The diner's koan: When every bite is transcendent, are any of them, truly?
Last night's dinner at the bar at Cityzen was, in fact, a transcendent experience. The three-course prix fixe lives up to its accolade as the best deal in town: $50 gets you three courses that a mere few feet away would cost you $30 more, plus an amuse and even a gratis aperitif.
Sadly, the online menus are not up to date and I can't recall everything perfectly, but I can at least attempt a brief rundown (I'd give the highlights but they were all highlights).
Terrine of lamb with mint pesto, beet jam, and watercress tasted wonderfully and purely of lamb, with a hint of gaminess that instead of being off-putting served as a lovely reminder that, yes, this really was a lamb terrine, and not anything else. A grenache blanc had a hint of smoky oak to it that paired perfectly with the lamb. Sweet corn chowder with crispy veal sweetbreads gave off the essence of that corn, bought at the farmers market that morning, but the just-crisp-enough sweetbreads sent this over the top, lending an earthiness that underscored the rich creaminess of the soup.
Sesame-crusted salmon with cucumber and kohlrabi salad and cucumber jus was so perfectly cooked that I was reminded why I so rarely order salmon out -- it's usually dry and tasteless, and I can do better at home; this, on the other hand, was tender and full of flavor, with the perfect amount of crispy, salty sesame to offset the creamy, sweet fish. The crunch of the kohlrabi and slightly softer cucumber gave the dish even more lightness and freshness; overall, this was a feast of summery flavor, balanced by a light Willamette valley pinot noir that came alive with the sesame in particular. Braised veal breast with crispy shallots and sautéed greens was similarly revelatory, the meltingly tender meat both more delicate and more flavorful than I can remember veal being, and yet not overly heavy or beefy despite the long-cooked preparation. The bites of fried shallot were perfect little onion rings (there was possibly a small scuffle over who got the last one, I can't lie). An easy-drinking Côtes du Ventoux grenache-syrah rounded out the course.
The desserts, a chocolate ganache with apricot sorbet and poached apricots, and the "Cake and Shake" black-almond milkshake and peach polenta cake, were both delicious. I would have gone for a cheese plate had one been offered, since I have less of a sweet tooth than some, but the polenta cake and the apricots were not overly sweet, capping the meal quite nicely (and I cannot recall what the dessert wine was).
Our foursome had the bar to ourselves, so we had a lovely conversation with the eminently gracious Sal, who mixed us some fantastic cocktails to start and introduced my friend Darrell to Fernet Branca at the end of the night. Great company to match great food ... transcendent, indeed.