an interesting cauliflower ragu and so I am going to present that to you for this week’s recipe, though I am going things a bit differently than she did. This is a great thing to eat on it’s own, with some polenta, on some pasta, or as a side dish. It is wintery and warm and quite easy to make, so go ahead and make it!

Cauliflower Ragu

Extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, finely diced
Kosher salt
Pinch crushed red pepper flakes
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 (28-ounce) can Italian plum tomatoes (always buy whole tomatoes-I prefer San Marzano) crushed by hand or run through a food mill.
Water or broth (chicken or veg, your preference)
1 large head cauliflower, divided into bite-sized florets
1 lemon, zested
1/4 cup slivered Gaeta or kalamata olives
1/4 cup sliced caperberries, cut into thin rounds (or more olives if you can’t find the caper berries, which are near the olives in the grocery store)
A good bunch of Italian Parsley, chopped

Preheat the oven to 350

Coat a large saucepan with olive oil. Add the onions and bring to a medium heat. Add a generous pinch of salt and a small pinch of crushed red pepper. Cook for 5 to 7 minutes or until the onions look wilted and cooked but do not have any color. Add the garlic and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes and 3/4 of a can of water (or broth), and season with salt. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook for 20 to 30 minutes. Taste, it should taste good.

Toss the cauliflower with olive oil, salt & pepper. Spread out on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and put into preheated oven. Turn after 20 minutes and let it roast another 15 before checking. When done it should be really soft with some caramelization on the outside. Add the cooked cauliflower & parsley to the tomato mixture. Cook the cauliflower in the tomato sauce until the cauliflower has completely broken up and the sauce clings to the cauliflower, about 20 to 30 minutes. Taste to see if the seasoning needs to be adjusted. Stir in the lemon zest, olives and caperberries.