What comes to mind when you think â€œThe Grove Park Innâ€? Bet your answer is different now than it wouldâ€™ve been a week ago, before President Barack Obamaâ€™s weekend stay.
Written before anyone knew the President was going to stay at the Inn, this article talks about their lowered pricing, a shift to greater focus on local food sourcing and a push for local patronage. Obamaâ€™s visit doesnâ€™t change that. It merely shows that the Grove Park Inn is fit for a President as well as us regular folk.
An Excellent Adventure – Part 1
The adventure began with an email from Seattle-based Urbanspoon. It read something like, â€œWe have two â€œticketsâ€ for the Guy Davis Wine Dinner at the Grove Park Inn, day after tomorrow. Would you like to go?â€
Would I??? Thus began a frantic, wonderful, relaxing, fabulous, delicious adventure. There were strategic issues; two of my sisters were, at that very moment, driving to town for some sister-time. Making the first of many calls, I asked them, â€œDo you have plans â€“ theater tickets, dinner reservations â€“ I donâ€™t know about? And, what kind of clothes did you bring?â€ Next, I checked with the Inn to see if three of us could attend, paying for the third dinner.
Their answer was stupefying. “Yes, the three of you can come to the wine dinner and weâ€™ll cover the cost of all three dinners. Weâ€™d also like to offer you a room for the night and breakfast in the morning – on us.”
In the interest of full disclosure: theyâ€™d figured out who I was, but certainly didnâ€™t have to offer what they did. Normally I donâ€™t accept any comped meals, drinks, gifts, etc., paying for all meals out of my own pocket, but this . . . I couldnâ€™t turn down. So, read the following review, assured itâ€™s an honest assessment, even though we were comped.
Pre-Dinner Canapes - Magnolia Lounge
The evening began with hors dâ€™oeuvres in the Magnolia Lounge paired with Davis 2007 Riesling, Monterey County, Santa Lucia Highlands. Servers slowly floated through the lounge, offering trays of canapes: grilled gulf shrimp on forks with avocado mousse and local radishes; blue crab vol-au-vents with meyer lemon crÃ¨me fraÃ®che; and black angus beef tartare on house made brioche. We mingled, took in the view and then listened to Guy Davis, of Davis Family Vineyards, talk about his wine-making philosophy, growing techniques and wines.
Each of the three canapes had their own personality and way of complimenting the Riesling, but my favorite were the vol-au-vents. These small puffed jewels were addictive. The surprise here was how good the Riesling was, particularly the finish.
After our appetites had been whetted, we made our way down a long hallway of floor-to-ceiling view windows to Horizons, the Inn’s premier restaurant.
Dinner - Horizons
First impression on walking in to Horizons was one of appreciation of the time and effort that went in to presenting this meal. Here’s one of the tables that had been prepared. To the right, you’ll see raised, semi-private “boxes” that were also set for the dinner.
Assigned seating took us to the table below, where menus were at each place. A nice touch.
Service was impeccable. This was one of those rare dinners where service was done in unison by multiple servers at a nod from the restaurant manager. Another notch-above-the-rest feature.
From beginning to end, there was no skimping on the wine. Kudos to the Inn and Guy Davis for their generosity.
First Course: Twice Cooked Diver Scallops, Warm Spiced Quinoa, Crystal Lettuce and Honey-Pear Butter, paired with Guy Davis, Chardonnay, Russian River Valley, 2007. Once again, I ate before I snapped and don’t have a photo of the scallop dish. The scallops were beautifully seared, soft and buttery in the mouth and complemented in taste and texture by the quinoa and honey-pear butter. Luscious.
Guy Davis refers to his 2007 Chardonnay as having “the mouth coating, glycerin like, character we all love in our red wines, but with a lightness and a brightness of a white wine.” It was all that and took the scallops to another level.
Two people at our table asked the server to remove the scallops because they were allergic to seafood. Almost instantaneously, this salad appeared instead. Gorgeous.
2nd Course: Pan Seared Loin of North Carolina Rabbit, Pulled Rabbit Leg Tart and Saffron Poached Cauliflower paired with Guy Davis, Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, 2006.
When I saw this on the menu, I wasn’t sure how they were going to execute the tart or plate the two types of rabbit. What a pleasant surprise! Texture as well as flavor added to the mouth experience: flaky pastry; softer, pulled rabbit; and seared flavor of the firmer loin. Acting almost as a garnish, the cauliflower was nicely flavored and cooked. Wish there had been more of it.
Progressing from whites to the Pinot Noir at this point was perfect. It brought a more serious, rich feel to the rabbit course.
Intermezzo: a sweet, but not too sweet, shot of liquified, strained melon and ginger (ginger, if memory serves) palate cleanser done perfectly. I recently had the misfortune of tasting another restaurant’s version of this. Suffice it to say, it was not something I’d want again – more like pureed, unstrained cantaloupe.
3rd Course: Kobe Beef x 2, Cast Iron Seared Ribeye and Pulled Kobe Beef Short Ribs, Braised Swiss Chard, Celeriac Puree and Wild Mushrooms, Black Currant Veal Reduction paired with Guy Davis, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, 2005.
This dish was highly anticipated for a few reasons. What really interested me beyond the Kobe Beef (wonderful, melt-in-your-mouth, as expected) were the three vegetables: wild mushrooms (hard to see in photo above – they’re between the pulled and ribeye beef), Swiss Chard and Celeriac puree. How would they interact with that fabulous beef? Would each compliment the beef? Each other? Be flavorful enough not to come off as an afterthought?
Each vegetable brought it’s own character to the plate. Earthiness from the wild mushrooms. Strong, mildly seasoned ”greens” flavoring from the chard. And, a subtle nuanced celery flavor from the celeriac. In it’s pureed form, celeriac can vary from very smooth and saucy to thicker, a la looser mashed potatoes. This was a creamier version that acted more as a sauce than a side vegetable.
Each various combination of meat, vegetable, sauce – don’t forget the black currant veal reduction – I tried was fabulous. Bite after bite unfurling different flavors according to its composition.
Another reason I was anticipating this course was the Cabernet Sauvignon. It did go very well with the beef and veggies, but was a little lighter in body than I expected.
Fourth Course (Dessert): Pastry Wrapped Le ChÃ¢telain Camembert, Wild Huckleberry and Black Garlic Jam, Toasted Black Walnuts paired with Guy Davis, Syrah, Russian River Valley, 2007.
A nice, sweet/savory finish, portioned just right for the end of a filling meal. The Syrah ended up being my favorite red of the evening.
The cost for this dinner was $80 per person.