Cracking Good Fare

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“Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a…Mouse King,” I whispered to Chris with a laugh, during a scene in The Nutcracker.

“She did it! Clara distracted the Mouse King so the Nutcracker could kill him. And now he’s going to become the Prince, and they’ll travel through the Land of Snow to get to—”

“Stasha,” Chris replied under his breath. “This is not the time for a play-by-play.”

“Oh! I’m sorry. I got caught up in the excitement,” I apologized quietly as a patron turned to glare and shush me.

Festival Ballet Theatre Company’s “Nutcracker” at The Irvine Barclay continued to delight, inspire and entertain the multi-generational audience that evening. The young dancers in the first act caused chuckles to escape from family members, and a burst of laughter when a wayward costume piece was deftly kicked offstage by a savvy snowflake.

However, it was the grand performances of Irina Dvorovenko and Jose Manuel Carreno, as the Sugar Plum Fairy and her cavalier, that left the audience spellbound in the second act.

“Incredible, aren’t they?” I said to my father over the wild applause, timing my remark perfectly so I wouldn’t have to once again brave the condemnation of the elderly woman sitting in front of me.

“Breathtaking,” my father shouted.

When the performance was over, the mood in The Barclay was jovial and celebratory.

“I propose we head to The Ritz for dinner,” Chris said as he helped me with my coat. “I was there years ago for a Christmas party and it was something else – it will be a nice way to end the night.”

“Let’s go!”  I cheered.

The Ritz’ entrance was flanked by two life-size Nutcrackers on either side of the awning – quite apropos following our evening.

“Chris, you couldn’t have chosen a more perfect place,” my father said upon entering the restaurant, taking in the festive décor.

“I’m glad I remembered it,” Chris remarked as we made our way to a back booth facing the entire restaurant.

Our server greeted us and described the holiday specials and popular dishes.

“I highly recommend the traditional Roast Christmas Goose with Lingonberry Sauce, Celery Root Mashed Potatoes, Warm Gala Apple Compote and Sweet & Sour Red Cabbage,” she enthused. “The Bavarian Sauerpraten with Crisp German Potato Pancakes, and Gingersnap Sauce is also delicious.”

“What do you recommend for appetizers?” Chris asked.

“The Carousel for two, definitely,” she nodded. “It’s a Lazy-Susan laden with Akvavit-Cured Gravlax, Smoked Idaho Trout, Gulf Shrimp, Dungeness Crab Legs, Shelled Maine Lobster Claws, Duck Liver Paté, Cantaloupe with Parma Prosciutto, and Tartare of Filet Mignon.”

“How’s the Hudson Valley Foie Gras?” inquired my father.

“Incredible.”

“Then I suggest we begin with those,” Chris offered.

“Champagne?” I looked back and forth between my father and Chris.

“Absolutely,” they said simultaneously.

Another server returned a minute later, pushing a large cart.

“Your champagne and Foie Gras,” he said, arranging the glasses in front of us, and the appetizer before my father.

Then he picked up a large, silver tower and ceremoniously placed it in the center of the table. “The Carousel.”

“Wow,” was all I could say. “That’s a lot of food.”

“You’re not kidding,” Chris chuckled at my reaction.

“Are you ready to order your entrées?” our server asked.

“I’ll have the Sauerpraten,” Dad stated.

“The Goose for me,” Chris added.

“I think The Carousel will be enough for me,” I said slowly, still overwhelmed by the amount of food in front of us.

“You can have some of the goose, if you’re still hungry,” Chris smiled.

As we began sampling all the delicious delicacies before us, another server arrived to open the Briar Rose “Katrina” Zinfandel, which Chris had brought.

“Please try some,“ Chris told the server, as he described the wine.

“My goodness, this just punched me in the mouth. I hope I don’t have a bruise,” she laughed.

“I could come here and dine on The Carousel alone,” I gushed after the server left. “The range of flavors in this…from the Paté, to the Herring, to the Tartar, to the Smoked Trout—”

Now you can give a play-by-play,” Chris joked.

“Ha ha,” I retorted. “Seriously. This platter has everything I could want, and 10 times more.”

Another server cleared the appetizers and placed the entrées in front of Dad and Chris.

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