Tuesday, April 27, 2010
For those of you that don't know, the "Green Movement" is very much still alive and I'm loving it. This vast and sweeping movement to save the Earth is quickly becoming an uber-cool thing to do. It is now spreading to the restaurant biz and not a moment too soon. For, the amount of waste produced by restaurants each week must be staggering. Founding Farmers Restaurant in Washington D.C. is claiming the spot of Greenest Restaurant in D.C.
This is evident from moment you step in the restaurant and is made more clear by a buzzing dissertation by our waiter on just why this is D.C.'s greenest restaurant. We ordered our drinks and a carafe of purified water and waited for them to arrive. Sitting at a round table with four other diners and being a passionate food blogger means one thing, I get to try all of the dishes involved without much protest from the others. I started on my left and went around the table until I got to the last dish. Only one of the diners had an appetizer and I'm extremely glad he did. The Clam Chowder was nothing short of spectacular. It reminded me of being on the beach in Maine. Perfect stuff.
I had heard a few good things about the 17 Vegetable Salad with Farmers' Best Variety of Savory, Sweet, and Crunchy Bites Tossed in Champagne Vinaigrette. And it didn't fail to impress. In fact, one diner called this the best salad she had ever eaten. I'm not sure if it was the best salad I've ever eaten, but it was as good as a bunch of lettuce and veggies could be.
Up next was my Frisco Burger with Ground-to-order Beef, White Cheddar, Bacon, Avocado, and Louie Dressing on a Founding Farmers Homemade Bun. I asked for medium and unfortunately got well done, but other than that, this Burger was a monster of taste. Bacon which tasted like the stuff you'd get in England, meat that was clearly a step above most other Burger joints in D.C. and Fries that were skin-on and fabulous. Following the curve of the table, I tried my wife's Southern Fried Chicken Salad with Buttermilk-Marinated Fried Chicken served atop Iceberg and Romaine with Bacon, Avocado, Red Onion, Tomatoes and Tillamook Sharp Cheddar with Honey Mustard-Ranch Dressing. Another beautiful Salad. The Chicken was crispy, golden and perfectly flavored. Paired with the Honey Mustard-Ranch Dressing, this was a Salad to talk about for a while.
The Fresh-Ground Vegetable Burger with Fresh-Ground Vegetables, Nuts, and Grains Grilled and Glazed with Joe's BBQ Sauce and topped with White Cheddar, served on a Founding Farmers Bun made me a believer in Veggie Burgers. As long as they tasted like this one. My last dish, a Prime Rib Dip Sandwich with Thin Slices of Tender Prime Rib Beef, Swiss Cheese, and Sweet Grilled Onions on House-Baked Ciabatta, served with a side of Jus completed the meal perfectly. No need for dessert. My belly was beyond sated.
The drinks which accompanied our meals were also nothing short of foodie gold. The Ginger Ale tasted like it had a pound of Ginger and Raw Sugar in it. Perhaps the best I've had. The Farmers Tea was equally good. My Chimay was as it normally is and the purified water was everything our waiter had said it was. All in all, Founding Farmers has won me over. The fact that they are Washington D.C.'s greenest restaurant is the icing on the cake. It makes me feel a little less guilty about my insatiable gluttony for gastronomic delights.
My professional photography website: Taylor Young Photography
Sunday, April 4, 2010
You know the old saying, you never get a second chance to make a first impression? Well, clearly the general manager of Simon Pearce in West Chester, Corey Fair, doesn't agree. I contacted Corey last week to let him know about the mishap that occurred at his restaurant on March 27th. If you don't know what I'm talking about read this entry. Corey was extremely apologetic and asked that we come back in to try the food. I'm not one to fester and stew on past misfortunes, or bad experiences, so I took him up on his offer.
When we arrived, there was a bottle of 2000 Chateau Duhart-Milon waiting, already decanted, glowing ruby red in the sunshine streaming in from giant windows that wrap around the entire restaurant. Those of you who aren't familiar with Bordeaux wines should know that there are basically four vintages that matter, 1961, 1982, 2000 and 2005. My experience at Simon Pearce was already a very different one than the last. Needless to say, I was getting excited.
Our waitress, Carol, brought over our menus and then poured our wine out of a Simon Pearce, hand blown, crystal decanter. She came back several minutes later to take our order. There was no hesitation at all. We knew exactly what we wanted when we sat down. The Bread and Butter was served a few seconds later. The Butter was slightly chilled, but still easy to spread, which I hoped was a good sign of things to come.
The starters were brought out in quick order and I noticed a smile forming on my face from cheek to cheek. My Grilled Baby Octopus with Chorizo, Pappadew Peppers and Butternut Polenta was a photographers dream dish. The colors popped off the plate and into my Nikon lens registering on my sensor with brilliant clarity. The taste was equally impressive. The spiciness of the Chorizo and Pappadew Peppers gave the dish a much needed kick and made the delicate Baby Octopus stand out. My Wife's Braised Lancaster Pork Belly with Manilla Clams, Bacon, Spring Garlic and Fava Beans was a thing of beauty. It was dainty and subtle, but the mixture of ingredients worked together, one upon the other to produce an interplay of tastes in my mouth. I loved it.
After a brief intermission and several sips of the glorious 2000 Chateau Duhart-Milon, we were brought our mains. Again, the presentation was pure art. The diffused light flooding in through the windows made it even more idyllic. Again, the tastes were subtle, but harmonious. My Grilled Grass Fed Beef Strip Loin with Braised Cheeks, Smoked Lentils, Salsify and Spinach was truly a gastronomic delight. It reminded me of the food I have eaten so often in the great Gastropubs of the U.K. This dish could have been served at The Hinds Head in Bray, or The George and Dragon in Speldhurst. The meat was so clean and fresh it could only be locally raised and grass fed.
My wife's Jamison Farm's Braised Lamb Shank with Eggplant Risotto, Fennel, Preserved Orange and Mint was also a stunning example of clean, fresh, locally raised meat. The flavors were perfectly paired together, the tart of the Orange and the hearty Lamb worked together flawlessly with the Fennel. I felt a spiritual cleansing eating this California inspired cuisine. And it's no wonder, both the head chef and general manager have strong backgrounds in Napa. And it comes out in the final product. Perhaps the only flaw was the Risotto. It was plain. Very plain. It felt more like a filler than part of the dish. If it was made more complex it might overpower the Lamb, but certainly there is a way to incorporate more complexity and flavor in the Risotto in order to make the entire dish more rounded and complete.
For dessert I chose the Mango Pot de Creme with Passion Fruit and Milk Chocolate Chantilly. A very good choice. My wife had the Banana Custard Tart with Lychee Sorbet and Golden Pineapple. Yet another delicate dish from this glass blowing factory in West Chester, PA. Their food is as intricate and beautiful as their glass. If I have learned one thing from this meal it is this; never draw a conclusion from a first impression and always complain if something isn't perfect. There are too many great restaurants now to settle on inadequate service and inferior food. Corey Fair and Simon Pearce clearly know this. And they have my business because of it.
My professional photography website: Taylor Young Photography
Thursday, April 1, 2010
If you read my last blog you know that I'm on a mission to eat at all the best restaurants in the Brandywine Valley before I move back to England. I am nearly there. Last week I had a slight hiccup with Simon Pearce, but Corey, the General Manager has invited me back and apologized for any mishap. That will take place on Saturday. So stay tuned. But that's tomorrow. Today I am proud to write about a restaurant that is doing something really special in this area, The Orchard Restaurant in Kennett Square, PA.
The Orchard is tucked away in a little corner, behind a health food store on Route 1, going towards Kennett Square's downtown area. In fact, it is so tucked away that I have never seen it in all the years I have lived in this area. But I will not soon forget this gem in the country. My wife and I arrived on time and waited a couple of minutes to be seated. We were offered a well lit table, but chose a more secluded table away from the ruckus. Although there weren't many people dining that night, we counted 8, the main table was a very loud bunch that was clearly enjoying The Orchard's BYOB liquor license. Needless to say, we wanted the night to be a little more tame and chose a dark table in the corner.
There was only one waiter and as a result the service was a little slow. The first dish, compliments of the Chef, was a Butternut Squash Terrine with Duck Confit, Anise Oil and Ceviche with Cucumber. The Butternut Squash must have had a pound of reduced Butter in it, but I adored it. The Duck Confit was equally good, crispy with just a hint of Anise Oil. The Ceviche on the other hand was a bit out of place and was overpowered by the other dishes. Had I eaten it first it probably would have been better, but I started with the Butternut Squash and worked my way counter-clockwise until I reached the Ceviche.
Next up was my Goat Cheese Tart with Balsamic Reduction and Mesclun Greens Salad. A beautiful little dish, with just the right amount of crispiness and texture. My wife had the Pan Seared Foie Gras on Pan Seared Brioche with Strawberry Rhubarb Sauce. It was a very nice Foie Gras and the Mesclun Salad paired well with it. I am not a fan of Sweet Sauces with Foie Gras, but I know most are so I will spare you my thoughts on the Strawberry Rhubarb Sauce. The Brioche was also slightly over saturated in what I imagine was Foie Gras fat.
In between courses we enjoyed a Thyme Granita. Something I have never had, but really enjoyed as it helped cleanse my palate and prepare me for the next dish. My Loin of Lamb with Cabbage, Confit Risotto and a Glazed Cippolini Onion Reduction Sauce was a thing of beauty. The absolute best dish of the night. It reminded me of the Lamb I had at The French Laundry back in Sept. 2009. It was that good. And at $35 a pop I'm glad it was that good. The Lamb was tender, juicy and as flavorful as anything I've put in my mouth before. Couple that with the Risotto and Sauce and you have a dish that can stand up to the best of them. And it took a big dish like this to tame my 2005 Chateau Beaucastel Chateaunuef-du-Pape. Perhaps one of the best wines I have had for the money. My wife's Moulard Duck with Grilled Japanese Eggplant, Baked Plantain and Thai Basil Watercress Sauce was yet another example of Chef Gary Trevisani's anything goes approach to his food.
This seemed to be the theme of Chef Trevisani's cooking. He just does whatever comes to mind and doesn't ask permission from anyone. And for the most part, he does a hell of a job. You either like it, or you don't. Take for instance our pre-dessert dessert. A Chocolate Brownie served with cubes of Orange and Marshmallow. This was served before our main dessert, a Vanilla-Orange Blossom Semi Frio on Chocolate Pave with Hazelnuts Praline Tuile and Lemon Spice Jus. A wonderfully textured dish. The Chocolate Pave was stunning. To cap the meal off we had an Americano and finished with Petite Fours.
The Orchard Restaurant is perhaps the most exciting restaurant I've been to in a while. The service was a little slow, but you have to keep in mind, this is a restaurant off the beaten path, it was a Wednesday night and there was only one waiter. Chef Trevisani should be commended for bringing his insightful gastronomy to Kennett Square. His is a restaurant that would warrant a Michelin Star if it were in Europe and if there were more waitstaff to lend a hand and improve the service. My hat goes off to you Chef.
My professional photography website: Taylor Young Photography