They say life begins at 30. So what have I been doing for the past few years? Living under a rock? Apparently so.
Thursday night, my friends Mahesh Sethuraman and Anita Lau arranged a wonderful birthday meal at Leatherby’s Cafe Rouge in Costa Mesa. I had never been and kept my mind open to what the evening could possibly entail.
Leatherby’s is located in the Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall which makes for a wonderful and elegant setting and given the season, I couldn’t help but smile at the hint of cinnamon in the air, the beautiful Christmas tree that graced the entrance, and the delightful staff that ushered my way in. I love this time of year.
My birthday meal was a mix of happy hour appetizers and the inspiration of Chef Ross Pangilinan. We started the evening with an order of Prince Edward Island mussels, Hudson Valley foie gras torchon, and scallops and a Peachy Pear Martini for myself. If you know anything about me, the first few selections are already foreign to me. For the past few years, I’ve dubbed myself a “flexitarian” – a vegetarian that occasionally dabbles in the world of carnivores and it’s usually with something safe like turkey and chicken however none of those were to be found on their menu so I had to force myself to not think about the food I was about to consume.
The martini gave me just enough liquid courage to start in safe mode with the scallops and work my way up to the adventurous plates. This appetizer is served on a bed of Israeli couscous mixed with peas and chorizo, shrimp, and two perfectly cooked scallops. The flavors created a wondrous sensation for my taste buds and I was eager to try the next plate but shied away from the mussels. Luckily for me, my dinner mates eagerly ate them up while I took some bread and enjoyed some of the leftover lobster coconut broth.
Before the next adventure, Chef Ross came out to introduce himself (the highlight of my evening) and serve us a signature dish – the Maple Leaf Farms duck breast. It’s paired with a side of mushroom risotto, caramelized blackberries, and we were lucky to get fresh shaved burgundy truffle. I surprised myself by announcing I was willing to try both the duck and foie gras even though every ounce of me was cringing and also watching the door for an PETA protesters considering all the controversy surrounding foie gras. Goose liver and a side of duck never hurt anyone, right?
It was mind over matter after first bite. The sweetness of the fruit combined with the salty texture of the meat was a delightful treat and left me wanting more. I polished it off with the creamy risotto and a few bites of the Japanese Hamachi – which was seared with chili pepper, green apples, and jicama. We polished off our savory meals by nibbling on an assorted cheese plate that came with dried fruit and nut bread, honey comb, chutney, and candied walnuts.
The night ended with a surprise birthday treat for Kristen (celebrating a belated birthday) and myself. My treat was the “not classic” New York Cheescake while Kristen was served the panna cotta with a pistachio chocolate bar. My “not classic” cheesecake fit its description. The texture was unique. Not quite dense as other cakes, but rather fluffy and creamy so that it’s not filling. It was served with a strawberry froth, butterscotch crumble and fresh berries. As I blew out my candle, I made a wish for my beloved friends who arranged this wonderful meal, a wish for the new year, and life in my 30’s. I am definitely ready to explore the unfamiliar, begin life anew, and embrace what the upcoming decade has to offer. I graciously offer my heartfelt thanks for my wonderful friends for arranging this meal and offer my kudos to the staff at Leatherby’s and Chef Ross for making my 30th birthday an amazing and memorable event.
Check out the photos from Thursday night: