Saturday, November 15, 2008

Effie Ophelia's

Effie Ophelia is an intimate little bistro that reminds me of those in New York City. The décor is classically trendy and the seating is few. But unlike New York City, where you are sitting elbow to elbow with strangers, the tables are surprisingly spacious and the atmosphere relaxed and comfortable.

Effie Ophelia is a BYO, which I prefer, but there is a $5 corking fee. Not as bad as other places I’ve been to, but why have a corking fee at all? I just don’t get it. I’ll pull my own cork. It’s not that hard.

The menu is inventive, with some seemingly great combination of flavors and textures. It’s a bit heavy on the seafood; there was no beef offering that night, but as long as you know that, no one is complaining. We began with the Pork Belly and Jicama Slaw ($11) and the Sweet Potato Gnocchi in Sage Cream Sauce and Chives ($10).

The last time I had pork belly, I was at New York City’s Momofuku. It was braised until it divinely melted in my mouth. I declared I would never have Pork Belly anywhere else. At Effie Ophelia’s, the Pork Belly doesn’t reach divine, but it’s close. The pork, in all its fatty glory, wasn’t as tender as I’ve ever experienced, but the sauce is to die for. Rich and savory, with an undertone of wine, it had a nice, thick viscocity, and was so incredibly delicious, that the warm bread was well used as a vehicle to sop it all up when the pork belly itself was gone. The jicama and carrot slaw, marinated in a sweet and sour concoction had a bright burst of flavor, and the almonds had a dusting of curry and other spices on them. It was a great dish that would be hard to follow.

The Sweet Potato Gnocchi, richly coated in the sage cream sauce, was smooth and yet, substantial. A great melding of flavors, including the hint of cinnamon that subtly poked its head out, it was a decidedly satisfying dish.

Of the entrees ordered, the head of the class was the Sesame Seared Tuna, set on top of a napa cabbage and radish kimchi slaw ($25). It was ordered rare and seared to perfection. The tuna was a nice deep red color and it was cut through like it was butter—very little issue with the sinew, which sometimes can get in the way. The sesame seeds gave it a nice textural crunch and a nutty flavor that went well with the tuna. The Asian-inspired vegetable side was wonderful! When I saw that it was “kimchi,” I was thinking more along the lines of the traditional pickled and preserved variety, but it turned out to be more of a slaw, which gave it a more subtle flavor and delicacy.

The rest of the entrees didn’t wow me. The Sugar Barbecued Pork Loin ($22) was nice and tender, but a bit under-seasoned and served with a corn and tomato relish that didn’t do much to enhance the flavors of the pork.

The special – Pancetta-wrapped Halibut with roasted brussel sprouts, was served with a concord grape glacé ($27). Loved the brussel sprouts, with that smoky vegetal flavor. The Halibut itself was moist and flaky and I was expecting the pancetta to offer a nice crispy, saltiness to it. But instead, the flavors of the two were completely masked by the overpowering grape glacé. I admire the creativity, but it just didn’t complement the mild-tasting Halibut.

For dessert, get the Maple Crème Brulee ($7). Its sweetness was delicate, the texture was light and whipped, and the top sugar crust was beautifully caramelized and even. It was a good end to the meal.

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