Friday, August 24, 2012

A Foodie Honeymoon: Monday Dinner at Domenica

It's strange how anticipation of an event can be a complete killer to an experience because it doesn't live up to what you want it to be.

OR it can be a total laugh because the experience completely blows away even your wildest hopes.

Such was the start of our John Besh honeymoon.  Domenica, his Italian restaurant, was our first stop.  After unloading at the hotel and taking a brief siesta, we walked to this gorgeous restaurant for happy hour (a restaurant who's decor was as fantastically un-Italian as you could get):

Domenica in New Orleans, LA

Happy hour at Domenica means 1/2 price pizzas, beer, wine by the glass, and well cocktails.  Considering we were going to get pizza and beer anyway, it was quite a deal for such a great place.  But there is something about getting restaurant food for a deal that always makes me feel a little--oh, I don't know--like I'm being cheap.  Which I am.  But I always have a twinge-y feeling that the waitstaff will be disappointed in my cheapness and therefore treat me less.

Well.  Let me introduce you to Vanessa and Corey.  If you have the same qualms as I do, they will make you feel right at home and laugh your qualms to scorn.

The first item set on the table was a bottle of water.  Vanessa introduced herself as Corey, who she was training, and the evening got off to the perfect start with a good laugh.  We introduced ourselves as well--something that I like to do--then Vanessa then took our drink order: I ordered a local IPA, and Chef Reiton ordered a blonde (beer, that is.  Domenica isn't that kind of place...). 

When Vanessa and Corey returned with our beers and a chunk of hot Italian bread with a bottle of pepper-infused olive oil, we chit chatted about what brought us to New Orleans.  Of course our honeymoon came up, and they both responded with congratulatory smiles and remarks.  We told them that we were honeymooning to eat at all of Besh's restaurants, and they asked if we'd eaten at August, yet.  We told them that Domenica was our first and that August would be our last.  And according to them, apparently that was the best way to do it.

In between bites of gorgeously chewy, bubbly bread, we perused the menu; everything sounded so good. Chef Reiton decided that he would go with the Calabrese: spicy salami, tomato, mozzarella, capers, and olives.  I was a little shocked--he hates olives.  But this was what we came to Besh and New Orleans to do: eat foods put in front of us whether we were scared of them or not.  I chose to go with the  Bolzano, a mix of pulled pork shoulder, fennel, bacon, and sweet onion.  

Corey and Vanessa affirmed our food choices as we ordered, then dashed off to the kitchen.  As we waited for our food we snapped some pictures

and talked excitedly of being together, being married, being foodies.

And then Vanessa and Corey showed up.

Not with the pizza but with flutes of sparkling wine.

"Congratulations!" they both said and set the glasses before us.  "It's your honeymoon! We had to do something.

What a wonderfully surprising treat! We thanked them profusely, then toasted each other, and took another picture.

Soon our pizzas came, way larger than I expected and absolutely gorgeous.  The Calabrese was fantastic: salty from the olives and capers, with a good pucker from their pickling.  The spiciness of the salami bit back, too, but the whole seemingly chaotic mess was sweetened by the tomatoes and  smoothed out in the mellowness of the mozzarella.  It was perfect.  A full tongue experience.

pizza at Domenica in New Orleans, LA

My Bolzano was also very, very good.  It was a much more subtle dish.  The pulled pork was not spicy, and the bacon was not overly salty or smoky.  The meats' flavors were kept simple, given depth and sweetness by the roasted fennel and the sweet onion.  The combination was--comforting.  And it was real food.  I found a bone chip in a chunk of pork, for crying out loud.  Why??? Because THEY ACTUALLY SMOKE AND ROAST THEIR OWN MEAT.  Ohhhhh, foodie heaven.

pizza at Domenica in New Orleans, LA

I giggled as we snapped away at our food, glancing around to see if anyone was frowning upon our unclassy behavior.  "I don't care," I muttered as Chef Reiton framed the shot.  "We came here to eat, and there is no way I'm blogging without pictures."

When we couldn't eat anymore, Corey and Vanessa insisted that we have dessert.  We both paused, and they suggested we share--then left us with the dessert menu and the words "Banana Zuppa Inglese" ringing in our ears.  We read the description: "moist banana cake, butterscotch mousse, and peanut brittle."  One glance across the table said the same thing: we're on our HONEYMOON.  And when Corey came back, we simply said, "Let's do it."

A few minutes later, we were presented with this (you can see Chef Reiton couldn't wait):

Banana Zuppa Inglese at Domenica in New Orleans, LA

Our first notice was of the vessel: a canning jar! So rustic. So simple. So screaming "HOMEMADE!!!"  

And then I noticed something even more unusual: I liked the brittle, and I HATE peanuts.

I was very quickly starting to understand this about a first class restaurant (which I have frequented very, VERY rarely in my 37 years): here, delight is in everything, because everything everything is made from scratch from quality ingredients.  No half assing.  No skimping.  No cheating.  Make it the real way and make it good, and you will have customers like Chef Reiton and I making obscene noises at your dinner table.

A final discovery with our dessert was this: it is truly a delightful experience to dive downward with your spoon and resurface with an array of ingredients that look to be completely distinguishable but meld in your mouth to become one utterly unified flavor unlike anything you had tasted before.  Creative flavor genius at work. 

Shortly after demolishing our B.Z.I., Corey and Vanessa came to check on us and give us the bill--and a plate of fudge cookies.  They congratulated us again--and we thanked them again: two of the most delightful people who had ever waited on us.

As Chef Reiton signed the check and we pushed the last plate away, we turned to each other, brushed the crumbs off our fronts, and laughed.  We were stuffed.  We were happy.  We had leftover pizza. 

We had started the journey.

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