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Wednesday, March 27, 2013


I agonized over the restaurant decision for my Daddy's birthday dinner this year.  I've received high praise for my previous picks of Socorrat Paella and Casa Mono so I didn't want to screw this one up.  If you're smart, you picked up on the fact that the last two birthday restaurants were Spanish, my father's fave.  I decided to make a sweeping departure to French fare this year, knowing that big risks often reap big rewards.  I knew my hunch to change it up paid off when I saw my father eating his meal at Calliope with a big smile on his face.  Huge sigh of relief from my end of the table.

Before I get into the food, I just have to mention the service.  Friendliness like this is what takes a meal from great to fabulous.  We were seated about 15-20 minutes after our 9:30 reservation - no big deal; we were happy to chill at the bar for a few minutes and have come to expect a lack of punctuality in New York.  The staff, however, recognized that even if a wait is the norm, it shouldn't be.  They apologized by bringing us a dozen oysters paired with wine, on the house.  The meal was immediately off to a good start.  They kept the momentum going by checking on our table enough to make us feel wanted without being pesky.

The first app we ordered was the farm salad because I read in the 2013 Best of New York issue that it was the best salad in the city.  Big spears of lettuce were topped with fresh feta (creamier than most) and dressed with dill (I think) and a vinaigrette.  So simple, yet one of my favorite items of the evening.  We also ordered the mackerel with avocado, black sesame, and chile sauce.  This was probably my Daddy's favorite.  It was slightly out of place with the rest of the French food, but still thoroughly enjoyable.  We also ordered an appetizer special of fois gras mixed with pork and served with toast.  Saltier and less smooth than a typical fois gras, it was perfect French country food.  Moving onto the entrees, my Mom ordered roast chicken, my Daddy ate every bite of a veal tenderloin special, and I went with rabbit pappardelle.  "Mmms" were heard around the table after every bite.  The rabbit in my dish fell apart like pulled pork and the herbs lightened up the heavy pasta.  Finally, we had a flourless chocolate cake with vanilla sauce for dessert.  It was very rich and almost put us over the edge, but it's just not a birthday without cake.

It is my humble opinion that mastering the simple dishes (like those of Southern France) is more difficult than executing something complicated.  There are no trendy ingredients to hide behind, no foams or fusions.  You just have to know the perfect amount to use of a given herb and just the right time to pull a dish off the stove or out of the oven.  Calliope has nailed the difficulty of simplicity.

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