Sunday, January 24, 2010

Precious Gem in our Backyard

I have to start this blog posting by giving perspective.  I wouldn't say I'm an ultra 'foodie' person and I am by no means an expert.  However, I have been extremely fortunate to eat at great restaurants during my lifetime.  I've been to French Laundry and several other great Napa restaurants, I've been wine tasting thru Napa, Russian River and Mike and I have splurged over the years to try some different wines.  We've eaten at lots of places in Chicago- Moto, Alinea, Arun, and on each vacation we go to one upscale restaurant and we try as much as we can eat and afford.  

You know how there are dinners you never forget?  Or one course you'll never forget?
My list includes:
-lemon grass elixir at Arun in Chicago
-the sauces in the courses at French Laundry
-an abalone appetizer in San Diego
-the edible menu at Moto and the Sea Bass cooked in this solar square (I can tell you 6-7 of the 13 courses at that meal because they were so memorable)
-the lobster sushi in San Francisco served with lobster cut in half and the tail meat cut up on top of the tail while other half of lobster standing up in the big dinner plate of ice (the lobsters arms were still moving as it was placed on the table-- I almost screamed)
-the black truffle walnut soup and cornmeal oysters at Charleston in Baltimore
-the shrimp cocktail at Elmo's in Indianapolis
-stone crab claws in Miami
-ummmm.... I have about 20 other places and dinners in mind, few in New York, Hawaii, London, Barcelona, Memphis......

So all that was to help with my qualifications as a judge of a good dinner.  We live near DC and near Baltimore where there are some great restaurants.  But did I imagine there would be a restaurant comparable to those in our backyard- 20 minutes from our farm.

No Way!

I've blogged about Sheppard Mansion in the past and Chef Andrew Little's blog is to the right for blogs we follow.  Last time I was there we ordered off the menu and it was fabulous.  Last night however, we had the chef's tasting menu.  I learned from PM that tasting menus are really the way to go if you really want to experience a chef and the food.  

All I have to say is "wow".
In the 'starter' category there was a peanut soup.  Mike and I have this thing about soup and we think that it says a lot about the chef when the soup knocks you off your seat.  I have never had peanut soup and it was light yet had a subtle peanut creaminess to it.  Amazing!

There was a pretzel roll for the bread- amazing.
The appetizer was smoked salmon that had blood orange and some Meyer lemon around it.
I don't remember what the pork entree is called -- other than fabulous.  It was smaller pieces of pork, nicely falling apart all pushed together in a round thick pancake shape and then coated with a crispy coating.  Not sure if it was flash fried or baked-- I ate it too fast to take the time to notice.  It was served along with pickled veggies.   Now I know another meal to make in the winter and I can pickle some veggies and know what to do with them.  I can now distinguish good pastured pork from industrial pork.  This was great pork- kudos to the farmer.
We then had Atlantic Flute and veal cheeks.  Both were fabulous but the browned brussel sprout was what I remember today the most from those entrees.  Maybe because Mike had never eaten a brussel sprout in his entire life and I almost didn't believe him.  I'm crossing my fingers for brussel sprouts this year.  I WILL grow them this year. 

Next came a panna cotta that had rosemary and Meyer lemon sauce on top.  Or maybe the panna cotta had the rosemary flavor in it and the Meyer lemon was on top?  It was a perfect palate cleanser and since I love rosemary I was in heaven.  

And then came dessert.  By this time we were stuffed.  Wow.  

One desert was a play on carrots.  Little 2 bite carrot cake pieces topped with a cream cheese and something topping.  Then on the same plate slices of candied carrot and then there were also gelatinous carrot rectangles.  The dish was in the same vein as Alinea and Moto-- but with a Hanover PA twist-- carrots.  I still am getting carrots out of my garden so they were probably also freshly picked.  This is probably the dessert I would order again if I had to pick from the 2 as it was just so unique and I loved the fresh clean flavors.

However, desert #2 was to die for.  His version of a peanut butter cup or a girl scout tagalong cookie.  Peanut butter mouse covered with dark chocolate and all on top of crispy heaven.
I had no idea what crispy heaven could have been until this am.  The chef after dinner gave us a tour of the restaurant and the buildings.  He's curing some hams, wants to have an area where folks can learn how to cook with farm fresh ingredients and learn things like "how to cut up a chicken" and wants to have a restaurant market area.  Meeting the chef of a restaurant is just like meeting the farmer who grows your food.  It's totally cool and it gives the food and the experience a whole new level of meaning.  Even better when you meet a chef who is all about the local food movement and good quality food and local farmers.  
So I told him that I loved the desert and as we were getting ready to leave he gave me a container to put the little cookies that are the last course.  It was dark in the room and I remembered thinking that the container was funky as the plastic went up into a circle in the center.  Maybe it was the wine pairing with dinner?  Anyway, this morning I went to open it up to eat the cookies for breakfast and realized he had put an extra peanut butter desert into the container!  That was the funny shaped part to the container!   It blended right into the plastic. So this morning Mike and I fought over it and I took a really close look at 'crispy heaven'.  My best guess is it was the same peanut puree used in the soup but that it was thicker puree that was then flattened several times over to form this thin crispy peanut crunch.  It had to be hard to make.

As Mike said at the dinner-- very cool to start with peanuts and end with peanuts. Bookends to the meal.

So if you are from the area (or not), go eat at Sheppard Mansion and experience a top notch chef for an extremely reasonable price.  The wine pairings that Karen picked out for the meal were also perfectly matched.  We are going to turn into regulars.....

6 comments: said...

For the record, I think Stone Crab Claws are horrible and way overrated. Yuck. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Annette said...

For the record-- the stone crab claws I had in Miami were sweet and delicious-- but every other one I've tried since then has been bland.

SteveandAlina said...

Sounds totally delicious! Maybe the chef will purchase foods from your farm.

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