Sunday, December 30, 2007

Slims - Northside

I'd been dying to sink my teeth into Patrick McCafferty's culinary playground.

For months I tried to convince friends from almost every facet of my social life that we should sip and sup at this creative dining spot.

It finally took my 31st birthday and an opportunity to insist on a dining location to appease my nagging taste buds.

I went to Slims again last night and I must say, the venue has become my new favorite restaurant.

You can feel the Northside vibe as soon as you walk along the long, glass facade that faces Hamilton Avenue - there's at least one Stella-type scooter parked outside and the vestibule before the hostess stand is full of pamphlets pimping out a variety of art galleries and their eclectic showings.

The moment you step inside that vestibule, the spicy, fragrant fumes intoxicate your appetite. You inhale deeply, your palate imagining what kind of delicious trick you'll savor that night.

I made it to my party, wine bottle in tow (the great thing about Slims is its BYOB policy - plus no corkage fee) and was pleased to find a happy crowd of people enjoying the artisanal breads. The tables are dressed with white tablecloths and fresh flowers - the walls covered in original art created by local artists. One of my dinner partners was pouring a nice chardonnay in my glass when the server approached us with an offer: We were invited to move to another table in the more scenic, main dining room. It wasn't an inconvenience - we'd only just received the amuse bouche (gougere - a delicious, delicate pastry flavored with a hint of cheese, and also a savory shot of duck consomme)- and so we were quick to make it to the cozy table facing the exposed cooking area - wine bottles and poured glasses in hand.

My mouth salivated when I was handed the night's $40 prix fixe menu - so many options full of culinary theatrics. I chose the asapao for my starter - a spicy, Latin American stew made of seafood and vegetables. A vibrant, tomato based concoction flooded my bowl - punctuated with bits of green and yellow vegetables. It was delicious - but not as good as the soup chosen by another dinner guest. I had tried the cream colored vatapa last time and was lucky enough to get a spoon full on this particular evening. Vatapa is a Brazilian seafood stew highlighted with flavors of coconut and savory spices (maybe even some saffron?). The depth of flavors in this stew was far better than that of the asapao, and I am certain I will order the vatapa next time I return to Slims.

I also tried tastes of both versions of the mofongo pequeno - shrimp and pernil. Each of these starters are served in a cup made of fried plantains. The pernil dish is a Latin American roast pork shoulder drizzled with a tangy barbecue sauce. The shrimp version offered up healthy, juicy sizes of meat bathed in a zesty mojili sauce.

Then the salads came.

I went with the greens garnished with oranges, pomegranate seeds, goat cheese, red onion awash in an orange vinaigrette. I love it when a restaurant serves up a good salad - with a dressing meant to embellish the greens and other morsels. These days so many salads showcase the dressing as the main event, totally detracting from the other flavors on the plate. At Slims - the intention of the salad is to spotlight the variety of flavors hidden within the plate of lettuce. The pomegranate seeds popped and the smooth goat cheese melted in my mouth.

It was pure glory in a bed of greens.

Slims' long list of entrees provides a foodie with the heavy burden of many options. I was a heartbeat away from ordering the braised lamb shank covered in black bean fruit salsa - but another guest at the table nabbed that option before I could order. Always striving to be original - I went with the other possibility calling my name - plantain crusted cod with criolla sauce and Gujarati beans.

I was a bit hesitant about the cod option. My mind raced to all of the deep fried versions I've had over the years - in New England and in London - and I was a bit concerned as to whether this flaky fish would get the treatment it was due.

Slims served up a delicious dish in spades.

I marveled at the plantain crust - it offered a hearty crunch you'd expect from Asian panko flakes. The red criolla sauce is tomato and onion based, and it was a perfect, albeit unexpected topping for the cod. A golden ginger glaze lightly ringed the plate and I was a bit sad when I had mopped it all up with the flaky fish. Several juicy shitake mushrooms topped the nice piece of cod - they were delicious, too.

Wanting to taste my other dinner option - I finagled a bite of the lamb shank and it was excellent. Very tender, and not the least bit gamey.

I must mention the monkfish tail I had last time I was at Slims. It's served wrapped in Serrano ham and gently dressed in a chardonnay cream. This is also a delicious dish, especially for people who are hesitant to order fish - the flavor is quite gentle and all of the other savory bits on the plate are tempting to the tongue.

We finished the night with coffee and desserts all around. I shared a chocolate mousse ($5). It reminded me of the french silk pie my mother made for my birthday a month ago - a rich, cocoa laden flavor but in the case of the mousse a bit more eggy. It was great - though such an indulgence I couldn't finish it - I think that's a first.

The coffee was strong and served with a side of the richest cream I'd ever had.

The service was rich, too. Two different servers waited on our foursome, both were pleasant, congenial and anticipated our every need before we did. Both servers chatted with our table about their ancestry, traveling and went out of their way to be helpful.

Foodies looking for a burst of creative flavor will not be disappointed at Slims. Diners wanting generic, meat-and-potatoes fare should eat elsewhere.

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