Saturday, March 24, 2007

The Mortality of the Critic: Cypress

It hits you when you look at the last stringy strand of turkey on the Thanksgiving plate. You are surrounded by laughing family, telling stories of Thanksgivings past when Uncle Harold forgot to stuff the bird or when Cousin Laura forgot the milk in the pumpkin pie. You look at the last bite. You have been eating for 2 hours. You cannot see your feet under your enlarged girth. It’s over. You acquiesce. You lay down on the couch. Unable to move. A champion eater in your own right – you are defeated.

Cypress defeated me this weekend when I went with Veronica for dinner. The rosy walls and ten thousand palm tree paintings stared at me with a challenge. I am usually able to eat anything without feeling uncomfortable. I can go to all-you-can-eat night at Sonny’s and leave ready to get to Coldstone for a Gotta-Have-It sized Birthday Cake Explosion. After Cypress, though, I finished my entrée (and the four courses and two drinks prior) and barely forced down two ounces of espresso, all the while longing for the pear galette served with bleu cheese ice cream and candied walnuts that I would never be able to experience - at least not in the next few hours. Cypress brought me to my knees and reminded me of my own gastronomic mortality.

I thought it couldn’t get any better when I wanted to lick the plate that the amuse bouche was served on. A tiny stack of grilled foie gras sandwiched between two rounds of savory sweet potato bread pudding and topped with fig preserves and drizzled with exquisitely tart green apple gastrique tantalized me and dared me to call it out into battle. I mopped the last of the vivid gastrique up with my slice of ciabatta and washed it down with my green-appletini. Executive sous chef Brian Knepper came out to say 'hello' and Veronica informed him that he was "the only man who could get [her] to eat goose liver." This was quite a feat for Chef Knepper, being that Veronica's main staples include cheese, ham, and tortilla chips.

My mother tells me to worry about my cholesterol. She’s probably right, but I figure that my stubborn abstinence to egg yolks will cover me. But when a sea-glass green plate was set in front of me with three cheeses, I couldn’t resist. After living in Paris for more-than-a-few months, my inability to refuse cheese has grown steadily worse. On the left was a Green Hill double-crème, which was a half-brie/half-Camembert hybrid that had already half melted on its way from the kitchen to my table. In the middle was a “drunken goat,” an aged goat cheese cured in red wine, giving its rind a beautiful purple hue. My favorite was on the right. I have to admit, there is something romantic in a deep, flavorful moldy bleu. Cabrales is a Spanish bleu, milder than Gorgonzola, but still carries that signature tang. The cheese plate was drizzled with balsamic vinegar reduction and included a small mount of dried golden raisins and cherries. Twenty minutes later, the plate was empty, and the chance of Lipitor being in my future has increased significantly. And then I helped my best friend finish her artichoke and kalamata olive piadini, which was, of course, covered in melty mozzarella.

I could have stopped there and been comfortably full.

But the promise of a grilled-to-medium-rare full lamb rack was too much. It pulled me in. My plate was placed in front of me – a stack of perfect chops on a bed of roasted white asparagus and potato, celeriac, and spinach gratin, topped with daikon radish sprouts and drizzled with whole grain mustard vinaigrette. I chose an Argentinian Malbec, not-too-tannic yet still fruity and smooth, as a perfect complement for this unbelievably beautiful and exciting dish. The lamb was beautiful, the asparagus was crunchy, the gratin had an exciting Parmesan aroma, and I finished it. All of it. All that was left when I was through were six clean bones.

And I couldn’t move.

It took all I had to sip on the single espresso I ordered.

I was defeated. I couldn’t order dessert. But I was defeated with honor.

I lay down on the couch when I returned home and fell asleep.

It was 9:30.

For more information on this fantastic restaurant, visit Believe me, you want to eat here.

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