Friday, March 11, 2011

All Hail the Slyly Served Snail

It's a tricky task to single out one thing at Sly's as the place tends to do no wrong. Cocktails, well, Mandy and her crew has got them, and every part tends to be made from scratch, from the orgeat in the Mai Tai to the bitters in the stirred, not shaken Manhattan (as that drink is fond of foaming when shaken vigorously). The service is ever professional and friendly but it still has that old-fashioned air, too--it's not about palsing around, but performance. The bread service I could have easily heaped hearty wheaty hosannas on just as much as the one at Coast's (or the one at Downey's--that Irish soda bread...yum)--how can you beat warm black bread with gooey raisins?

But given all that goodness, this entry's going to be about abalone, even if it took a snail's pace to get around to announcing it as my subject. James Sly gets his from what he bills as Dos Pueblos Local Abalone, for a wealth of reasons, no doubt, not the least of which is nostalgia (Sly's is nothing if not the steak house of your dreams you think you remember, but even better). Abalone hankers back to a different day in California, when the world was rich in their veal-of-the-sea loveliness, when living the coastal life didn't require oodles of cash. Of course that world is long gone--the price of the abalone main course attests to that ($48)--but it's nice to reconnect to a simpler age, even if at a premium. Sly's, too, also loves the local, having been on that trend before it was a glimmer off Michael Pollan's bald head. What's more, Sly is sly about language as much as anything else, relishing in the corniness of pitch-talk like "just blocks from the world's safest beach!" For let's face it, Dos Pueblos Local Abalone is relatively sexier than the Cultured Abalone, from where the little mollusks actually hail. The good news is they are farmed sustainably, so you can eat with a clear conscience.

And you will, as Sly serves them up totally tender, lightly breaded, perfectly pan-fried. Cut each one into tiny pieces and savor--it's a meal that teaches you to eat slow (the one part of slow food perhaps not emphasized enough: just take your time and enjoy what's going into your mouth!). If a clam and lobster mated, they might hope to give birth to an abalone, but it would have to be an exceptional child. That breading adds just enough, well, even crunch is too much of a word, but it's all about texture, something to play off the tender abalone (which isn't chewy in the slightest). All of this is napped--and that's the only word that works for just the exact amount of saucing so you'll get just a bit on each and every bite and suddenly your plate will be spotless when you're finished--in a doré sauce, proving so much of cooking is really just nailing the simple. Butter, wine, shallot, parsley, salt, pepper, and I'm guessing maybe a dash of cream (it's like the exclamation point of Angostura in the Manhattan mentioned above).

If this plate isn't heaven, damn me right now.

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