As A) an only child, B) being born in the midst of summer and C) basically a latchkey kid w two working parents, I've long been used to celebrating my birthdays with the company of me, myself and I. In fact, I even prefer it, since the few occasions I've had bigger b-day celebrations, it was more stressful than its worth -- having to pick a place that everyone will like (particularly for those with mainstreamed palates or penny-pinching budgets,) figuring who should I invite and whether the personalities will match or clash, dealing with lame-O excuses and even more lame last-minute cancellations, and OH - the very public faking of the giftgasm, which I don't do well.
For appetizer, we got the nectarine and burrata salad, accented with microbasil, and drizzles of olive oil and saba, a syrup made from grape must. In short it's a spin of the caprese salad, substituting the richer burrata and the nectarines for the tomatoes. We both liked the lighter, sweeter flavors of this salad (made even more so by the saba), and it definitely felt more appropriate for a warm summer night than the more robust traditional caprese.
We also shared a dish we remembered fondly from last time, the house made sweet corn agnolotti with caramelized corn kernels, light cream sauce, and shavings of cheese. And again, these are little pillows of heaven -- tender pasta enveloping a sweet-and-savory filling with just enough sauce & cheese to give it some depth without making the dish heavy at all. I'm thankful that this dish didn't fall off as the menu changes with the seasons (in fact, it's still on the menu now!)
For the main, a medium rare flat iron steak with arugula and heirloom tomatoes. The steak was wonderfully cooked, meltingly tender and bursting with juicy flavors with every bite. The vegetables, normally an afterthought for both the kitchen and the diner, were well worth eating to the very last bite here too -- refreshingly ripe and totally representing what fresh produce should taste like.
And even though it was a birthday dinner and we were tempted to order french fries to go with the steak, we opted to be a bit healthy and went for the blistered romano beans instead, which to our delight had a nice crispy snap too sans all the fried carb guilt.
I also ordered a bottle of the La Fin du Monde, a Quebec-made beer in Belgian style; it's so wildly complex, in juxtaposition to the simply prepared cuisine, but just as tasty. Toasty, spicy and fruity with lots of fizz and a medium-rich body - it definitely breathed new life into the food when I ate it with the steak and veggies.
Finishing off, of course -- is the dessert, which of course is no-bars-hold for me even on regular dine-outs, let alone for a birthday meal (as you can tell by my fork-mark before photo-ing)! salted caramel dark chocolate tart . . . deep and creamy with just a tinge of salt for complexity against a crumbly shortbread-like crust, this decadent sweet is worth every extra mile I have to run in the days to come. Just like the rest of this as-perfect-as-can-be birthday meal --- thanks Mom for sharing (and of course, footing the bill) Dad (who couldn't make it 'cause of work) for his b-day gift that I didn't have to fake a giftgasm for and of course, thanks Josh Loeb, Evan Funke and Zoe Nathan plus the rest of the Rustic Canyon staff for continuing to dish out such fantastic meals that makes every stop there a special occasion!
P.S. Of course I got no shortage of grievances from friends who insisted I have to do something "big" for my birthday, so next year I guess I'll plan a "more-than-two" soiree of sorts, but one that's totally low-key and casual and involves minimal planning and maximal tasty fun :) Stay tuned...
Rustic Canyon Wine Bar & Seasonal Kitchen
1119 Wilshire Blvd
Santa Monica, CA 90401