Over the past few weeks, a number of my sophomores have been trying to figure out my birthday. All they knew was that it was somewhere in February. Even though I had told them that one of my students (now a senior) had figured it out two years ago in five minutes through clever Internet research, and even though several of them read this blog, they were getting nowhere. It all turned into a game: they would come in every day and ask, “Is today your birthday?” And every day I would say, “No.”
They made sure that I promised that my birthday was not on a weekend, nor in school vacation week. Finally, after several hints about research techniques (especially from a colleague, who pointed out that this is a searchable blog), Irene, Seena, and Tricia figured out my birthday with two days to spare.
So, today really was my birthday. Barbara and I just got back from dinner at Sel de la Terre, our favorite birthday spot. Earlier I reviewed this restaurant for Barbara’s birthday last year and for my birthday three years ago. Sel de la Terre continues its excellent and nearly perfect tradition. We were worried that they might be spreading themselves too thin, since they now have a third location, but our worries turned out to be unfounded. Barbara started with mussels with ceci (which I call chick peas and Barbara insists on calling garbanzo beans); these came in a delicious tomato-y broth but with too much fennel for her taste. I started with a competent French onion soup; it was very hot and rich in flavor, though the cheese could have been more melted. For her entree, Barbara had tiny crab cakes with rosemary whipped potatoes. Both the crab cakes and the potatoes were first-rate. I chose rack of lamb with lima beans, scallions, and whipped potatoes. The lamb was luscious and flavorful, cooked rarer than the medium-rare that I had ordered, but that was fine with me: I love rare lamb. We had a nice bottle of a big red wine, Les Arbousiers from Domaine La Remejeanne, a reasonably priced but high-quality 2005 Cotes de Rhone. For dessert we shared a yummy chocolate espresso molten cake with espresso ice ream and cocoa cream; I think they took the calories out before assembling it, at least I hope so. After presenting us with the check, which was somewhat lower than last year’s, they gave us a freshly baked scone and corn muffin to take home.
I particularly want to commend the waitress for being consistently careful to ensure that neither the breads nor anything I ordered contained tree nuts, after only a single mention of my nut allergy. And they put a birthday candle on the cake, without needing any reminder: my birthday must be in their database, since they send me a certificate every February for 20% off.
Business was surprisingly slow for a Friday night. It must be the economy, since neither the food nor the service can explain it. Maybe that’s no surprise after all: apparently the high-end restaurants are all hurting, even if the cheaper ones are still doing all right.