As of two weeks ago, I'm a doctor!!!! Well, not the "real" one, the medical kind, but a doctor of philosophy: I got my PhD in pharmacology. The final requirement was an oral dissertation defense, and I passed it two weeks ago. To celebrate, I knew I had to go eat at a nice restaurant. I had wanted to try The Spence for a while now, so passing the defense was the perfect opportunity. It is owned by Chef Richard Blais, who won TopChef Masters and likes to experiment with molecular gastronomy.
Because of the importance of the occasion, I went to The Spence with my parents, who were treating me to the dinner. My parents are the "quantity is more important than quality" and "if there's not a pile of meat, the dish is not good" type of people, so I was very worried about how they'll like a sophisticated restaurant where the emphasis is on quality of ingredients and preparation. Well, my fears were founded, as it turned out, but I was determined to enjoy the dinner no matter what. I started with a drink that is not on the current (frequently changing) menu :( So, I can't remember everything that was in it or even its name :( I did remember that it contained a type of alcohol starting with "B." After a lot of googling (which did involve the search phrase "alcohols starting with "b"), I finally fount it!! It's called Fernet Branca: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fernet. The waiter did warn me that the drink has a very distinctive flavor, and that was definitely the case. I can't really describe it. It's bitter and aromatic at the same time, strong, but not overpowering like absinthe. The other ingredients in my cocktail weren't as interesting, but the end result was delicious.
One of the reasons I wanted to go to The Spence was to try bone marrow - which I've never had despite being somewhat of a foodie ;) My dad insisted that he wanted fish, but didn't want to pay for the branzino. I warned him that the sashimi (of kampachi) probably won't be enough for him to fill up, but he wanted it anyway. Even my mother, who can usually try new foods without immediately hating them, was overwhelmed by the menu. Too many unfamiliar tings to her, so I eventually ordered the tagliatelle. I hoped that the flavors would be similar enough to what she's used to that she would like it. We also got the fried Brussels sprouts. I knew very well that the portion sizes would be small and the quantity of the food won't be enough for my carnivorous parents, but they refused to get anything else. My dad was SHOCKED when he saw his sashimi - simply four pieces of fish. There was nothing I could tell him about the quality to make him less mad :( On the bright side, he ate the Brussels sprouts to make up for it. I did try a piece, and they were amazing! My mom seemed to like the pasta, but I think she was also disappointed by the size. I did try a little bit of the pasta, and it was really good, maybe even a little too rich (buttery) for my taste. But I did love the buttery flavor of the bone marrow :) The description that people use, that it's like melted butter, is spot on. Imagine roasting a rack of lamb and then dipping your bread in the drippings: that's what bone marrow tastes like. Just a little salty, with a rich roasted/browned flavor. The bone marrow came with a piece of toasted bread and diced tuna. The tuna was great, but I wish there was something even more light and fresh to balance the marrow - maybe even some celery ;)
(A side note: I know that plates at the Spence are meant to be shared and that they're small on purpose. Even though Bulgarian culture is huge about sharing and family-style eating at home, the opposite is true if you eat out. My dad thinks people will laugh at you if you try someone else's food. So, we all ended up eating a single dish.)
And to finish the celebration, we ordered two desserts: the pistachio shortcake and the ricotta cheesecake. The shortcake was really good. It was point and light, with pronounced (in a good way) pistachio flavor. The whipped cream was light and not too sweet. However, I was completely blown out by the cheesecake. It was really really REALLY OUTSTANDING. It honestly tasted more like ricotta mouse than cheesecake. I've never had a cheesecake as light and fluffy as the one at the Spence. Man, I wish I could eat that every single day! It even made my dad forget that he was mad at me for taking him to this "horrible" restaurant. That's what I call a good dish :P