La Balena tops our list for a few of different reasons: (1) we adore the owners, Anna and Emanuele; (2) Chef Brad Briske is a culinary genius; and (3) it doesn't matter what you order, it's going to be amazing. La Balena is our pick for celebrations - my 40th, Easter lunch, capodanno, and more - and for delectable, romantic meals.
Tonight Anna and Emanuele weren't there - for only the second time since they opened the restaurant! - because they were celebrating their 14th anniversary. Auguri e baci! But, before Anna left, she poured us some prosecco and settled us in at the Chef's table. I loved being able to peer into the kitchen and watch the magic happen.
We started off with Polpo Grigliato. Grilled octopus and grilled watermelon with chili oil, lemon, and mint. I loved the sweet of the watermelon, the heat of the chili, and the zing of the lemon. And the octopus was, as it always is, super tender. I still have no idea how they do that.
After our prosecco, we had a Menabrea amber beer. Cin cin!
After the octopus, we had la Serata Insalata with lettuce from Blue Heron Farm in Santa Cruz, grapes from Silvestri Vineyards in Carmel Valley, pecorino from Sardinia, and - the clincher - quince vinaigrette.
We ordered D's favorite dish; Pappardelle alle Erbe with a wild boar-pancetta sugo. There are so many beautifully tasty words in that title, I don't even know where to start. But I will always order a dish that features wild boar. Always.
Funny story - the only objection D had to going on the trip with Nonni: Mommy, you're going to go to La Balena without us, aren't you?!? Yep, sure are. Sorry, Wom.
The boar sauce is aromatic and perfectly spiced. The pasta has a nice bite and slight hint of fresh herbs. No wonder this is his favorite dish...but we won't mention that we had it. He would be sad that he missed it.
We ordered il Pesce del Giorno - fish of the day - which tonight was a whole roasted sea bass, Manila clams, cherry tomatoes, in a chili-lemon butter. I loved the tender sea bass, peppery bite of arugula, and grassy notes from the shaved fennel bulb.
We made light work of the sea bass, eating it down to the bones!
We ended the meal with an Italian caffé. Potent, dark, and delicious.
Well, I ended my dinner with the caffé. Jake wasn't going to skip dessert. He ordered tiramisù and it was rich, chocolate-y, and delicious. I know he wanted to lick the plate.
Complimenti, Brad. It was another extraordinary culinary adventure at La Balena.
After chatting with Brad for a few minutes, we headed over to check out the charcuterie cabinet that Jake had build last year. Again, it was nice to peer behind the scenes. We might have to sneak over there one of these days when Brad is stuffing the salami.
It's nice to kick up our feet - me in my Barbie shoes and Jake in his Jesus slippers - for some kid-free time on the town.