Saturday, August 12, 2006

A Return to Heaven

So Marty and I returned to Mansour Zand's The Willow Creek Inn for another wonderful dinner.

The night was stormy and rain clouds seemed to follow us the entire way from Linclonton to Vale.

Mansour once again greeted us at the door although this time he had doffed his chef whites in favor of a long sleeve shirt and pants. We were lead to the kitchen where a beautiful table for 3 was set. Candles flickered. Jazz played softly in the background. Rain pitter pattered on the windows. It was truly scenic.

I think the thing I love most about his kitchen is that it's not perfect. It looks like a real kitchen - one where someone cook and creates and does it all with love. There are piles of cookbooks and an open box of Oatmeal Raisin Crisp on the counter and dishes in the sink and boxes along the walls which contain no doubt some of the many items needed for catering and hosting large parties. It is as un-Martha Stewart as it gets.

We offered up our contribution for the evening - a bottle of Talbott's Sleepy Hollow Chardonnay which Mansour promptly opened and poured into 3 glasses.

We started off with a trio of flatbreads inlcudin pita, lavosh and another bread whose name I did not catch that is shipped to him from California. The breads were accompanied by a delcious salad of yougurt, cucumbers, dill, mint, red onion, raisins and walnuts. There was also a piece of Armenian goat's cheese, a small dish of cumin seeds, a bowl of fresh walnuts, a handful of whole radishes and another handful of whole scallions.

Mansour showed us how to take a piece of cheese, put it in a piece of lavosh, sprinkle it with cumin seeds, add a walnut piece and roll the whole thing up and pop it in our mouth. This he said, was breakfast for him 365 days a year. The salt of the cheese and the earthiness of the walnut were the perfect foil for the cumin seeds (honestly - I've never been a big fan of cumin)and they were delciious.

As was the salad which had plenty of heat from the onions tempered by the cooling yogurt and the sweetness of the raisins.

Our second course came to the table in a large green Le Creuset Dutch Oven which looked as if it has been put to good use over the years. Lifting the lid revealed a savory stew of lamb, eggplant and fresh tomatoes (once again - right from Mansour's garden). Mansour also brought a platter heaped with saffron rice. The rice wasn't bright yellow - which most saffron rices are. No. The rice was white and fluffy with delicate threads of saffron sprinkled througout for patches of gold here and there. The rice smelled divine (I swear it's loaded with butter) and on top where large slices of cripsy, buttery potatoes that have now surpassed McDonald's fries as the most perfect potato on earth.

We ate leisurley, filling our plates up on more than one occasion. Mansour ate the raw scallions with his stew so I followed suit. There mild and crunchy and the perfect accompaniment to the rich stew.

When we could eat no more, Mansour brought out some small plates with dates and cookies and plied us with a sweet tea that he says is his secret blend.

The talk turned to politics and the state of affairs in the world. I feared that Marty would go off on one of his ultra right wing rampages but he didn't and we had a delightfuly civilized conversation where we were all on the same page of things.

Mansour told us he loves to read and that he's reading 5 books concurrently including The Kite Runner which he said he couldn't put down. I recommended he read The Rabbit Factory .

The foul weather prevented from seeing more of his property so at a little after 10pm with bellies full and content, eyes droopy in anticipation of sleep we made our goodbyes. Mansour insisted that we not pay him for dinner and although we objected at first, we finally relented. After all, paying would have taken away from the true nature of the evening which was simply a couple of friends enjoying good food and good wine and good company.