Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Vacation to Southwest VA: Town House / Riverstead

As a personal rule, I have avoided being a restaurant blogger here.  I love seeing what restaurants do but I find some more satisfaction in writing about things that I have some control over rather than just consumption. It's a nice rule and all, and I plan to adhere mostly to it for the rest of the life of this blog, but rules are meant to be broken and today is the day that I break that rule.  My wife and I celebrated our first anniversary this past weekend and decided to take the opportunity to go to one of the best restaurants in the southeast:  Town House, in Chilhowie, Virginia.  Started by ex-Alinea and Charlie Trotter's chef John B. Shields and his wife, Karen Urie Shields, Town House took fine dining from Chicago to rural southwest Virginia and turned Chilhowie into a dining destination.  In addition to having the restaurant, they have also renovated a two-bedroom house, given the namesake "Riverstead," within 5 miles of the restaurant where diners can stay for the night and enjoy some peace and quiet in the mountains after dinner.  My wife and I decided to go for the whole package - we did a 10 course tasting, wine pairings from sommelier Charlie Berg, and stayed at Riverstead for the night, followed up by hiking in the nearby Appalachian Trail thoroughfare park Grayson Highlands State Park.  All in all it was an amazing weekend:  the food was fantastic, the wine paired perfectly, the staff was friendly, the house was amazing, and the scenery was incredible.

One quick note:  I'm going to mention the pairings but the truth is that I am not too knowledgable about wine so forgive me for my ignorance there.

The exterior of Riverstead - a 2 bedroom guest house owned by Town House
Upon arrival at Riverstead, we were greeted by homemade snacks:  local cheeses (front cheese was a soft cow's milk cheese and the back was a harder veined kinda blue cheese), homemade crackers, and a slightly spicy candied nut mix


Exterior of the restaurant.  When staying at Riverstead, they provide car service in the BMW.  High Rollerzzzz!


Menu for the evening:  we opted for the 10 course.  Go big or go home.


Amuse bouche:  Oyster leaves dipped in clam juice

Paired with a prosecco to wake things up.

Flowers:  I took less than desirable notes but I believe that the sauce was an artichoke puree

This course and the next course were paired with a flower infused sake that was truly amazing and a Chardonnay from Lebanon.

"Gazpacho" of summers foliage:  green tomato on the bottom with pickled coriander seeds, shiso leaves, green bean leaves, zucchini

Barbequed Eggplant:  smoked mussel "ash", black garlic, mussels, lemon, and basil.  The ash was frozen and then shaved to make almost like mussel 'snow' or something.  The sweetness of the black garlic with the smokyness of the mussel ash and the eggplant balanced perfectly.

Sweet Corn, Chicken, Lovage:  corn silk on top, chicken liver on the bottom, crispy chicken skin, sweet corn, lovage puree, and chicken reduction around the edges.

Paired with a sweet Sauterne

I mentioned that I don't do this restaurant blog thing often right?  Well this is my first major fuckup and I'm really upset about it.  This WAS Dungeness Crab in Brown Butter and Butter Whey.  The picture is awful and I almost didn't want to post it but I want to acknowledge the existence of this awesome dish.  Charred onions, shellfish cream, lime, seared bay scallops, and reduced pork stock.

Paired with a really dry Sherry.  I'm going to fuck this up but it was marked with a crosshatch, denoting (I think) a naturally occuring process in the fermentation which results in an incredibly dry Sherry.

Turbot cooked in its own juice and cream:  I loved this dish.  Potentially my favorite.  Crispy turbot skin on top, crispy pork, shaved bonito, turbot broth infused with geranium.

Beef Cheek and Tongue... Pastoral:  "essence" of hay and grass broth, beef tongue, milk "skin", horseradish, grasses.  This was probably the most interesting dish - the grass broth was notably grassy but not overpowering and it went well with the beef.  Interestingly, there was no acid in the dish - the balance came from the milk skin, which had a tangy kind of buttermilk taste to it.  This one made me wonder how the hell they came up with it - really amazing.

Lamb Shoulder and Wild Blueberries:  licorice glaze, barbecued beets, black malt powder.  Served on a black plate and with the patent leather shine on the glaze, this was one of the more visually arresting dishes.  Also delicious.

Paired with a nice Syrah

Canteloupe and Toasted Farro:  Shaved carrots, sassafras ice cream, turmeric root (I think in the broth), tonka beans.  This was definitely the most polarizing dish at our table.  My wife didn't care for it.  I didn't know what to think of it at first, then I hit the canteloupe - which was actually under the ice cream.  The farro was very al dente, it provided a lot of crunch.  The ice cream was not very sweet, and all the sweetness in the dish came from the ripe canteloupe underneath.  At first I didn't think I liked it but once I hit the canteloupe, I became a believer.

Broken Marshmallows, Whipped Cream, Green Strawberries, Flowers, Cucumber:  this dish was also interesting.  The green strawberries almost had a salty note to them in their unripeness.  The cucumbers were made into a sorbet which balanced pretty well with the marshmallows. 

Closing with some frozen macaroons with kefir lime zest on top.  These were pretty amazing.  I am pretty sure the macaroons involved sesame in some way, and they were crispy and frozen (presumably with liquid nitrogen).  It was fun to eat them and then blow smoke.

Breakfast the following morning:  coffee, fresh orange juice, granola, a soft boiled egg (holy fuck I need to get into soft boiled eggs), blueberry corn muffins, fresh fruit and yogurt.  It was simple but it really was delicious.

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