Catal Restaurant - dinner - May 4, 2003
Catal's change to their Spring 2003 menu seemed like a perfect excuse for another dinner at Catal, especially since a few of the new items were of particular interest to me.
When our group arrived for our reservation, we were shown to our table. While I'm not sure there's a bad table in the place (I've at least not been at one), the tables by the fireplace are our favorites. The comfortable seating and cozy ambience of the fire make a perfect backdrop to a wonderful meal with good friends and great food. Our favorite server, Ryan, was there that night, so we were pleased to be at his station. When I make a reservation now, I always request Ryan if he is there that night.
One of our group had decided ahead of time what she would be having that night from previously perusing the new menu. Usually, I'm in the same position, but with the new offerings, I was trying to decide between a few things and wanted to wait until I had a bit more information about specific dishes.
The first thing that had jumped off the menu at me from the appetizer list when I had first seen it was the soft-shell crab. I love soft-shell crab but don't get to have it very often. Most of the rest of the table liked it as well, so we chose that as one of our appetizers to share. When it arrived, I had a bit of it, and it was delicious. I also really enjoyed the salad that accompanied the crab. I'm not sure what was in the dressing, but it had a wonderful flavor. The downstairs Uva Bar has soft-shell crab on their menu as well, but it's prepared as a sandwich. I definitely have to make a trip there for that. On our previous visit, the executive chef had told us a little about some of the new Spring menu items and had mentioned the Catalan platter, which would be a changing assortment of Mediterranean appetizers and sounded wonderful. We asked what the selections were this evening. I can't remember what the specific choices were, but two of the items had ingredients that I wasn't partial to, so we decided not to go with that. Maybe next time. We then decided on the spicy shrimp and date skewers to share among us, which we liked. One of the people in our group isn't partial to seafood, so she chose the soup of the day, which was beef vegetable, and she enjoyed her soup very much.
After going over the menu deciding on my entree, I asked Ryan about the new Sunday plat du jour, roasted suckling pig. I've had roasted suckling pig before, and I do rather like it, but I wasn't quite sure how it was being prepared at Catal. Ryan explained the dish to me, and it sounded pretty good. Among the other entrees I was considering was the osso buco, partly because I love it, but mostly because it's the only entree that includes polenta, which I immediately learned to love after having it for the first time at Catal two years prior. However, it seemed a shame to order a dish that's always on the menu when there were new offerings, so I decided to go with the suckling pig. One of the other people in our group had been planning on ordering the pork chop (there always seems to be pork chop on the menu, but it's just the way it's prepared that changes), but after hearing Ryan's description of the suckling pig, he changed his mind and decided to have the Sunday special instead. When we were ready to order, though, Ryan came by to let us know that there was only one serving of the special left in case any of us had wanted to order it. I deferred the serving to our friend, and I instead ordered the roasted duck breast, another of the dishes I had been considering. I'd initially decided not to order the duck because duck is on the menu for the Mondavi wine dinner at Catal that we're attending at the end of May. I'm accustomed to having duck, though again, prepared in a different way, so I was looking forward to trying it at Catal.
The first entree that arrived at the table was the roasted suckling pig, and it looked absolutely wonderful. My friend offered me a taste, and I couldn't turn him down. The meat was absolutely delicious, very tender and full of flavor. My friend commented that you could tell it would be tender as he was only given a regular knife, not a steak knife. At the end of the meal, he also commented that it had been a very generous portion. I told my friend that if I'd seen the dish prior to ordering, I might have fought him for the last serving because it looked so good. The dish came with an onion tart, and since he wasn't fond of onion, several of us were happy to share it among ourselves. The onion was cooked really well, so it was soft and sweet. Now I've got another excuse to go back to Catal during the course of the current menu, and next time, I know exactly what I'm having.
Two of us had ordered the duck, and we both liked it very much. The duck that I'm used to having is a bit darker meat, so I was pleasantly surprised that this duck breast had lighter meat. The duck came with a creamed corn skillet cake, which is basically a small corn muffin with creamed corn inside. The executive chef had specifically mentioned this creation to us, and while I generally don't like corn muffins or corn bread (there's only one place where I actually like their corn muffin), his description made it sound very good, and it definitely was. Others at our table ordered the fettucini and the filet mignon and enjoyed their meals as well.
After we had finished with our entrees, we contemplated the dessert menu. On our previous visit, they had just introduced a new dessert menu, and we'd ended up sampling a number of the new items. This time around, one of the people at the table ordered the warm plum crumble tart (which is one of my two favorite things on the dessert menu right now), and on my recommendation, two others ordered the chocolate and peanut souffle cake to share, which they absolutely loved. I'm partial to creme brulee, but I don't often order it at Catal anymore because lately, the three flavors have been chocolate, vanilla, and something else. As much as I enjoy chocolate and vanilla, Catal had gotten me used to more interesting flavors, so I find chocolate and vanilla to be a bit plain. This evening, though, the three flavors were vanilla, thai tea and apple. I'd had the thai tea once before and enjoyed it and had never had apple creme brulee. The thai tea was just as good as I'd remembered and the apple was pretty good as well. The chef de cuisine, who had come out to ask how we were enjoying our food, mentioned that they might be bringing back the three berry creme brulee (raspberry, blueberry and blackberry) sometime this summer, so I'm hoping for and looking forward to that as I'd had that previously and enjoyed it a great deal.
While we've always had good service at Catal, even on our very first visit, I did notice that this evening, the staff was particularly attentive. I noticed our water glasses being filled very often, something that can be a problem at other restaurants. Because of our repeat visits, we've become familiar with some of the staff, so it's nice to have a chance to chat with them during each visit. I think what most impresses me, and what contributes to our wonderful dining experiences, is how excited everyone is about what Catal offers. When we have the opportunity, we always love spending a few minutes with the executive chef as he tells us about this or that creation with such passion that you can't help but love what he's describing. This same enthusiasm can be found in the chef de cuisine, the serving staff and the management, and when you're at a restaurant where the staff is excited about the food and the experience, you can bet that the enthusiasm is going to permeate the process of preparing and serving the food as well as infuse the experience as a whole.
We learned a bit more about the new Mexican restaurant that The Patina Group is opening this fall in the space formerly occupied by Y Arriba Y Arriba. When we had heard about this last year, we were very excited and eager to try out this new place. So far, my experiences at Patina Group restaurants have been nothing short of excellent, so I expect that will continue. We're eagerly awaiting the opening of this new restaurant, but even though we expect it will be excellent, nothing will take the place of Catal.
For other Catal Restaurant and Uva Bar reviews, please click here.
For the current dinner menu offerings, please click here.
For the current uva bar and cafe menu offerings, please click here.
For Catal Restaurant and Uva Bar menu offerings from prior seasons, please click here.
To see Catal's specific webpage in the Patina Group website, please click here. (Note that the menus on the site are out-of-date, but there are some nice views of the restaurant and some background.)
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