The year I turned 21 I had the worst New Year’s Eve of my life. Having come of age only a few days earlier, I was determined to spend New Year’s Eve in a bar somewhere—anywhere—engaging in what I knew would be a legendary degree of mayhem and debauchery. But that didn’t happen. Instead, I rang in the new year standing on a frozen pond in the bitter cold of someone’s back yard in central Pennsylvania, completely sober, watching a grown man and his eleven year-old son shoot pistols into the sky at the stroke of midnight. It was a sad moment. But as I stood there tasting the spent gunpowder carried by the crisp winter air, I realized something that I have taken great comfort in ever since—no matter what happens the rest of my days, I probably never would have a New Year’s Eve any worse than that.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, New Year’s Eve 2005 was one of the best New Year’s Eves I’ve ever had. We went to Tangerine with close friends of ours from D.C. I don’t remember many details about the meal. But I have been reminded (and am embarrassed to admit) that I was so captivated by the food that night that I was oblivious of the exotic belly dancers parading through the restaurant and undulating beside our table. That, too, was a sad moment, I suppose, but for different reasons.
I wanted to try Tangerine again this year, hoping for a repeat. The deal was similar to last year: passed hors d’oeuvres, a five course meal served family style, a Champagne toast and dessert buffet at midnight—and, of course, belly dancers—for $120 per person.
Tangerine’s meal this year had a few conceptual and execution issues. For the most part, though, these issues were easy for me to overlook because the dishes were so flavorful. For example, the second course was a Lobster Velouté with Fennel Purée and Tarragon Oil. The lobster, while rich and buttery, had a noticeably chewy texture and was a little overcooked. But, overall, the dish was so rich and flavorful (particularly the fennel purée and tarragon oil, which complemented the buttery lobster nicely) I was willing to overlook the texture of the lobster.
The third course—the Mediterranean Turbot with Crab Risotto, Olive Tomato Ragout—is another example. The Turbot, although well-prepared, did not seem to fit well with the rest of the dish. The rich risotto and the olive tomato ragout, however, were addictive together. The ragout, itself, was surprisingly rich. And, paired with the rich risotto, they were flavorful enough to carry the dish without the Turbot.
Similarly, the Potato Mushroom Gratin that accompanied the fifth course—the Moraccan Spiced Filet Mignon and Horseradish Creamed Swiss Chard—was overwhelmingly salty. But the cinnamon and all spice that were used to season the filet made the dish taste like Christmas.
Some dishes, however, struggled more than others. The first course—the American Sturgeon Caviar atop molded tabouli that included blue fin tuna alongside golden raisin crisps—was ill-conceived. The sweet and toasty caviar was delicious solo. But the onion-heavy tabouli was way too overpowering to be paired with something as delicate as caviar.
Also, the fourth course—the Harissa Grilled Lamb with Rosemary Socca, Eggplant Salad and Harissa Yogurt—was a great idea, but did not quite hit the mark. The smokiness in the creamy eggplant salad was satisfying, and I enjoyed the use of the socca. But the lamb was very dry and stole a lot of the momentum from this dish.
The dessert table, new this year, was a huge hit. The table held almost a dozen different ways to break the New Year’s resolution you made only a few moments ago. The one misstep that was inexcusable, though, was that the Champagne did not make it to our table until almost 12:20 a.m. I rang in the new year with a glass of 2003 Chateau Josephine de Boyd (Margaux), the second wine from the Second Growth Bordeaux Chateau Brane-Cantenac, which we enjoyed during dinner. Not a bad way to ring in the New Year. But for $120 a person, getting the Champagne out on time is the one part of the service you simply shouldn’t botch.
There is nothing like ringing in the new year with a great meal. And, despite the few nits discussed above, Tangerine delivered.
232 Market Street