Last night, I walked down the streets and was truly happy. Actually, happy isn’t really strong enough. Giddy comes closer. But, if I were being honest, I’d say euphoric.
The reason why . . . I had a perfect meal.
This week it is “Restaurant Week” in Staunton, VA. The part of me that loves a deal has overridden the part of me that is money conscience, and so I took tutoring money and splurged.
My big splurge was on a local restaurant called Staunton Grocery. They are a restaurant that I have a lot of respect for. They are committed to local farmers, wineries, cheese makers, etc. and modeling this philosophy has encouraged many other restaurants in town to follow suit. What I enjoy so much about Staunton Grocery is the amazing way they make dishes seem simple, straightforward, pure, while they actually hide a deft and skillful hand. Last night’s dinner reminded me of the Italian term, sprezzatura, which is a type of seemingly effortless grace.
For Restaurant Week, Staunton Grocery is offering a pre-fix of a first, second, and dessert course for $25 and then you can add a Virginia wine pairing for a total of $40. I decided in the spirit of carpe diem that I would add the pairing.
The meal starts with an amuse-bouche of smoked salmon, crunchy crepe, parsnip, and crème fraiche. The creaminess offsets the smokiness of the salmon and lends mildness to the bite. Once the richness of the salmon and smoke start to taper off, the freshness and acidity of the parsnip creep in. The overall effect is a strong and smooth start that has a crisp, light finish.
The first plate was a Wild Mushroom Consommé with Leak Dumplings and Chives and was paired with Veritas Viognier. The Viognier has bright citrus notes and a slight honey aftertaste. This paired nicely with the leak and the tartness of the wine was a good companion to the earthy consommé and creamy dumplings. The consommé was amazing. It captured the earthiness of the mushroom with none of the muskiness. The dumplings were soft, creamy, buttery, and almost had a hint of a cheese, but that could have been the mushrooms hinting through. The leaks and chives also bridged the gap between the mushrooms and the dumplings by giving a level of sharpness to go with the simple dumplings and uncomplicated consommé.
For the second course, I had the Grass Fed Beef Brisket with Golden Beet Borscht and Green Garlic Crème Fraiche and that was paired with Barren Ridge Petit Verdot. The brisket was tender and simply dressed. The beet borscht was bright and had shed the earthiness and grittiness that sometimes turn people off of beets. The green garlic crème fraiche kept the warmth of the garlic and the almost grassy quality, while undermining the bite that comes with garlic.
Yet, of all the dishes, the one that really made me drop my jaw was the dessert of Buttermilk Panna Cotta with Citrus and Fennel Salad with Mint Oil, paired with Veritas Othello. Like an episode of Chopped that takes three unlikely things and demands the contestants to make it work, I never would have thought that this combination would produce a sweet, satisfying, dessert that almost makes you depressed when it is gone. The panna cotta was smooth, melt-in-your-mouth, and with a hint of tanginess from the buttermilk. Then, the amazing part, was the fennel that retained a small hint of anise, but more absorbed the citrus and mint to counterbalance a cool, crisp, fennel with the creamy, velvety panna cotta. For the wine pairing, I would have thought the dark, rich Othello port would have overwhelmed such a delicate dish, but the dessert brought out the rich vanilla of the dessert and also brought out notes of caramel in the port.
I know it seems odd to go on so long about such a high-end food experience, especially considering the last blogs heralded hot dogs and Colcannon; but, Staunton Grocery, still holds to what I value about food. They say it in the restaurant tagline of “Gracious Dining.” The idea of food and dining experience that is itself thankful, cordial, and sociable, reminds me of what I love so much about food. That food can be simple, true, and honest must make the eater happier, more appreciative, and grateful to be living.