Friday, January 23, 2009

Not seeking new landscapes but having new eyes

S. came down from Boston for Inauguration, so we decided to celebrate her birthday at The Grille in Old Town.

Morrison House looks like a private residence, and its formal dinning room is lovely and very old-school, the way one might remember those rooms one was normally not allowed to go into as a child. But if you go straight down the hall, following the happy chatter and the live music (thus far I've heard a piano player, acoustic guitarists and even a regular or two taking to the stage) you will find an upbeat and cozy bar area, clad in red leather and wooden floors. You will also see Chef Denis Marron checking in on his patrons and happily discussing his culinary creations. The ambiance there is relaxed and jovial, even though you are in the same restaurant and dining on the same menu. The Grille is less grand dame and more fun cousin - and a place that must be visited on whim and occasion alike.

S. and I started with hot cider cocktails that were well balanced - sweet, but with a kick. We both went for the Chef's tasting menus (3, 4 or 6 courses for 45, 65 or 75 USD) and I was happily surprised by some classics as well as new creations. We were busy catching up and marveling at the fact that the day had come when we were not having graduate student fare, so I didn't prepare myself for the Apple-Parsnip Bisque, a heavy soup poured table-side over duck confit, apple chips and cinnamon espuma. Though the description on the menu perfectly indicated the fact that this would be a sweet soup, my first spoonful was bewildering - the only thing I can compare the overall note to is fresh-baked cinnamon bread. Stirring all the ingredients, especially the salt in the duck confit made all the flavors pair together for a very pleasant effect. As we waited four our entrees, our server told us that the chef would be sending out another course. A few days prior I had been very enthusiastic about the new scallop appetizer at Domaso and, not one to shy from chefs wanting to one-up each other for me, we tried a wonderful flight of scallops - a crudo, a cold smoked scallop with a lemon gelee, a seared scallop with bacon espuma and coquilles st. jaques, a baked preparation. Not only is the dish a wonderful demonstration of new techniques (my favorite, the cold smoke, was presented still encased in a smoke-filled shot glass) but a great way to show the versatility of a great ingredient at its peak. I've been torn over both dishes for a week and must pronounce The Grille the winner for its variety and its playful but sophisticated approach to getting diners to venture out of the traditional seared scallop.

For our main courses, S. had the veal, a braised veal breast presented over glazed root vegetables with black truffle jus and crispy sweetbreads. The compact presentation makes the most of the tender meat and the vegetables give it an interesting play on textures. I had the monkfish, braised in red wine with brussel sprouts and brown butter spaetzle. The mokfish tail was fantastic - a firm meat, much like lobster but less fragrant. The brussel sprouts had just the right crunch in them. The spaetzle, a staple of Austrian cooking, was a bit dry but its flavor complimented the fish.

Intrepid diners that we are (or making up for the days when we would save up and go to Finale's in lieu of actually eating dinner) S. and I had desserts. S. got the Coconut, which had coconut four ways: Coconut Cream Pie, Coconut Macaroon,
Pina Colada Foam, Saffron & Coconut Marshmallow. Learning from my previous mistakes, S. tackled the foam first and went on to enjoy every bit of tropic that the ingredient afforded her. I had a Red Velvet cake that has ruined all red velvet cakes for me (yes, even the Magnolia Bakery cupcakes in New York). The cake is heavy but not dense, toped with a chocolate ganache and the traditional cheese icing between layers. The batter has beets in it, further amplifying the refreshing taste of the beet gelato. The plate also had a dusting of beet powder, which I had never tasted. It's texture paired well with the overall smoothness of the ganache and the gelato, giving it an extra dimension: grit.

A wonderful meal spent in great company in a rediscovered space - what better way to kick off Inaugural weekend?

The Grille at Morrison House Hotel
116 South Alfred Street
Alexandria, VA 22314
Grille at Morrison House on Urbanspoon

1 comment:

Capital Spice said...

Thanks for the review, I'm looking forward to trying Morrison House.