M and I celebrated our second anniversary last week. For our first we had gone to Lemaire for dinner and had decided that we would make that our tradition. The dilemma, faced with a shaky economy and soaring gas prices, was did we want make that kind of dining investment. The solution soon presented itself. A six-course wine tasting dinner for $100 per person, including tax and gratuity. What better way to enjoy fine dining – subsidized by Orchid Hill Vineyard.
We arrived a few minutes before the start and, after a quick chat with Genevelyn, staked out a couple of seats. The staff soon started pouring wine and brought out a cheese platter. With the exception of a very tasty boursin style cheese the rest were standard and boring (brie, swiss, smoked gouda). The wine paired with this course was Orchid Hill’s 2006 Muscat Canelli. The wine rep made a big point of telling people that this was not a normal sweet Muscat. He was right, it was more reminiscent of a Pinot Gris, a much more crisp wine. It was nice but not a real standout. Not something you order for dinner but it might work well on a porch on a warm afternoon.
After a brief speech about the vineyard we took our seats and the first course quickly arrived – Early Season Soft-Shell Crab with Herbed Orzo, Ramps, & English Peas. The crab was excellent, crispy exterior with sweet crab meat inside. The creaminess of the orzo complimented the bitterness of the ramps and the sweet peas. With the crab came a 2006 Viognier, a perfect match for the Chesapeake Bay inspired appetizer. If your burned out on cookie-cutter chardonnays grab a bottle of viognier from Orchid Hill or any other good vineyard for a nice change of pace.
The next course brought giggles to many throughout the crowd of fifty. Sometimes the chef is looking so close at the details he/she misses the big picture. The Garlic Roasted Georgia Quail on a Maytag Blue Cheese Tart with Apples, Spinach and Bacon looked a bit like someone reclined on a pillow and, quite frankly, a tad pornographic. The quail was excellent. Succulent and moist, people were putting down their silverware to get the last bits off the tiny legs. The tart was wonderful, rich and creamy with big chunks of crisp bacon on top. This course featured Orchid Hill’s 2004 Pinot Noir, a wine that many of us requested more of.
After a palate cleanser of Rhubarb Apple Sorbet came the Grilled New York Strip Loin. A thick slice of medium rare beef over a bed of morels, asparagus, fiddle head ferns and oven cured tomatoes with a painting of lobster cream across the plate. The beef was fantastic and while there was very little of the lobster cream the flavour was intense. The morels were good but had the textured of being re-hydrated but any issue with that was forgotten over the joy that was the fiddle head ferns. These little treats are only available a few weeks in the spring, taste a little nutty with a hint of bitter and are something you must try if you ever see them on a menu. The cooking process is a bit difficult so I don’t recommend trying it at home. The wine, the 2003 Estate Syrah, was chunky. I nearly requested knife for this wine. It was a good wine but was a bit too heavy for my taste, I asked for another glass of the Pinot.
To wrap up we received a House Strawberry Cocktail and a Strawberry Shortcake. This was my least favourite course of the evening. The cocktail was a bit odd, blended strawberries and vodka over ice. While I knew it was fresh it tasted more like a prefab mix. The shortcake was dry and tough and, since we had Lemaire’s expert service, there were no knives from earlier courses left to cut it with. The fresh strawberries with aged balsamic and marscapone were tasty so that was eaten and the cake left behind.
During the course of the evening the restaurant director came by each table and spoke about the future of the restaurant. They are soon closing for a redesign and general overhaul. I heard a lot of buzz words about ‘value’ and making the restaurant more ‘accessible’ to a wider audience. Sounds a little like a down grade to me but I could be wrong. We’ll have to wait and see what the relaunch brings.
The staff, chefs and waiters, did a great job. It is tough for a kitchen to put out a multi-course meal to a group that large without it tasting and feeling like a banquet. They managed to keep it fine dining and if they cut corners for speed you couldn’t tell. If you go to an event like this you should be very aware of your limitations. Bottomless glasses of wine can be fun for some but not everyone can handle it. Just ask the women who threw up all over The Jefferson’s expensive carpet at the end of the evening. People! Know Your Limits!
Our evening ended a bit badly too. Upon getting to M’s car in a light rain it made noises but declined to start. The result was calls to friends getting ready for bed and a long wait for a tow truck. Poor Cy-n-Ide were stuck with Finn till I manged to get to their house at nearly midnight. Looks like we’re going to owe them a few extra babysitting shift once Cy IV arrives…