I’m gonna take a little break from all the Thanksgiving talk and update you all on some of my recent eating excursions. Plus one personal addition at the bottom. So I’m gonna get right to it then.
My first culinary destination on this post is one from October. It was my 4th wedding anniversary then, and my wife and I decided to try this really intimate restaurant by our house that has gotten crazy amazing (cray-mazing?!) reviews. It’s this really tiny place, where the chef comes to everyone’s table, asks about food allergies and explains the menu in great (passionate) detail. My food nerd was showing, definitely. He makes everything from scratch and the menu changes constantly.
This is the Gruyere-Mushroom Torte. It’s the one thing on the menu that does not change. The chef described it as though he just invented it and loved every morsel of it. Anyway, it’s layers of heavily sautéed mushrooms and crepes, with a layer of cheese on top and truffle salt, swimming in a gorgeous sauce. My wife doesn’t even like mushrooms, but this is what she ordered. I had to steal two bites. It was amazing. Simply amazing. I don’t know exactly how to describe it, but it was one of the most flavorful bites of food I’ve had in a while. It was rich, deep, complex, a little sweet and that cheese is funky. What an amazing way to start a meal.
I started with the Oysters Rockefeller. First off, these oysters were HUGE. No wonder they got caught! Anyway, hidden under the house-made hollandaise sauce lay sautéed spinach, house-cured bacon and a precious little oyster. These were so very good. Very hot, just enough bacon, creamy hollandaise. It’s a French mother-sauce for a reason, ya know. Secretly though, I was wishing I would have ordered the mushroom torte. Both of these dishes really showed a level of finesse that I knew would carry through to the next plates.
Next up, the entrée round. These were the lamb chops my wife ordered. Served with a mint chimichurri sauce, 3 gnocchi and a medley of fall vegetables. These were quite good. The meat was tender and lamby, and the veggies were stellar. The chef used Herbes de Provence on them, and it added this herby, slightly spicy flavor that lit up my mouth. Definitely not expecting that. The mint sauce was quite nice well, a very good play on the typical mint jelly that gets served with lamb. Overall, a very nice plate of food. But much like I wished I would have ordered my wife’s appetizer, she wishes she would have ordered my entrée. Since it was kinda dark in the restaurant, I don’t have a picture of it, but I ordered the filet mignon. The chef grills his steaks, but moves them around constantly so there is crust all around, AND develops a nice smokey flavor. It was one of the best filet mignons I’ve ever had. Super crazy tender and cooked to a perfect medium rare. It was served with this rich, perfect red wine-demi glace reduction sauce that really pulled it all together. It was served with some asparagus and roasted potatoes that were good, but that steak. Oh that steak!
We didn’t nab a picture of dessert, for some reason. Oh well. I had the Peach Pineapple Upside-Down cake and my wife had the chocolate torte with peanut butter mousse. Hers was rich. VERY rich. Especially the peanut butter mousse. It was so rich, that we had to ask for some vanilla ice cream to cut the richness a little bit. It was extremely good though. My cake, while good, was not exactly what I was thinking in my head and I didn’t enjoy it as much as I was expecting. It was served with the same vanilla ice cream my wife got, which is made with real vanilla beans and was silky smooth. Overall, these meal ranked very high in our list of best meals at a restaurant. It is literally 5 minutes from our house, too. We will be back.
Next stop, the Ravenous Pig. I know what you’re thinking. And yes, another post about the Ravenous Pig. This place consistently puts out good food and I am happy every time I leave there. This night was no exception. We were celebrating my in-laws’ birthdays for this dinner and I think everyone walked away from the table with a full belly, and a smile on the face.
Gruyère Biscuits with smoked salt butter. Everyone I’ve talked to said I needed to have these biscuits. “They’re amazing!” “They’re life changing!” I’m here to tell you, the only way it changed my life is that I ate them and became fuller. I know that sounds harsh. These biscuits were good. Very good in fact. Just not life-changing. And when your expectations are set that high, it’s hard to meet it. They were good though, flaky, hot and steamy, cheesy and the butter was really great. A nice start…while I waited for my beer.
Dinner time is now upon us. This what I had. THIS changed my life. It’s the pork platter, of course, and it was epic. On the bottom there’s a house-made kielbasa on top of sauerkraut. The exterior was crisp, meat was salty and spicy and soft (the three S’s?). The kraut lend a nice hand in cutting some of the richness of this meat. The upper left corner is a piece of crispy (skinned) pork belly. Easily the best thing on the plate. Served with pickled mustard seeds on top, and a caramel-apple puree underneath. The apple was needed to cut through the fat of the belly. It was basically a large-cut piece of bacon and it was glorious. In every single way. To the right of that is a pork steak, cut from the loin with candied brussels sprouts under, and caramelized onions on top. This piece was super tender and seasoned well. The sprouts were a little too acidic for my liking, but they still tasted good. The whole thing went together in a holy matrimony of culinary greatness. Wait. Did I just say that? What was I thinking?!
My father-in-law had this roasted venison with a pinenut puree, roasted pear and mushroom salad and an apple cider gastrique. (A gastrique is basically a sweet-sour sauce.) When all was said and done, this plate was cleaned off. I did not try it, and I did not ask; mainly because it was his birthday meal, but also because I am not a big fan of venison at all. It was a really pretty plate though. Moving along.
Butternut squash tortellini! My mother-in-law and wife both got this dish. Roasted butternut squash were stuffed into the pasta, served with mushrooms, a hazelnut brown butter sauce and sage. This was a pretty good dish, if not a little on the sweet side. I suspect that the Pig added a little brown sugar to the squash, but I could be wrong. Everything on the plate worked together though, and was very tasty. My wife kept stealing things off my plate noting that the pasta needed some sort of protein in their, be it pork or chicken or something. She was probably right, but I didn’t want her taking my pork! Especially the belly! After everyone cleared their plates, surely we would be too full for dessert, right?
Behold. The chocolate-hazelnut bread pudding. Nutella mixed in there, dark chocolate ice cream on top with a little chocolate crisp. This dessert was decadent. It was rich. It was hot! But man, oh man, this was unbelievably delish. It was basically nutella bread pudding, and that is always a good thing. My wife and I attacked this while the in-laws scarfed down on some of the pig tails served with a hot chocolate-espresso sauce. I’ve posted an image of the pig tails in a previous blog, so I didn’t snap one this night. I would order this bread pudding again. I would learn how to make this bread pudding, and then charge people outrageous money for me to make it for them. It was fantastic.
Oddly enough though, those meals were not necessarily the highlights of my month. Close friends of mine will know that I got the opportunity to meet my culinary hero this month. He recently published his last Good Eats book and was doing a cross-country book tour. He stopped in Tampa, so my wife and I drove 90 minutes out there, waited in line 3 hours, I got about 60-90 seconds of face time with Alton Brown, and then we drove 90 minutes back home. I would do it all over again. He taught me most of what I know. He helped spark the flame that ignited my passion for cooking. Before I started watching Good Eats, I couldn’t cook an egg. He’s taught me things that I didn’t even learn in culinary school. I’ve answered questions from my chefs in classes that nobody else knew the answer to. I seemed like a pro at certain techniques because I learned them on Good Eats. And I met him. Not only the highlight of my month, but definitely one of my life. I only wish I could spend more time with him to let him know exactly what he’s done for me. But I got my time and I moved on. I told him that he helped push me in this direction, and that he’s my hero. He gripped my shoulder like a predator, we snapped a picture, he looked at me and told me “Good luck with the rest of your school.” He won’t remember me. I wouldn’t expect him to. But I’ll remember that day.