Epicurious Eating: Terra
Published Thursday, 14-Jan-2010 in issue 1151
Some believe that if you start the week negatively, challenges will beset you until Friday happy hour rolls around. Launch in on a better foot, and bright days will follow.
With a potentially pressurized workweek staring me in the face, I embraced the theory by dining at Terra, where an ongoing special called “random Mondays” furnishes patrons with several fine appetizers and entrees priced at $10 or less. Adding to the lure is Terra’s ability to snuggle you in quietude and bodily comfort. At the very least, I could attest that a peaceful dinner makes for an easeful night’s sleep.
The random Monday menu changes weekly and augments a separate list of trademark offerings that include pumpkin ravioli, hefty bone-in pork chops and lobster mac-and-cheese, which chef-owner Jeff Rossman helped introduce to the local food scene when Terra opened 11 years ago. Never a fan of the dish, or any others that mute the delicate flavors of seafood with cheese, it still ranks as one of his best sellers.
Terra is also home to the chocolate cigar. If you can pass the finishing line to dessert, you get triple ganache molded into the shape of a fat stogie and wrapped in phyllo pastry. It’s presented in a heavy glass ashtray with whipped cream and cocoa powder adorning the tip to create the illusion of burned-down tobacco. I’ve never grown tired of it.
From the random menu, we chose three starter items. Yukon potato drops revealed plops of mashed spuds about the size of golf balls and encased in tempura batter sporting rosemary and Stone Arrogant Bastard. Fortunately, not all deep-fried foods taste this good. In the split second it took for biting through their crispy tan exteriors, we experienced the vaporous flavor of the ale and the buttery essence of the Yukons. We were told the dish might graduate to the regular bar menu. We cast our votes in favor.
My companion detected better than I the chili heat in Southwestern mushroom pillows that were filled also with modicums of cream cheese and innocuous flecks of hot peppers. The innards were juicy, if not watery from the mushrooms, spewing enough fluid to spurt down our chins when breaking through their wonton casings. We followed up with a spry salad of butter lettuce garnished with medallions of pan-seared, perfectly seasoned chicken. Creamy buttermilk dressing and a tablespoon’s worth of memorable tomato-thyme marmalade served as the sweet and sour components.
We chose a fourth appetizer from the regular menu – butternut squash gnocchi that were too dense and gummy for my liking. But my companion savored them while pointing out how much the browned sage butter sauce tasted like burning marijuana smells – an observation rather than a complaint – and he was right!
Our entrees also originated from the permanent menu since we weren’t swooned by the notion of a vegetable-loaded pasta dish nor in the mood for crispy duck with beluga lentils – the two main-course offerings on the random menu that evening.
I instead took comfort in a big hunk of home-style pot roast braised in Karl Strauss lager and topped with leeks, wild mushroom ragout and a drizzle of truffle oil. If meat and potatoes couldn’t seal my fate for a calm week ahead, then nothing would. The dish was straight forward, served without pretense over a mound of mashed potatoes encircled by fresh baby carrots.
My companion’s seared scallops in lemon-butter sauce proved a terrific choice, ranking among the sweetest and expertly cooked bivalves I’ve had in a while. Large and faintly translucent in the middle, they would have thrilled our palates no less without the well-balanced sauce steering them upwards. Established seafood restaurants don’t even make ‘em this good.
The wine list features medium-priced, medium-quality reds and whites by the glass, with more remote and interesting selections by the bottle (and half bottle). Specialty lattes and coffees caught our eye for a next visit, a majority of them fueled with schnapps and fancy liqueurs – Goldschlager not excluded.
It had been some time since either of us visited Terra, yet little if anything has changed in terms of atmosphere. The motif is refreshingly theme-less, neither modern or outdated, showing off big windows, lots of potted foliage and enough soundproofing that allows you to focus on Rossman’s crafty continental cooking before leaving with a clear, cool head.