Friday, June 24, 2011

Guest Post: Russell House Tavern Review

For the first time in One Food Guy history I have a guest editor, Chad Lingle, professional eater, artist, photographer, and owner of the Real Estate and Property Management firm Artisan Properties.

Before getting to Chad's review of the amazing Russell House Tavern, let me tell you how we got here. Earlier this year J and I were at Coppa with Chad and his wife Leah, demolishing plate after plate of amazing food, fawning especially hard over the amazing charcuterie and beautiful might-cost-more-than-my-car Berkel hand slicer. While on the subject of the charcuterie, J and I gushed to them about how great the charcuterie is at Russell House Tavern and that they should go. Fast forward a couple weeks and I receive an email from Chad while I'm sitting outside a Starbucks in Frankfurt, Germany, sipping on a cappuccino, killing time before my flight to Bangalore, India. Side note - I abhor sitting in an airport for hours and hours on a layover so I hopped on the S-Bahn to downtown Frankfurt for a few of hours of fun. Chad tells me about this amazing meal he had just had at Russell House Tavern, really it was more of a short story than an email but it was a pleasure to read and he has graciously agreed to edit it for your reading pleasure.

When you're finished, go eat at Russell House Tavern.Seriously. Go. Or go now and read Chad's story later. Whatever you decide, just be sure to eat at Russell House Tavern. Maybe I'll see you there.

And now, Chad's Russell House Tavern Review:

I was really looking forward to eating at Russell House Tavern all last week and now it seems I'll be spending all of this week looking back and reminiscing! Visions of smoked pork loin are dancing in my head - seriously. So I actually have a lot to say about this place & since it is still fresh in my mind/belly & since you asked... here's my take:

Ok, so let me preface this by saying on the spectrum of good-to-great, there really can't be any disappointments. But since good was the worst the RHT seemed to be able to do, the only qualified disappointment of the night came at the very beginning of the meal with the Lamb Trio Cassoulet. Overall the meat was perfectly savory, but there just didn't seem to be enough of the dark lamb meat (belly/shoulder/sausage) to balance out the small abundance of white beans. It was like an NBA team photo in the 1950s.

The Crispy Pig's Head Cake (besides being fun to say) was awesome. It makes me want to write the word awesome with periods in between every letter. It's a super-inventive take on head cheese that's so distinguished it should rightfully spawn its own evolutionary branch of pig-food. It was served warm with a perfectly crispy, breaded, puff-pastry style shell with possibly the most beautiful poached egg I've ever seen plopped on top. Whoever thought to add the egg deserves a raise. The creaminess it added to each lightly fried breaded bite was godly. Plus there was some Maple syrup involved in the Aioli so, while it went perfectly well with beer and a 5 o'clock shadow, I think they may have created the most perfect breakfast food - ever.

Figs N' Blankets could alternately be called candy for carnivores. Little roasted figs wrapped in the RHT's house Guanciale were such an extremely good balance of salty and sweet that they definitely set the record for least time at the table. They lasted like 4 seconds.

I wouldn't have picked this place for raw bar offerings, but at the behest of one of my table mates, we ordered 12 (6&6) of their 2 oyster offerings. Misty Points and some other kind of Points (I was too busy with the Pig's Head Cake to pay attention to that part). They were sweet, a little briny - everything they were supposed to be. I even enjoyed their pickle mignonette but didn't order more, because I've heard oysters can be an aphrodisiac and I was at a table with 3 other dudes who probably didn't need any encouragement.

The stand out award of the night (sorry Pig Cake) goes to the Tavern Pizza with house-made Cotechino Sausage & house-made Ricotta. It was so perfect I don't even want to write about it. It must be eaten to be appreciated.

Next, the Crispy Long-Island Duck Confit and Ozark Heritage Pork Trio battled for space on the table. The Duck was perfect, & exactly what you would expect it to be. It came with a little side stew of pork belly, roasted chestnuts, and figs with some crispy sage. It was just some straight-up farm-style goodness. The Pork Trio included a smoky-tasting Loin (yum), already-fell-off-the-bone Butt, and some more Pork Belly. Unbelievably the most memorable part of the Trio dish was its pancake-shaped base of grits. The pale & creamy grits were nearly invisible against the white plate - hidden under a small salad of greens, but once we found it - whoa baby. I could have eaten a mixing-bowl full of 'em. Mmm...

With the first round of pizza-pie making such a good impression on us, we couldn't leave without digging in to some more of the cheesy stuff. So, we ordered (at our delightful server Maria's suggestion) the Andria. This concoction was so full of Very Local Buratta that it bordered on fondue. I'm told there was some sweet garlic and even more figs on there, but really it was just a lot, a lot of Buratta - which is a good thing really.

We rounded out the night with an order of their Redondo Black Serrano Ham which came with a torched square of Manchego. The cheese was topped with some caramelized honey which made for a crunchy top to one of my favorite cheeses. Along with little toasted brioche points... this was like some other-worldly deconstruction of the best ham & cheese sandwich of all time. I plan to begin reconstruction efforts at home asap.

Feeling cordial, full and friendly (a few glasses of Old Rasputin Imperial Stout @ 9% ABV will cause friendliness) we actually spotted an old pal who, as it turns out, is now the GM of the place. A real blast-from-the past... He stopped by the table to say hello before heading off to the awaiting company party at RedLine. So we say our goodbyes and send him off to his fĂȘte but he finds out it is my table mate Alex's birthday and proceeds to send half of the dessert menu over to our table.

Round 2's first victim was the Flourless Chocolate Chili Cake with chili salted caramel and Mexican chocolate ice cream. Now, chili-spiced chocolate can sometimes walk the fine line between artfully decadent dessert and some overweight tourists' "look what we brought back from our trip to Cancun" disaster. What the kitchen (more specifically Jessica Pelletier) at RHT produced was sublime. A dense but not fudgy; sweet (without being cloying) little chocolate mini-cake with just the perfect amount of spice to let you know it was there.

Another great take on a traditional favorite was the Carrot Cake Bread Pudding with raisins, toasted walnuts and a cream cheese swirl. Wowsers... I mean, has there ever been a concoction so excellently suited for bread pudding as carrot cake. I think not.

Finally we make it to our last dish; the Layered Ginger Spice Cake. The thing was big. Layered with a coffee buttercream and an espresso reduction - this Ginger definitely had a soul. The buttercream alone was enough to curl your toes and by the time we got down to deftly scraping the espresso reduction off the plate with our spoons I was in heaven.

So I went there with a few friends with the simple intention of doing some hearty eating. I left the place that evening with the distinct feeling that I was somehow a better, happier person than the one that had walked in a few hours earlier. It could have been Old Rasputin whispering in my ear, but I do know that I left thoroughly impressed with the restaurant & I hope to return soon.

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