The Weekend, Part One: Friends

July 13, 2008

The Subtitle of this post is “The Vegetarian goes to a Steakhouse”.

This weekend is a crazy one for us. Lots of time with friends and family and LOTS of food, so I decided to break it down into a “friends” post and a “family” post. Tomorrow’s post will have photos and a recipe or two.

Friday night we went to El Gaucho with Deb and Jeff, our wonderful neighbors and friends, and the builders of our house. We have shared many a happy hour together; summer ones out on the deck while the older kids chase each other around the yard, and winter ones where it is dark by 4:30pm and we are wondering how to survive until the kids go to bed. During one of these happy hours we somehow got on the topic of eating dinner at El Gaucho and the fact that Jeff had never eaten there. Jeff is – how do I put this? – a meat and potatoes guy, emphasis on the meat. I often bring them food and he is always lovely about it, but I’m sure as soon as I am out the door he asks his veg-friendly wife, “What the hell is this crap?” So I found it funny that I have been to the Palace of Meat and he hadn’t.

We hatched a plan to go for the July birthdays (Jeff and me) and had a great meal and a lot of fun with them. You may be wondering – why on earth would someone who has been a vegetarian for 22 years want to go to a place that is basically a celebration of meat? Actually, there are several reasons. I’m a sucker for a baked potato and they have a great one. I know exactly what I am going to get (side dishes) so there is none of the expectation that is almost always dashed when I go to other restaurants. The service there is impeccable. And it is so swanky. I always feel like I am in some other city or some other time when I go there. And they have Bananas Foster of which I don’t eat the bananas or the ice cream, but would drink the caramel sauce out of a wine glass if I could get away with it.

We were out pretty late but I managed to get up and go for a run the next morning before some family came over (more about that tomorrow). We were a little rushed because we needed to catch a ferry to go to Bainbridge Island for a get-together with our supper club.

This club started soon after my older son was born. Because that whole period of my life is a little foggy (sleep deprivation, anyone?), I don’t remember why that suddenly seemed like a good idea. Whatever my thinking was, I was certainly inspired when it came to asking the couples I did. I picked an old friend, a medium friend, and a new friend couple. Jen and Tom (I’ve known Jen since middle school), John and Lauren (I’ve known them for 12 years), and Lauren and Travis who Randy and I met at the Lamaze class we did together. All are people who love food and wine, and all are people who I sensed would really hit it off.

We hosted the first dinner in February of 2005 and have been getting together on a regular basis ever since. We have eaten a lot of great food, drank a lot of great wine, shared some wonderful late nights at Jen’s parents’ incomparable compound on Whidbey Island, and celebrated the births of four of our children together. The group has gelled wonderfully – having a supper club night is one of my very favorite things to do in all the world.

Saturday, Jen and Tom bravely opened their home to all of us with our children. Now, they have four of their own, so not much phases them, and their home and incredible yard is so idyllic and safe, you just relax as soon as you get out of our car. With a baby on her hip, Jen proceeded to put together delicious snacks and an early dinner for us, only to have us rush off and leave them with a huge mess so we could catch our ferry back to the city. Sorry guys!

I offered to bring dessert since it seemed crazy to me that she was going to cook for eight adults and ten children – thankfully she took me up on it. I went against my intuition (which is all-chocolate-all-the-time, except in summer when maybe a fruit pie is acceptable) and made a Hazelnut Brown Butter Cake from the Sunday Dinners at Lucques cookbook. Deb at Smitten Kitchen raved about this cake and also noted that she covered the cake in a chocolate ganache, so I figured I would go for it.

Truthfully, I didn’t like it. But I don’t really like nuts, especially in my desserts, so I guess it’s not surprising that I really just wanted to lick the ganache off the top and do away with the cake. But Lauren F., who is a big fan of my desserts, said it was in her “top five” – wow! I’ll have to file that away. Randy politely ate his piece and half mine but I know him and I know he didn’t like it. Maybe he is not a nut guys either. Because I didn’t love it, I am not going to post the recipe but if you are a hazelnut lover, check it out here.

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