Saturday, May 23, 2009

Can Beautiful Staff Make Up For A Fitful Kitchen? Maybe.

We made a quick visit with A and G to the town of Greenville, South Carolina. 
Just as an aside, why, oh why, are there so many Green(e)villes? I found these after only a quick perusal:  

THIS was the one we were going to. It's a small, pretty city with lots of commerce and retail and wonderful walking areas. The night we were there, a baseball game had just finished and the town was full of promenaders and folks enjoying the spacious outdoor areas.  The Peace Center offers concerts, shows and dance performances. The BI-LO Center hosts indoor football and concerts too. Falls Park on the Reedy River has an amazing suspension bridge that sways as you walk over it through the park. (:-o)


Underneath are incredible waterfalls that, at night anyway, looked quite frightening, especially with lots of young folks WALKING around them. 

We ate at the popular downtown American Grocery Restaurantlocated in Greenville's West End District. A and G had eaten there before and loved it. 

I love that this restaurant is committed to using fresh local produce and meats and that it concentrates on seasonal offerings. I also loved our sommelier, Darlene, who has front of house responsibilities as well, and a really fetching Sarah Palin hairstyle. Why is that gorgeous women can wear that 'do so well? It's not surprising that she has a Hollywood past, as does the chef, CIA graduate, Joe Clarke.

With all this show business experience in place, the restaurant should have put on a first class performance. But there were a few problems. If only Darlene had been ours from the beginning, and not just for pouring the wine, I know she would have charmed us past the few hitches in the service and food. 

We sat for a LONG time, before we were given menus. Then we waited to be asked about drinks. We had been in the restaurant for over half an hour when I finally asked a busperson to bring us the wonderful looking bread. (Our waiter, I guess, never thought to.) He came back very apologetically and said there were no more rolls at the moment (at 8:30!!) but that a new batch would be out in 6 minutes.  At that point, they should have left a bushel of rolls on the table, but we were allowed to choose only one. (Well, I suppose we COULD have begged for more, but we didn't want to be forward.) They were fantastic, served with strawberry jam (is that a Southern thing?) and butter from the local Happy Cow Creamery.

It wasn't his fault that our waiter reminded me of a know-it-all boss I once had, but his too breezy, ask-you-a-question-and-not-care-what-the-answer-was demeanor WAS. 

He took a while to tell us that there was no more Lobster Ravioli, which 2 of us had planned to order. Now this is funny. As he was explaining that they had run out, he said they were all made fresh YESTERDAY and that the chef hadn't had a chance to make any more. That just made us thankful that we weren't eating DAY OLD ravioli, so it was just as well. And, really, don't tell us that!

H(usband)'s Mussels, Roasted Garlic, Preserved Lemon, Smoked Paprika Oil, Grilled Bread were fantastic. They were perfect and fresh and I wish I had had Michelle with me, so she could have analysed all the different flavors. Me? I was just sucking out every drop of goodness from the mussel shells. 

My Grilled Duck Spring Roll, Asian Greens, Orange-Chile Gastrique sounded sooo good, but, alas, it wasn't. Even though waiter-guy brushed me off when I told him (and 99% of the time, I never say anything bad when they ask how everything is, but this time I did), every part of the spring roll was a disappointment. 

The wrapping was way too thick and heavy. It wasn't crispy. It may have been previously fried or maybe the oil wasn't hot enough. The filling should have been crunchy and flavorful. The strips of duck were overcooked and tough and there wasn't enough bite to the gastrique (although it was the best part of the dish) to make up for the duck. What a shame...

Don't call the food police, I also had duck as an entrée - Duck Breast, Farro Verde, Brandied Cherry Gastrique.

Should I have been concerned that the chef used a gastrique (a reduction of vinegar, fruit and usually sugar that's similar to an agrodolce) in both dishes? No, that's a common way to give a dish a punch of flavor and just a bit of sauce. It works particularly well with duck.

The duck was good, real good. It was tender, with loads of flavor and served perfectly rare, which I require. The cherry gastrique was just right. I am not a fan of farro and this one did not bother me at all, which is to say it was a nice rich accompaniment to the duck. 

H's Halibut with Wild Mushroom-Pancetta Ragout, Arugula and Preseved Lemon Aioli was spot on. The aioli was delicious and the fish was cooked beautifully.

Neither dessert - Chocolate Bouchons, Cherry Ganache, Frangelico Cream or the White Chocolate and Peanut Butter Mousses matched the promise of the main courses. They were unusually bland. The bouchons (miniature cupcakes?) were just plain dry. The peanut butter mousse was okay, but, instead of shouting PEANUT BUTTER, it was more of a whimper, plus both mousses looked rather melted and sad.

Would I go back? Absolutely. And I would hope that we could snag Darlene as our host and server for the evening. 


Emily said...

Maybe it was just an off night? Everything sounds delicious. I'm disappointed the desserts didn't live up to their name. I wonder what a cherry ganache is..

I would love to try a gastrique. I bet it would be very sweet and tangy.

I don't like that they were stingy with the bread. Bread is cheap! Be generous!

Sue said...

The ganache was really good. The cake needed it to make up for the dryness. I should have concentrated more on the cherry aspect of it.

I bet you've made a gastrique before without even knowing.

About the bread...Yeah!!! And I wasn't even expecting them to toss it, like at your place.