Talula’s Table: Farmhouse Dinner

21 02 2010

Talula’s Table. A restaurant we thought was far out of reach with its highly sought-after one-year waiting list until we checked the website and noticed a cancellation only 2 months away. We pounced on it and rustled up eight foodie friends to share the experience.

It was an 8-course meal with appetizers. Thank god I saved the menu.

Wellfleet oyster with pastrami spice, plumped mustard seeds, beet gelee, and rye crackers

A slightly weak start, but refreshing and made me curious about what was to come.  Matt loved the gelee, which goes to show how objective food reviewing can be.  It wasn’t the best oyster we’ve had (I’ve not had many; Matt has).

This flaky bun was barely done in the middle and had just come out of the oven. No butter needed. The flavor and texture held its own.

Gratin of Yukon gold potatoes, local creme fraiche, shaved prosciutto, toasted pistachios, and arugula

Holy moly fantabulous gratin. I could eat a dump-truck sized portion and still want more.  Gooey, creamy, salty, and cheesy with fresh and spicy arugula, the flavors and textures were well-balanced. I had saved some of the roll and mopped up every bit of the remnants in the bottom of this dish.

Bread basket, with soft pretzel rolls, brioche, and a few other kinds of bread

I was pretty much full by the time they brought out the basket, and there were 6 courses to go.  Everyone loves a bread basket.  Everyone also loves a bread basket with pretzel rolls.

Maine lobster, fondant of fennel, lobster nage, citrus and ricotta ravioli

The ravioli was actually my favorite part.  The lemon filling somehow managed to be both citrusy light and creamy at the same time.  What an ingenious concept.  The lobster, though, was tender, perfectly cooked, and yummy.

Smoked haddock and pan-fried mussels, crispy potato, chopped braised bacon

There were a lot of different things going on here that made for lovely contrasts: the haddock was rich, smoky, and smooth with the bacon bringing a crunch to the dish and the mussels were rich and briny and soft.  The greens were a nice contrast to the smokiness of the rest of the dish.

Handmade orecchiette, roasted duck with spanish olives, capers, and pepper broth

This was probably my favorite dish.  The rich duck complimented the light and fluffy orecchiette and the capers and the olives made the sauce more interesting.  The dark meat fell apart like pulled pork.

Glazed veal cheeks, horseradish gremolata, tallegio, arancini and garlicky stewed kale

Matt’s favorite.  He wants to eat the veal cheeks in a sandwich every day.  The cheeks, which resembled a poutine in texture, had a condensed and intense flavor and the gremolata had the horseradish, lemon, and parsley, which added a new dimension to the flavor. The arancini was hot and creamy with tellegio melting out of the center.

Little bit stinky, little bit sweet

We can’t remember each cheese, but the flavor combinations worked and the plate was inventive. The small toasted crouton was dipped in the cup of cheese next to it.  Each type of cheese was paired with a “matching” item, such as rosemary, candied walnut, dried cherry, apple slice, and honey.

Rice pudding redone (Carolina gold rice, coconut, nuts, dried fruits, mango sorbet, and rice tuile)

Everything on this plate was good, but I could have had a plate of this rice pudding and been happy.  Matt, a sorbet lover, naturally liked the mango sorbet, as it was sweet, tangy, and fresh.  The rice pudding was loved by all with its creamy texture and semi-sweet flavor.

The amounts of food and the timing of the food was perfect.  We were never looking for the next course, but when it came we were ready to eat.  Each individual dish was superb, but for us, it was more about the whole dining experience.  Sure, the food was good. But instead of trying to compete with food trends and the “next” cuisine, they make good food in a unique setting. Sit at a big table (one of two tables, the other being the chef’s/kitchen table in back) with 9 of your friends. It’s like hiring a private chef to come into your home and prepare a meal for you and your friends, only you don’t have to clean beforehand or pick up after. The company and atmosphere added to the exceptional dining experience. That the food was delicious didn’t hurt. For four hours you are waited on and you can eat and drink and laugh and swear and not have to worry about anything else.

*Please note that this is the February menu–menus change seasonally/monthly.

**Also note that cancellations are noted here. Check frequently to avoid the one-year wait list. (At the time of posting there were no cancellations.)

Easy Bread

15 02 2010

Matt’s been consulting The Fresh Loaf to make very easy bread from scratch. I think he’s a natural. Behold, the first loaf:

You can check the website for the exact process, but I’ll show you Matt’s process in pictures.

Before rising:

After rising and “punch down:”

Before the oven:

Done and ready to eat:

We chowed down with cheese. We slathered with honey. We spread on jam. We made ham sandwiches.  The loaf lasted a few days wrapped in a tea towel.  Matt went on to make Loaf #2 and that will be a future post.

Matt didn’t get frustrated so I would recommend this bread-baking method to novices and pros alike.


3 02 2010

Do what you love. Know your own bone; gnaw at it, bury it, unearth it, and gnaw it still. Henry David Thoreau

When I heard that a vegetarian grill was opening in NoLibs this month, I made reservations for opening night. The online menu looked inventive and fresh, so I had high expectations for Thoreau. Matt wasn’t all too thrilled to be going out to eat to a place with no meat on the menu, but he dealt with it in good spirits.

Thoreau is a small space on Spring Garden (across from the massive and garish Spaghetti Warehouse) with classic decor. We seem to be experiencing tight seating recently and our general thought was that two or three tables could have been taken out of Thoreau to make diners more comfortable and the service more smooth. It was a very close call when a couple sat at the table behind us–our coats barely fit on our chairs because they were so close together.

The pace of the service was leisurely–I wouldn’t expect to eat in under 2 hours at Thoreau, which is fine for us. The wait staff was very (Matt’s word: overly) attentive, but I’m sure nerves were playing a part in that.

My major pet peeve was that when our first set of plates was cleared, our silverware wasn’t. Nothing irks my OCD nature more than dirty silverware lying on a clean, white tablecloth. Please work on this.

One other awkward aspect that I didn’t even notice (Matt notices these things) was that when guests walked in the front door, staff greeted them, took their name, walked to the back of the restaurant, checked the reservation, got the menus, walked back up to the front, and seated the guests. According to Matt, you should never leave a guest waiting longer than 15 seconds in a situation like this, and guests waited much longer. Maybe this kink will get worked out with time as well.

On to the food. I would have been happy with the appetizer and desserts only, because they were the best dishes and I was too full to enjoy my entrée.

First up, the sliders:

(Ratatouille in basil pumpkin seed pesto, creamy Spanish manchego cheese, red pepper aioli, Belgian frites. $10.75)

These were scrumptous. Perfect buns with a little layer of crust, soft innards, and a slight sheen of butter coating. The flavors burst with freshness, the avocado was perfectly ripe, the aioli creamy. Say it with me, Top Chef fans: “You don’t miss the meat!” Off to a great start with these delectable minis. The frites weren’t quite up to the standards set by the sliders. A bit more like string potatoes, I missed the potato taste and just got some manchego (which isn’t so bad, of course) and crunch.

So I was indeed full after the sliders, but waited anxiously for our main courses. I got the falafel:

(In lovish, with smoked red pepper hummus, cucumber-yogurt, tomato relish, young spinach.  Served with baby greens in chili-lime vinaigrette. $15.75)

I am still a bit confused about this dish, as the flavor was not exactly what I was used to falafel tasting like. There was a lot on this plate–I was overwhelmed just looking at it. I could only finish one of the wraps and half of the salad. The nuttiness of the chick peas was a bit lost in all of the other flavors, as the hummus was particularly strong and overpowering and the wrap, well, wrapped around a lot. I am looking forward to eating my leftovers for dinner to see if, on an empty stomach, I enjoy this a bit more.

Matt ordered the Wild Mushroom Risotto:

(Creamy pumpkin-green apple Arborio rice risotto hides molten basil mascarpone, surrounded by a riot of wild and exotic oyster and shiitake mushrooms in ancho chile marsala broth. $20.75)

All from Matt:

The risotto tasted good but was not really mushroom risotto. The brown sauce hid all of the creamy arborio goodness that we normally associate with risotto and the few wild mushrooms were whole and on the side.  Not a “riot” of mushrooms, really.

The desserts were out of this world amazing. What a way to end the meal.

(Hazelnut Toffee Basket chocolate buttercream mousse, bruleed bananas, hazelnut oatmeal tuille cookie. $6.75) Creamy and chocolately mousse, sweet and caramely bananas, inventive cookie. Very rich, very sweet, very good.

(Pineapple Empanadas blackberry sorbet, mango-papaya salsa, caramel $6.75) Yum yum yum. The empanadas were fancy street food at its best. Crispy but doughy, not too sweet, hot pineapple insides. These went great with the caramel and fresh salsa. The blackberry sorbet was perfect and could have been its own dessert. We weren’t sure how it went with the caramel, but just a minor detail.

Overall, a mixed review of Thoreau, I believe. I think if some kinks are worked out in the service and the portions are controlled a bit more, this will be a fun place for healthy and inventive veggie dishes. I’d keep going back for the sliders and desserts. Try it out–I can’t wait to hear people’s reactions to the rest of the menu.