Dinner in Grass Valley

27 04 2008

We took a night off and went to Grass Valley for an overnight stay and met with some friends the following day. Since we went up the night before (I’d rather travel while I’m still in “work” mode, than get up early on Saturday), we thought, “What a great opportunity to try new restaurants!”

I researched dining choices in this area, and there were PLENTY! There were several cafe style places, and the usual Mexican and Chinese options, family dining as well…pizza chains and so on. Ethnic specific yielded one sushi/Japanese restaurant, one Himalayan (sounded rather like East Indian) and Diego’s…Latin American cuisine. Of the fine dining/bistro set, we opted for Tofanelli’s on W. Main Street.

Tofanelli’s menu looks totally delightful.  With options of steaks, lamb and ahi, we were THERE!  The restaurant is a lovely little place, situated in one of Grass Valley’s historic buildings, it’s narrow and deep, and full of antiquity.  It took a few minutes for us to decide, as the many choices were quite intriguing.  We finally settled on a starter of seafood gazpacho, followed by salads (his dressed with bleu, mine with Poppy Seed) and while Hubster selected the Australian Lamb Shanks, I settled on the Rib Eye combo with sauteed scallops.

I was a little surprised that the salads arrived first, and almost as soon as the order hit the kitchen.  The salads were composed of sweet, crisp Romaine and luscious spring greens.  They were top-dressed with just the right amount of dressing (which was fabulous in both cases), and the salad with bleu was topped with fresh bleu cheese crumbles that erupted from the top and coursed down the sides of the salad…divine!  We ate every morsel and soaked up the remainder of the dressings as well.

From that point on, it’s all downhill.  The sign on the front door stating they were hiring a dinner chef should have been our first clue.

The “starter” arrived next, with an apology, and two spoons.  For gazpacho, it was a little on the sweet side for our tastes, and the addition of lemon (provided) didn’t do much to cut it.  There was no underlying bite, and nothing available to add any zing.  The soup consisted of tomatoes, shrimp, and avocados…there might have been other ingredients in there, but….our entrees arrived before we could really get started with the soup.  That’s a pet peeve…we both despise that.

Sadly, the entrees were no improvement.  The Australian lamb carried the description, “Two lamb shanks, braised and slow cooked in a piquant BBQ style sauce. With garlic mashed potatoes, and vegetables…19.95″  Mexican borego could be described the same way, so…that was Hubster’s choice.  Wrong.  Good description, but…it tasted like standard bottled sauce, and the lamb was tortured into submission of deletable tenderness and presented swimming in a pool of sauce with the sides.  It’s a crime to treat lamb shanks that way.  Incidentally…it was served in a pasta plate…which meant there was no way to separate the lamb or the potatoes from the pool – not puddle, POOL – of sauce.  There must’ve been a full cup of the sauce ladled into the plate.  Why do they do that??  From there, to my rib eye with scallops…  When I ordered, I asked if the chef cooked medium rare as warm-red or warm-pink.  The server had no real idea, but that the steak would be cooked “perfectly.”  Somehow I doubted that. I chose to order my steak rare, and that was the right thing to do.  It came to the table, again, in a deep plate, though not as deep a plate as Hubster’s, a reasonable medium rare, topped with the sauteed scallops, mashed potatoes and a veggie melange.  Apparently they put the liquid from the saute into the plate as well, because everything was in, again, a POOL of liquid.  Apparently “saute” was not a word the chef understood well…because the scallops arrived poached, and it was the poaching liquid that filled my plate. Blech.  The steak was soaking in it, the veggies were swimming, the scallops were atop the steak and no where near the (virtually tasteless) swill.  Sorry.  Again, why?

And when will I get a little Gordon Ramsey moxie and send such plates back to the kitchen with an invitation to attend a cooking school or at least BUY a GOOD cookbook??

Dinner (seafood gazpacho $5.95; Australian lamb shanks $19.95; Rib eye combo $25.95), with 1 cocktail each, came to $68.83 with tax.  I over tipped.  Darn me.  I should have rethought that.  Oh well…not her fault, but she could have checked on us…and yet, she did pack up the left-overs for our dog-and there were plenty!  Would I go back…maybe.  Only after checking the other available places though.  The salad was good enough to recommend, hands down.  The rest…well…no.

Tofanelli’s of Grass Valley….2 whisks….3 if you’re only having a salad!

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