Bashan's delicious menu offerings stay vibrant all year long
By Erica Wayne 10/16/2013
Actually, in my estimation (as well as innumerable Yelpers, Urban Spooners, Zagat and Gayot contributors), it almost doesn't matter what dishes Bashan puts on his menu. The perfection of his cooking is evident in whatever shows up on the plates delivered to his clientele. And, although this may be a slight exaggeration, so far we haven't found many disappointments.
Take, for instance, our most recent appetizers, the above-mentioned pumpkin soup and Maine lobster risotto ($19). You might think (as do I) that $12 is a mighty steep price to pay for a bowl of soup, even one prepared by a master chef. But, creamy perfection, spiked with crunchy toasted pumpkin seeds, tangy chive, just the right amount of Korean chili flakes and a smidge of olive oil, it's downright heavenly! As for the risotto, a smallish portion swimming in lobster jus, it has plenty of rosy lobster tidbits, some fat green English peas and a pinch of chervil. Rather than the more common Arborio rice, Carnaroli (preferred by many experts for its firmer texture) is used.
As for entrees, New Zealand king (Chinook) salmon ($28) is cooked to medium-rare perfection. Two large blocks, with seared skin and moist peach-colored flesh, sit perched on the plate, sided with a thick piece of smoky bacon, a few tender asparagus tips and some sticks of buttery celery root carved down to French fry size. Beet jus adds a vibrant hue.
According to the menu, roasted duck breast ($29) is accompanied by wild rice, heirloom farro, pickled red jalapenos, pecans, plum relish, duck jus and pea shoots. Three thick slabs of rich fowl are laid on a bed of mixed grains, peppers, nuts, relish and jus, a rough-textured melange. Atop the meat are the shoots, oddly whitish instead of green and hinting of vinegar. Despite its unexpected appearance, the dish is excellent.
The dessert my husband orders repeatedly is Bashan's chocolate bread pudding ($8) with a drizzle of chocolate sauce and a dollop of vanilla ice cream. The recipe produces a sweet flavor as dense and dark as the best cocoa (including nibs) can make it. But, to me, the result is far more reminiscent of a great brownie or a deeply satisfying flourless chocolate cake than pudding, except perhaps around the edges of the two rectangular pieces, enjoyable but not exceptional.
My favorite finale is Bashan's unusual buttermilk panna cotta ($8). The decadent custard is topped with pomegranate granita, an intense fruit ice that melts into a ruby puddle as I attack the bowl. And, although I absolutely despise most "salted" desserts (especially caramel or butterscotch), I have to make an exception for the sparingly applied kalamata olive caramel. The brined olive flavor adds a piquant complexity. Slightly salted puff pastry straws crisscross the surface - a nice if superfluous touch.
Bashan's summer beer and wine list included a couple of local beers from the Eagle Rock Brewing Company, including their Populist IPA, one of my favorites. On our most recent visit, they were no longer available. Instead, my husband quaffed extra-strength (9 percent) Bornem Triple Abbey Ale ($8 and too sweet for my taste) while I tried a new arrival, Anderson Valley Hop Ottin' IPA (only 7 percent and $6, with a pronounced bitter finish and an adorable stag-horned bear on the label).
Bashan's wine list is carefully selected and ranges from domestic and international whites and reds in the low $20s to an $85 Napa Valley cab (Paul Hobbs "CrossBarn" 2010) and a $100 bottle of Louis Roederer Brut Premier (NV). Mark-ups are about double retail. If you want to bring your own bottle, the restaurant's usual corkage fee is $15. On Wednesdays there's no charge.
Wednesdays are also good for Bashan's $40 three-course prix fixe meals (they're only available Tuesday through Thursday). If we'd ordered our soup, duck and dessert on the fixed price menu, we'd have saved $9. But, of course, there are a few higher priced items, such as the risotto, that can only be ordered a la carte, and a couple, such as the scallops, that have a surcharge.
Bashan also offers five-course ($65) and seven-course ($85) tasting menus, available every evening. These differ from night to night and, even more interesting, from table to table, depending on the diners' preferences and the chef's fancy. With all of the prix-fixe menus, wine pairings (adding up to $5 per course) are offered.
Bashan, only a few steps north of La Cabanita, another favorite restaurant of mine, is small (about 40 seats), intimate and - as the days grow short - dark. With muted concrete floors, beige walls, walnut tables and chairs, blackened ceiling and dim lighting from the contemporary geometric starburst chandeliers, the décor (even the intricate wine rack that masks the kitchen to the rear and the whimsical tree adjacent to it) takes a rear seat to the cuisine.
On our last visit, just past 6 p.m., the light was so muted that we could barely make out the components of the delicious amuse-bouche (four or five salmon eggs placed on a cube of watermelon dressed with fresh dill and olive oil and presented in a ceramic spoon) or distinguish the proffered olive from sourdough rolls. Nevertheless, no matter how low the light, Bashan's extraordinary quality shines through.