Sometimes the planets align and you have a perfect evening out. For me that includes a trustworthy baby sitter and no frantic phone calls about projectile vomiting or sustained tantrums. It means doing something fun, like seeing a movie before it comes out on video, and a nice dinner where I don't have to worry about bibs, sippy cups or cutting up anyone's food but my own. It also means my husband and I don't have to make a dozen trips to the restrooms because our inquisitive three-year-old has to do an in-depth analysis and comparison of the facilities for both sexes.
After a recent matinee trip to the movie theater, a group of us wound up at New South Wales for dinner. Words like "marvelous" and "fabulous" spring to mind when trying to describe the experience. We had the best waiter, possibly in the entire history of waiting on tables. He was attentive, informed, intelligent, and had a finely honed sense of when to check on the table, often enough to make us feel cared for, but not enough to be intrusive. He made excellent recommendations, remembered special requests, and seemed to appreciate our peculiar brand of humor. The host was just obsequious enough, with an Eddie Haskell-ish charm that didn't come off as mawkish as he made his way through the dining room. It was just, all in all, a great experience.
We started the dinner with two appetizers, neither one of which was my choice. The raging carnivore at the table insisted we try the kangaroo kabobs, and the second choice was jalapeo poppers. The kangaroo was good, lean with a rich flavor only slightly gamey. Although I have no problem devouring lamb, rabbit and deer, for some reason I was slightly put off at eating kangaroo. I kept getting an image in my head of a baby kangaroo boxing with Sylvester the Cat in a Loony Tunes cartoon. The poppers were, I must say, exemplary of the species. The coating was crispy and not greasy, the peppers were still crisp/tender, and the filling of cream cheese oozed warmly with each bite, beautifully offset by a sweet and hot dipping sauce.
The dinners at New South Wales come with either soup or a salad. The salads were nice, impeccably fresh lettuce and vegetables, but the soup we sampled, a magnificent Hungarian goulash, outclassed them. If you grew up in middle America thinking that goulash is a bland combination of tomatoes, macaroni and ground beef, think again. This soup was true goulash, a deep, rich broth, heavily flavored with good paprika, with tender, long-simmered chunks of beef, topped with a moderate swirl of sour cream. I would love to have a giant bowl of this soup, with some good crusty bread, when cold weather sets in (if it ever does).
Our dinners were quite fine. The ribeye was tender, juicy and marvelously flavorful, cooked to medium-rare perfection (which doesn't happen often in this city). The Teriyaki Kabobs were more evidence that someone in the kitchen has a deft hand with beef. The chunks were tender, and the teriyaki marinade was nicely balanced, not too sweet as is often the case.
The Shrimp Scampi yielded flawlessly cooked large shrimp, crunchy-sweet as good shrimp should be. To my way of thinking, the scampi preparation could use more garlic to liven the flavor, although the person who actually ordered the dish was perfectly satisfied with it.
Last but not least, I ordered the monkfish. I let the waiter suggest the method of preparation (sauted), and I wasn't disappointed. Not every chef has the right hand with sauting fish, but this was perfect. The fish was still very moist, sweet and tender, and came accompanied by both lemon wedges and melted butter for further indulgence. (I recommend the lemon. Good monkfish doesn't really require the additional richness of the butter.)
Gluttons that we are, we had to sample dessert. Two of our party split the Aspen Snowball, which the waiter suggested was easily enough for two to share. Actually, I believe any one of our desserts would have been enough for the four of us to share. The snowball is a large ball of premium vanilla ice cream, rolled in chopped walnuts and topped with a rich chocolate sauce and whipped cream. We also sampled a sinfully rich, three-layered, three-chocolate cheesecake concoction that was decadent enough for any good hedonist. And let's not forget the slice of mud pie, in which a thick, dark chocolatey crust held layers of ice cream and caramel. I did, in the middle of this chocolate fantasia, find myself wishing I had tried the key lime pie instead, just for something different. For the first time in memory (and I've eaten many, many meals with this particular group of friends), we were unable to finish the desserts. Not because we didn't want to, but we were physically unable to gorge any longer.
We lingered over dessert, coffee and tea without ever feeling rushed. It was one of those wonderful, relaxed evenings that you wish you could store in a little box to open every time you're having a bad day. I can't wait till the next time we get a sitter, because I'm anxious to head back to New South Wales again.