Dinnerly Diversions at Budo

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By M.L. Hilton

(NAPA, CA) -- The weather was in that exquisite state of balance last night. Its gentle weight against the skin was like the touch of a patient lover – the contact that reminds you that they are there, but without the insistence, only the promise or perhaps the reminder, of passion.

Even the late evening hour was temperate and the patio at Budo (www.restaurantbudo.com) did not have an empty table at 9 p.m. I cannot remember a more serene arrival of fall. Certainly last year this time we were in the throws of winter’s assault and I was on the slopes at Tahoe in late October.

Dinner itself was like an undulating dance, its own compliment to the softness of the night. I usually find strict Asian overtones in décor to be a little sterile, but the shadows cast by the light heighten the evening’s illusory promise.

Our table was attended meticulously and we indulged in the Chef’s Tasting Menu. The extravagance was not the amount of food, but in the variety. Each small dish (around eight) was an intricate creation. Carefully crafted and presented plates of sashimi, foie gras, sqab, steak, cheese, and dessert followed each other with precision. Even the changing of the silverware became part of the tightly executed procession.

The complexity in each dish teased tastebuds and the artful presentation on the plate deserved a few minutes of study. My dinner companion quipped that if he was the dishwasher, he would negotiate to be paid by the piece. Each white plate held but one offering, centered and well surrounded by porcelain.

If you are very hungry, the pace and quantity of the Tasting Menu may not be your first choice. But, if you have time to linger and savor, Chef James McDevitt’s offerings stimulate both conversation and consumption.

The night was a fabulous diversion. Conversation, it turns out, is a specialty of my dinner companion. His cell phone however, seems to be a casualty of a car fire. Along with the feast, do you think I was being fed . . . a line?

Budo closed Dec. 30, 2005.

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