Perfection. It’s a word we don’t use often outside of being hyperbolic. An experience that offers perfection is rare, generally occurring without warning or time for emotional preparation.
The other night, due to some sublime good fortune, my visiting parents and I had a brush with perfection. It was unexpected, though quite welcome, and it had a name: Tapas Sunday at Ciudad.
Let it be known that tapas are loathed by my father and mistrusted by my mother, both feeling there’s never enough food to leave them truly sated. Needless to say, they were less than pleased as we took our seats in the warm, cubism-inspired dining room. However, I explained to them, tapas is the perfect poor people fancy meal because plates are usually $5-$10, and since everything’s meant to be shared, you can have a gourmet experience for a portion of the price.
They both gave me a look that seemed to say, “How are you our child?” but they settled into the menus and tried to keep an open mind as our waitress, who was sweet and helpful, offered several suggestions and personal favorites from an extensive list of choices.
The first plate to arrive was a small bowl of delicate Sautéed Clams, Diced Pickled Tomatoes, Miniature Purple and Yellow Fingerling Potatoes, all floating in a Salsa Verde Broth ($13) that was so exquisite we placed two orders of grilled bread to sop up any lingering traces. My mother proudly licked the bowl clean in the middle of the restaurant. There’s no need for restraint when something is that unabashedly delicious.
Following closely on its heels, Goat Cheese Fritters served with Grilled Apricots, Caramelized Onions and Homemade Crackers ($6). When all three components are piled onto an accompanying cracker, the warm, sweet, nutty, creamy combination sings in harmony like a barbershop quartet.
Butter Lettuce Salad with Pomegranate and Bee Pollen ($5) arrived to provide a perfect clean and crunchy palate cleanser just as a plate of Crab Salad with Shaved Cucumber, Melon and Sherry Mint Aioli ($11) was being scraped clean of all its refreshingly sweet, crunchy, rich, meatiness.
Next, a duo of Calamari battled for dominance on the table. Fried Calamari with Paprika and Garlic ($7) was a decided favorite, dodging the typical, heavy calamari bullet that feels like it shoots you directly in the stomach after a single, greasy tentacle. Instead, this calamari, though fried, was crackling with flavor and the back burning heat of paprika. It was, without question, the best calamari anyone at the table had ever had … that was, until the Sautéed Calamari with Chorizo, White Beans and Roasted Peppers ($7) arrived demanding a third and fourth order of grilled bread to transport the buttery, winey, smoky, garlicky accompanying sauce to our mouths. Two totally different kinds of calamari offering two very different experiences, both sending your mouth into such ecstasy, you might find yourself discreetly composing sonnets to each bite.
But before you can count the ways you love thee, dessert arrives.
The Basque Apple Tart ($5) must make the French (my former favorite apple tart provider) burn with envy as sweet slivers of apple rest atop puff pastry, which is slightly caramelized along the bottom requiring a few extra, buttery, sugary tugs to procure a bite.
Espresso Dusted Churros ($5) are served with a healthy dollop of whipped cream that gets a lovely speckling of espresso, cinnamon and sugar every time you drag a still-hot-from-the-pan churro through the creamy fluffiness.
For $59 (plus tax), around $20 per person, it was one of the most delicious, luxurious and pleasant meals I’ve had in months.
Ciudad is the downtown outpost of everyone’s favorite Too Hot Tamales, Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger, champions of all flavors Third World and, more recently, all food organic, sustainable and environmentally conscious. But, on Sunday, they do more than make responsible food; they (with the help of Ciudad’s Executive Chef Kajsa Dilger) make meals where every bite, from start to finish, brings back that one word that seems so elusive in daily life: Perfection.
Ciudad is located at 445 S Figueroa St., # 100, Downtown. For more information, call (213) 486-5171 or visit ciudad-la.com.
Article posted on 4/20/2009
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