Sunday, June 14, 2009
I have reached a point in my life where I am not very impressed with price, or scores alone. When I was younger I would read magazines like Wine Spectator and Cigar Aficionado and they would almost always have some expensive consumable on the cover, or featured in a special section of the magazine. This item would no doubt, receive extremely high ratings from the tasting panel and it, having acquired this probably inflated score, would double in price overnight, with no other explanation. Having seen this and yearning to try the best the world has to offer, I would jump in my car, or hop online and begin my search for this coveted item, whatever it was that week. Most recently, that item has been restaurants and wine.
This can only go on for so long and then one has to ask themselves, "Do I really want to spend $200 on a bottle of wine, or $20 on a cigar, when I can probably find something of similar quality for less?" As Shakespeare said, "...that is the question." That question is now bothering me when I am choosing what restaurants to go to. Any fool can spend $800 on a meal at any one of the, sadly multiplying daily, Michelin three starred restaurants... if they can 1. Get in and 2. Afford it. It is the patient, research oriented Gastronome who finds those "lesser known", less expensive, restaurants which serve food of superior quality and would, if they were located in larger cities, or had a famous name behind them, be in one of those magazine with large scores, or stars next to their names.
Bistro on the Brandywine is one such restaurant. Being located in Chadds Ford, PA does not help it's stature in the restaurant world. But, don't be fooled, this little gem packs a big punch. My wife and I have been there many times and we have never been disappointed. Well, that's not entirely true, once they salted our fries so much we couldn't eat them all. And let me tell you, that never happens. We love fries with a passion which borders obsessive. Last night however, we had an exquisite meal. Head owner and chef, Dan Butler, has obviously gotten wise to the fact that we're in a recession and that his restaurant is not in the heart of any major city and has priced his menu accordingly. I have heard that Dan grows his own fennel and tomatoes for the restaurant, during growing seasons, which I think is fantastic and reminds me of Christian Etienne.
The starters came out almost right away. It was incredible how quick the service was for a busy restaurant. I dove into my roasted garlic and scooped out two cloves to place onto my bread with a single olive and a small slice of goats cheese... delicious! The garlic was done to absolute perfection and the goats cheese melted in my mouth and coated my taste buds with a flurry of flavor. The pan seared goats cheese with cherry tomatoes my wife was having was of the same caliber. Gorgeously pan seared until a light crispness on the top is achieved and perfectly paired with the tomatoes. We took our time, hoping not to get full too soon and before we knew it the main course had arrived. Not since I returned from France had I seen such lovely presented, simple, yet extremely flavorful food. My gnocchi and pulled pork made me recall the simple meals I had in Provence. Nothing fancy, just great ingredients. There was enough juice in my dish to use an entire baguette to mop it up and I would have done just that if I weren't so full. The gnocchi had a slight hardness to it, which I prefer over the softer gnocchi and the sauce and pulled pork accompanied it perfectly. I tried my wife's steak and I made a comment like, "Yeah, the flavor is magic, but it's a little tough." And, like the foodie she is, quickly reminded me that New York strip steak is not a filet and doesn't need to be as tender. Thank you my love!
The 2005 Chateau Sansonnet paired perfectly with both our meals. And the long wait to try it had been rewarded finally. It is a beauty. The nose is complex and exhibits an incredible amount of cherry and blackberry. The mouth is huge, but follows with finesse on the mid palette. And the finish left me wanting more. Surprisingly, we took our time with this wine. Probably because the food was engrossing our attention. Dessert was a tired effort compared to the start and main course. Still good, it lacked the zest the previous courses had. My chocolate, flourless cake was a little too big to handle. Accompanied by marinated cherries, of which only one got eaten. The vanilla ice cream, however, got devoured. My wife's bread pudding was also lackluster and the best part of it was the thinly sliced strawberries and blackberries which adorned her plate and the sun-dried cherries which sat atop her pudding, like a crown.
I found myself staring at the other people in the room and wondering if they really knew what they were eating. Did the two teenagers in the middle of the room with their parents really understand how hard it is to find a restaurant of this quality outside of a major city? Or did they just order the gruyere burger with fries and enjoy their meal in quiet ignorance? To also find a restaurant with these prices takes Marco Polo-like navigation. I don't know how Dan Butler does it, but I applaud him for taking on this restaurant and making it into what it is. I hope he doesn't change a thing. Well, maybe he could tone down the chocolate, flourless cake just a touch, so that next time I can actually eat it all. Bravo!
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