Dinner at Red Rabbit by Former Alinea Chef Ostrander

We celebrated a Winter in Lake Tahoe: a Culinary and Libation Excursion at the Red Rabbit Restaurant in Midtown last night. This restaurant is located across the street from my office at Lyon Real Estate, so we decided to park in the garage below my office. As a top producer, I have a free parking card that gets me into the garage after hours. I don’t use it very often, which is why I forgot that once the card lets you in, it will only let you back out. You can’t use it to get in again. And I left my keys to the office at home.

But that’s neither nor there as my husband figured out what to do and came to the rescue. We had contemplated taking a cab because there were 5 or 6 cocktails to sample during dinner. Former Alinea chef Scott Ostrander put together the menu and made us dinner at this special event. When we arrived, they were running a little bit behind so we had to wait be seated.

When the hostess asked us to follow her, I wondered where we were going because the restaurant is long and narrow. It’s in the old Red Lotus space. She led us outdoors to a screened in area heated by overhead lamps and a roaring fireplace. There were two long tables covered with white linens. The centerpieces were clear flower vases filled with blue lights at the bottom, and stuffed with white chrysanthemums, featuring tree branches sprayed white with little pieces of glitter stuck to the branches, nestled in with a few silver spiral cat toys. Part of the room’s perimeter was dotted by unadorned evergreen trees.

Our first course was a hot toddy, served on a round platter cut out from a tree. The platters served as chargers, surfaces sanded smooth and about an inch and half high, with the perimeter in its natural raw tree bark state. These were like the plates we had been served with at Alinea Restaurant last month. Except in Chicago it’s permissible to serve food on wood but it’s against the law in California — a food fact I did not know. We sucked on a cinnamon stick coated with honey on one end and tossed back the hot toddy.

The photo above is the salad of the earth, featuring beets, carrots, celeriac, wild flower petals, arugula nestled on a bed of what seemed to be pumpernickel bread crumbs sprinkled with mushroom powder. But I wouldn’t swear to it. This was followed by a rainbow trout that is quite possibly the best rainbow trout I’ve ever had (to the right). It’s from Lake Tahoe, of course. Ostrander served the trout on a piece of pine, covered with banana leaves (because you can’t serve food on wood), surrounded by heated pebble stones, on top of which we poured “lake water.” You’ll probably spot a photo of this in Sacramento Magazine because there was a photographer from that publication wandering around.

From the soil, our next course was mushroom soup, made from wild mushrooms, with a little cream, I suspect, floating on top. We were instructed to eat it by spooning the soup into our faces using two leeks sticking out of the bowl. My leeks were rather weak and didn’t work correctly or maybe I just wasn’t shoveling fast enough. Instead, I took a bite of leek and spooned into my mouth the delectable soup and was in heaven. Gobble, gobble leeks. Yum.

Our main course, venison, was served on a stark white plate with a big ol’ lump of mashed potatoes next to it. It looked like an entire loin and probably was since it had two ends. It was far more food than a reasonable person should probably consume but I ate almost all of it anyway, and my husband finished his. I don’t really like venison, I thought, but this was mouth-watering delicious and not at all gamey. I would order venison again now.

The final course was a snowman with a small carrot for a nose and a chocolate log. It came paired with a Cider Flip, which is apple cider and rum and I’m not sure what else, maybe an egg white but definitely cinnamon, and it was served warm. This is when I noticed the emperor had no clothes. Everybody at the table had the same expression on their face. That of agony. But nobody was saying anything. My husband, always a pillar of truth, turned to me and whispered, “This is terrible.” I agreed. The chocolate log was not really chocolatey even though it looked like a fudgey Tootsie Roll, it tasted more like bitter tofu, with the consistency of rubber. The guy across from said, “Hey, this snowman tastes just like a snowman.” And he meant it. He was right.

But as my husband pointed out, perhaps dessert was meant to be the Cider Flip, and the snowman / chocolate log was just decoration. The dinner was fabulous enough that dessert didn’t matter.

Scott Ostrander is going to Yountville.

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