For Catherine's birthday, Pere and I took her and Moody to Zest Spirited Dining for dinner. We had been meaning to try Zest for a while, and Catherine's birthday provided the perfect excuse to go.
When we arrived, our table wasn't quite ready yet, so we decided to have a drink at the bar and look over the menu while we waited. Pere had a Sapphire and tonic, Moody had a Crown Royal Manhattan, and Catherine and I both went with the Zest Fresh, a specialty martini made with gin and citrus crush. The Zest Fresh was pretty good. Nice, smooth, and tart.
After about 10 minutes, our table was ready, and the hostess walked us across the fashionably designed main dining room into a smaller, more intimate back dining room. The location was great because it was away from the hustle and bustle of the large and open main dining room yet it wasn't at all hidden out of the way to the point you felt isolated from the rest of the restaurant. Once seated, our waitress stopped by and dropped off menus as well as a wine list.
The ladies were in the mood for white wine, so we went with a bottle of Luna Pinot Grigio. I also asked for two of the eggplant cheesecake appetizers. I had previously read about the eggplant cheesecake at Zest, and was dying to give it a try. Anticipating how good it might be, I decided we would need two orders to split.
While we waited for the wine to arrive, two more servers showed up. One had water for the table, and the other a plate of lemon and lime slices, which he would place in your water glass upon request. I think it's little touches like this that don't cost the restaurant much at all, but have the potential to really set a restaurant apart.
When our waitress returned, she poured the wine, and brought us a basket of bread. She also took our orders. Catherine ordered the osso buco. Both Pere and Moody went with the domestic lamb shank, which I originally was going to order as well, but once I knew Pere was having it (and I'd get to taste hers), I opted for the rainbow trout, which also sounded interesting.
The wine was good - crisp and slightly fruity, but otherwise unremarkable for a pinot grigio. The bread was good too. There was no butter, but there was olive oil, which went well with the bread's firm texture and crispy crust.
A few minutes later, our eggplant cheesecakes arrived. At first glance, it looked just as you would expect a piece of cheesecake to look. I took one bight and I was hooked. It had almost the same consistency as regular cheesecake, but it was completely savory. It's made from cream cheese, eggplant, eggs, and basil, and topped with a roasted garlic tomato sauce. I swore it also had goat cheese, but I may be wrong. In any case, it was simply amazing. I think this has to be one of the best uses of eggplant I've ever come across.
All entrees come with a house salad served table side. The salad server asked if we would like any mixins included with the basic greens and house citrus vinaigrette. Choices included gorgonzola cheese, pecans, dried cranberries, and oranges. I took all four. I enjoyed the salad, but Pere found it to be a bit too sweet for her taste. She's not a big fan of fruit/sweet ingredients in salad, but I am!
It didn't take long for the food to arrive once we had finished our appetizers. The pace at Zest was steady, but not at all rushed. As I mentioned, Pere and Moody both got the domestic lamb shank. It came wrapped in grape leaves and had been braised in a Syrah tomato sauce and was served over fusilli. It sat on a goat cheese cream sauce with sun dried tomatoes, artichokes and fennel and had another side of "grape feta relish". The lamb was fall off the bone tender (as it should have been from the braising) and had my mouth watering with each bite. I'm a fennel freak, and I really appreciated the balance it added to the dish.
Catherine had the osso buco which was served with a vegetable mirepoix in a Grand Marnier citrus sauce on smashed potatoes. It was also very tender and perfectly cooked. I had a taste and liked it a lot. So much so, that it'll be a toss up between the osso buco (I want to eat every last drop of the marrow from the bone) and the lamb shank.
I saved the description of my entree for last. I was in the mood for something lighter, so I had the rainbow trout which was pan fried with a citrus breading. It came served on crab spinach with a gratin of yukon gold potatoes and was topped with an oyster mushroom and vidalia onion sauce. A hand full of grilled asparagus with chive orange aioli rounded things out. The dish really came together for me. The trout was nice and crispy on the outside and very moist on the inside. The asparagus were especially good having picked up some nice carmelization from the grill. All in all, I was very happy with my choice.
Even though we were all completely full from the meal, we couldn't end the evening without something sweet, so we opted to split the chocolate caramel fondue flamed with Grand Marnier and served with fresh fruits and sweet cakes. When the fondue arrived, it came complete with a small birthday candle. When our waitress presented us with the dessert, she wished Catherine a happy birthday, then told us that the dessert was on her. This was a very nice touch. Normally, I wouldn't order chocolate fondue for dessert as this is something we do (rather well) at home, but it made sense since the four of us wanted to split something. The fondue itself was okay, but not nearly as amazing as everything else we had. It was almost anti-climatic.
I'm very happy I finally got around to visiting Zest. It's the type of restaurant I'd love to have in my neighborhood. If it weren't so far away, I'd definitely make myself a regular there. As it stands, though, it's worth the drive, and I do see myself making the trip out there much more often.