I love dates, have loved them all my life. They are delicious food: sweet and rich. I especially love the ones in the supermarket in the open bins that get a chance to dry out and become chewier. When they're packaged, they're often too soft/sticky/moist. Best I ever had was a small bag purchased at the weekly open market in Santa Barbara--they were small, cashew-sized, local, and wonderfully chewy.
So do understand that I'm truly and deeply a fan.
BUT THAT DOESN'T MEAN I WANT THEM CHOPPED UP AND SERVED ON MY RAW OYSTER.
Yeah, I had that. Where? At Nell Thorn's, a gastropub of a restaurant in the small scenic village of La Conner, Washington, which happens to also be the home of writer Tom Robbins which really doesn't mean anything, I just like saying it. It was the first course of a six course dinner in aid of showing off the wines of one geologically-inclined Mullineiux winery from South Africa. The 'geo' reference is about the fact that they name their wines according to the prevailing soil type in that vineyard, so, how do you like your syrah? They make both a Schist and a Granite. (I'd have bet on me being a Granite kind of girl but it turned out the Schist won my heart.) But I digress. Dates. Yes they made a date mignonette and put that on my oyster and it was creepy.
Too sweet period, and not offset by enough vinegar or other acidity to make it work.
Later in the meal, rack of lamb from the best fresh lamb I've ever had in the U.S. Seriously, it was THAT good, and from a local farm I presume who sell only to restaurants. Nell Thorn buys a lot of local stuff and the menu is peppered with names of locals who supply this and that. The lamb came on a plate with three sauces just plopped or squirted to one side. I ignored them and ate my gorgeous rare lamb au naturel, but only after tasting through the sauces and discovering them all too sweet for the wine (too sweet for me too, but that's beside the point). One was a date puree, one a ketchup, and one a harissa that tasted like they'd made it out of pappadew peppers.
Why a gastropub with a British name in a little tiny waterfront town known as "Home of the Tulip Festival!!" has decided to stick dates in all their food has me flummoxed. Sure dates are major au courant, but there are places where trendiness makes sense and places where it doesn't. La Connor is not ready for Ottolenghi. And maybe the problem is really that I'm not ready for a La Connor that thinks it is, but at the same time I didn't just fall off the tulip truck, I eat around a bit, and dates seemed out of context here. Gratuitous even. I got the impression that the chef's palate is a lot like my grandmother's--the only thing that's wrong with sugar is not getting enough of it. Sweet is never out of place.
So two days later I'm in Seattle having lunch at Bar Sajor. We ordered four different tartines. One came topped with a liver pate, pickled red onions and--wait for it--dates. Finely diced, and sparsely applied, so here I didn't mind it so much. But in a restaurant where everything else was decidedly southern French, and where one year ago they'd have never dreamed of putting dates near liver pate, the food of palms still seemed a bit strange. What next, coconut?
My wine shopping and I have never had a problem. Just a perpetual race between the bankruptcy court and Hell.--Rogov