A Grace night out

Here in the big little city in the land of the long white cloud (though more grey than white, currently, and overflowing with frozen water droplets tap tap tapping on my window) we’re in the middle of Restaurant Month, a feast of dining events dotted round restaurants, bars and pop-up locations throughout the CBD. As part of the fun, I went on a ‘blind date’ the other night, organized by Heart of the City, the CBD’s business association. I had to think of an Aucklander – someone I didn’t know well – with whom I fancied breaking bread, and a glass or two of wine.

I came up with plenty of names of fascinating folk whose brains I’d love to pick, but I quickly settled on Grace Ramirez, with whom I’d recently worked on a shoot for Taste magazine – we compiled a feature with different breakfasts from round the world, for which Grace made her Venezuelan arepas. Those little fluffy pillows of white maize are seriously delicious and you should definitely check out the August issue of Taste to get Grace’s recipe. Working with Grace in the studio that day I could tell she was a woman full of ideas and infectious energy and thought it would be great to get to know her better. And what better way than to enjoy a lovely meal together at Britomart’s cute wee French bistro L’Assiette.

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Over a shared charcuterie board we waxed lyrical about the delights of venison (L’Assiette’s rare version was very good) as Grace told me how she’s recently been initiated into the world of hunting, and how she has been invited to Napa this October to run some culinary classes – she’s planning on taking her students on a very meaty journey from breaking down deer, beef and lamb through to cooking it to perfection. For mains Grace chose the snapper, which came on a lovely risotto that wasn’t all heavy and creamy – more like a paella in texture, and I had chicken baked with mushrooms which came in its own little Le Creuset dish, the perfect winter warmer. We talked about food, family, work, travel, food, wine, more food. Grace moved out from New York with her husband two years ago, but has also spent years in Miami, and in her home country Venezuela. You can imagine the melting pot of cuisines that go into this woman’s culinary repertoire. Grace was a producer on MTV in New York before she was selected from tens of thousands of applicants to compete in the first series of US MasterChef, and so her passion for making cooking into a career was cemented.

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It was getting pretty late by the time dessert got a look in, and though we both claimed to be full, my belt didn’t feel tight in the slightest, so I decided I had to order a trio of crème brulees (one with vanilla, one with orange and one with cognac) because I can’t go past this French classic when done well.

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I had such a lovely time hanging out with Grace and it reminded me how fun it is heading out on a date with just one friend instead of a big rowdy group, to a restaurant that has a nice buzzy atmosphere but isn’t as loud as feeding time at the zoo; the conditions are just right for relaxed conversation and laughter and making plans to take over the world. So much fun that I reckon I’d like to make a regular occasion of it. Calling all friends (one at a time): who’s up for a date night soon?

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L’Assiette is at 9 Britomart Place, phone 09 309 0961 lassiette.co.nz
L’Assiette is offering a special Restaurant Month menu for $39: Scotch fillet with hand cut fries, peppercorn sauce and salad with glass of French house wine, and dessert of crème brulee, macaron and coffee, until August 31.

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There’s loads of great Restaurant Month events happening till the end of this month in the city. For a full list of events click here.

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