Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Merlo on Maple

While I like to go out for my birthday, I like to do something special.  I like going out with friends but I don't like asking them to spend a lot of money to go out.  I, on the other hand, don't mind spending a substantial amount for a special dinner and I consider a really nice dinner a birthday present to myself.  I have and will be going out with family and friends for my birthday in small groups and while the places that I will be going won't be anything new to me, they will be special because I will be able to share with my family and friends.  For my birthday party to myself, I got an 8 course Italian dinner with a glass of Prosecco at Merlo on Maple.  Merlo on Maple is a regional Italian restaurant based on the food of Bologna, Italy.  The restaurant is in a townhouse that looks like it was built in the 1920s and is a very beautiful space.  As one might imagine, because the space was a former townhouse, there are several dining rooms.  I was in what looked like a former basement rec room.  The lights were floor lamps and their were a lot of vintage images on the walls.  There was an in-wall bookcase with a stereo that had a vintage look although it also had an ipod jack.  The music that was playing was mostly light indie pop which was nice to listen to when the room was mostly empty but impossible to hear when the room filled.  The 8 course meal that I ordered was a set menu with a glass of Prosecco (which arrived first) so I didn't have to think about what I was going to order.  My dinner started with some charcuterie.  I was served some housemade Prosciutto di Parma aged 24 months and some 18 month Parmigiano Reggiano.  It was simple but very good and a good start.  The prosciutto was sliced thinly as prosciutto is and had a nice strong flavor and the Parmigiano Reggiano was very nice and nutty. 

The next course was a Warm Artichoke Tart which was served with a side salad dressed with a Balsamic Vinaigrette.  While they called it tart, I would call it a quiche.  This is neither good nor bad, it's just a difference in terminology.  In addition to the artichokes, it had eggs, cream, mortadella and Parmigiano Reggiano.  I didn't really taste the mortadella, the flavors of the eggs, cheese, and artichokes were the prominent flavors, but it was good in any case.  The salad was very fresh and the balsamic vinaigrette was something else.

The next course was an Eggplant  Parmesan.  It took sliced eggplant rolled with more Parmigiano Reggiano and Parsley, baked and covered in a fresh and housemade tomato basil sauce.  I am generally not a fan of eggplant.  I find it slimy and pretty unappetizing but this was something else.  Admittedly, it wasn't exceptionally pretty and because I was eating a multi-course meal, the individual serving size was smaller than it normally would have been, but I definitely would have enjoyed a full size portion of this. 

The next course was the soup.  Personally, I would have served the soup before the eggplant but I suppose that since it is early in the progression it does make sense.  The soup was a Passatelli.  It is essentially an Italian Chicken Noodle Soup.  The broth was chicken (obviously), but the noodles were unlike anything that I have ever had.  They were made with eggs, Parmiagiano Reggiano, and bread crumbs.  They were really good and while they held together fine, they were also very cheesy.  It was kind of like soaking a grilled cheese sandwich in the soup that you would normally eat it with.  I normally find chicken noodle soup pretty boring but I did make sure I finished this.

Finally we got to the meat of the meal, if you will excuse the pun.  I was served Handmade Tagliatelle with a Bolognese Meat Ragout.  The tagliatelle was uneven as one might expect from handmade pasta and it was cooked perfectly, having the right amount of toothsomeness.  Of course it was covered in Parmigiano Reggiano.  I have nothing to say about this other than that this too was very good.

The next course was another pasta course and it was much better than I would have expected.  It was Tortelloni al Burro e Salvia.  I like tortelloni but this dish was so simple that I wasn't expecting much.  Like everything else, this pasta was housemade and stuffed with Ricotta di Pecora and tossed with fresh sage and butter.  It was buttery, creamy, cheesy, and roll-my-eyes-back good.

Yes, this is a picture of an empty plate.  As you might expect, I liked this dish as well.  It was a Grass-fed Beef Tenderloin Medallion.  It was actually a pretty big medallion and it was covered with shaved black truffles.  While I have had things flavored with truffle oil, I have never had real truffles.  They let themselves be known with their odor as soon as the plate.  It was served with a Kabocha Squash Souffle.  The beef was very tender and flavorful and the truffle shavings had a flavor much more than that of just truffle oil.  It had the strong pungent flavor of truffle oil but it also had the mushroomy flavor that you might expect from a fungus.  The souffle was very delicate and had a flavor that very much complemented the flavor of the steak and the truffles.

Finally, we came to dessert and it was something else.  It was an Angel Food cake soaked in Rum and Grenadine, filled with Pastry Cream, and Dark Chocolate Mousse, and drizzled with Dark Chocolate Sauce.  It was served with a sliced strawberry and a biscotti.  The cake was sweet and very moist and a very good finish to a very good dinner.

The food at Merlo on Maple is very good with everything being housemade and the space is classic and very nice.  The music was nice when I could hear it and the wait staff was very friendly.  The only negative that I have to say about my dinner was that the pacing was a little slow.  While I did enjoy my dinner and would return, if the pacing was a little faster, it would have been much more enjoyable. 

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