Monday, October 13, 2008

birthday dinner #4: Vidalia

for the weekend following my birthday, my parents took me down to D.C., where we went to the Spy Museum and the Newseum and other lovely tourist attractions. on Saturday night, they took me to dinner at Vidalia (after much decision-making, which featured my dad discovering and reading a bunch of reviews of restaurants we were considering and declaring, "These people are awfully mean!").

The menu at Vidalia featured at least two dozen things I really wanted to try. However, their five-course tasting menu was only doable if the whole table partook, and neither of my parents were really into it, so we just ordered a la carte. (Probably a good idea in retrospect--the portions were small enough that the half-portions you got with the tasting menu would have been microscopic).

a little courtesy-of-the-chef appetizer: butternut squash soup in a shot glass, very salty, not the sweet nutmeggy flavor you'd expect. also, cauliflower panna cotta topped with salmon roe; the texture of the panna cotta was very different than other panna cottas I've had, almost like a block of firm tofu...and the cauliflower gave it a strange, savory flavor that was interesting (although I don't know if I could eat more than a small cube of it, even though I love cauliflower).

To start, I had Southern-fried frogs' legs with Path Valley toasted cornmeal polenta, sweet garlic, hen o’ the woods mushrooms and parsley butter. I got three legs, each battered and deep-fried larger than golfballs. My parents had never had frogs' legs before shamefacedly admitted that, as per the cliche, they "tasted like chicken." I'd only had them cooked in garlic butter before, not breaded, and I thought they were pretty chickeny--although very unsalty, strangely. I think the flavor of frogs' legs is a bit better than dark-meat chicken, truthfully, and I do enjoy the idea of eating frogs.

My dad had a wild mushroom ragout (he pronounced it "ragout" to the waiter, to general amusement--sorry, Dad) with country ham, chive biscuits and creamy black pepper gravy. I think Dad might've been expecting a big hearty serving of biscuits 'n' gravy, but instead he got a haute cusine, perfectly arranged platelet of bizarre mushrooms with some shreds of biscuit and ham. It tasted delicious, though, and he cleaned his plate with gusto.

My mother, seeking something salad-y (there seemed to be no greens on the menu), got a mosaic of Path Valley Farm tomatoes with buffalo mozzarella, olive crumble, bouqueron anchovies, verbena gelée and lime-basil emulsion. It had a bit of a "structural problem" on the way to the table and had to be quickly fixed by the server. Essentially, there were four separate types of tomatoes with different treatments of each, arranged separated on a square plate and scattered with cubes of clear verbena gelee. One tomato was fire-roasted and stuffed with anchovies; there was a pile of pea-sized sweet tomatoes mixed with olive bits; an especially cheesy-tasting buffalo mozzarella was sandwiched between golden tomato slices; etc. She didn't like the fishy anchovies inside the charred tomato skin, but I thought it was among the best on the dish.

For my entree, I chose the Stoltzfus farm shoat stuffed with sage-fennel sausage and toasted oats with smoked wild huckleberry jam and braised fennel branch. This arrived sliced into a handful of coin-sized discs, each comprised of a medallion of sausage wrapped with baby pig fat and flesh. The dark, chewy oats underneath were extremely salty and soaked with pork fat. With the huckleberry jam, this was quite delicious. I had two issues, though: firstly, I would've preferred less sausage and more pig in each piece, and secondly there were, randomly, whole peanuts inserted into the roll. I think I found two in the whole meal. Not knowing they'd be there, I thought they were chunks of gristle at first and was a bit disgusted until I figured out they were peanuts. If they were to include peanuts for texture, I'd recommend roughly ground nuts more evenly spread through the dish.

My father got shrimp 'n' grits with house-made andouille sausage and sweet onion ravigote. The shrimp arrived with heads, bodies, and feet intact, and that caused them to retain a singularly shrimpy flavor that beheaded shrimp can't quite match. I would've preferred more grits--they were more like a plating addition than part of the dish, I thought--but the dish worked very well as a whole.

My mom ordered the northern Michigan walleye, which had a confusing array of side dishes (we actually received different menus claiming it came with different things, so I guess they change 'em up frequently). The walleye slab was lightly breaded and fried oh-so-delicately--I can't even imagine how they picked it up to plate without destroying the fragile crust. very, very good.

then dessert. we split 2 desserts. first, the warm chocolate cake donut holes rolled in peanut brittle and chocolate fondant with mocha semifreddo. it sounds better than it was, I thought--the donuts weren't greasy and squishy and fried enough, ending up kind of like stale donut holes. good flavor combinations, but...

the second was one my dad had had his eye on from the first moment: a georgia pecan pie with bourbon-caramel ice cream. this was the better dessert by a long shot, and clearly something Dad had been waiting for, so I didn't eat too much of it.

I really enjoyed the meal, and the food was very good-looking and -tasting (despite the junky cameraphone pictures in the dim light). a great birthday meal!

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