Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Great Blackberry Farm - Part One: Dinner

Blackberry Farm
Photo/Beall + Thomas Photography

Even though I vaguely knew where Tennessee was before we visited our friends, M and RJ, I have to admit I had no idea that we were going to be anywhere near Walland, Tennessee, the home of Blackberry Farm. I had been thrilled by what I saw of it on Gourmet Adventures With Ruth (Reichl).

Photo/Beall + Thomas Photography

When M suggested we go to this wonderful place about an hour away from them for dinner, I said, great. THEN she told me it was Blackberry Farm. I said you mean THE RUTH REICHL Blackberry Farm?!! She said yup and that they recently started accepting restaurant reservations from non-hotel guests. That gave us the opportunity to eat there without having to stay in their luxurious surroundings. (DARN!)

Photo/Beall + Thomas Photography

Blackberry Farm was opened in 1976 by the parents of the current proprietor, Sam Beall, when he was just four months old. It started as a six-room country inn and over the years has grown into a 63 room luxury hotel with an exceptional dining room. Many of the ingredients used are grown and raised on Blackberry Farm itself. And I haven’t even mentioned the EIGHT THOUSAND SQUARE FOOT, 160,000 bottle wine cellar!!!

I was sooo psyched. We arrived at the main building and dropped the car off with a valet. We were early, so they suggested we walk up the road to another building and have a drink. It had just started to rain which was a shame, because we didn’t get to wander too far outside, but it was stunning.

We had drinks in a charming room with a beautiful view of the property.

My cocktail was a Blackberry Bumpkin with Pom Liqueur, blackberry-infused vodka, lime and cranberry juices and Cointreau. Sooo good.

Shortly before our reservation time, we were picked up and driven to the beautiful Barn, where dinner is served. I guess that was because it was a bit far, plus it was pouring just then.

But, oh, the Barn! What a place! It was opened in 2007 and built from a dismantled 14,000 square foot Amish barn. It was brought from Pennsylvania to Tennessee and constructed into this charming and warm and, yet, spectacular space.

Photo/Beall + Thomas Photography

The hostess saw me taking pictures and asked if I wanted to meet the chef, Adam Cooke. I said, “Hell to the yes!” or words to that effect. He’s cute, really cute; and young, really young - under thirty and somehow he’s been at Blackberry Farm for five years already.

A graduate of the New England Culinary Institute, Chef Cooke grew up on a working farm, very interested in sustainable and local foods. He says that for “ much of the year, 90 percent of all the produce (he) uses will come from the Blackberry gardens”.

Okay, so I had already said hey to the chef and I knew I was in a place where the food had been well taken care of. In fact, many steps ahead of the actual cooking, the separate elements were being coaxed and coddled into perfection - from the moment the seeds were put into the ground or animals set free to roam.

But would the same be true of the service? Happily, yes! It was professional to the nth degree, yet warm and welcoming.

What more could a guest want? A room for the night perhaps...maybe next time.

We started with a little amuse from the kitchen. It was a succulent fresh mussel with more than a bit of caviar, a cucumber garnish and a few petals of fresh flowers. Just wonderful.

I started with the Duck Foie Gras, which this picture doesn’t do justice to. Seared so beautifully, leaving the inside rare, it was smooth and delicious. The red wine poached rhubard was a perfect foil for the richness of the liver. I have to remember that rhubarb is a great accompaniment to something that rich and meaty.

Another starter was the House Made Charcuterie Plate.

Wow! It was a riot of one dried or cured meat after the other. The brioche was fantastic, the pickled okra (we WERE in the South, after all) was surprisingly good especially since I don’t really consider myself an okra gal.

The Salad of Local Greens looked amazing. I don’t know when I’ve tasted a fresher radish.

Another entrée was Country Ham Wrapped Monkfish.

RJ loved it and, look, THIS is where the country ham came from.

M and I visited the country ham place the next day. (I guess it's good these kitties were in the parking lot and not inside.)

I have to admit I couldn’t really tell the difference between it and a leather factory, but when the country ham was wrapped around monkfish, I could sure TASTE the difference.

Back to dinner, my Roasted Sea Scallops (why is MY food always blurry?) were perfectly cooked. The tiny baby cauliflower florets were a smart pairing with the fava beans.

THEN, they brought us, just to taste, another entrée – HOW NICE!!! - the Braised Beef Cheek. It was almost a soup with gorgeous ravioli and dandelion greens. (Unfortunately, my picture came out so wonky that it would make you dizzy.) The beef was amazingly tender and tasty.

Next was a little sweet treat sent from the kitchen, served before any dessert you order.

Don’t hate me, but I can’t remember what the luscious cream was on top of the mangos. I believe it was pralinized nuts on top of that. Of course, that would have been fine, but we did order A dessert.

I went against my rule of not ordering chocolate in a restaurant. (Why is that my rule? Because how could a dessert made from chocolate NOT be good? I want something more challenging.)

I ordered the Chocolate, Pecan And Hazelnut Terrine, because when I see something with a dacquoise (MACADAMIA dacquoise in this case) I go running headlong into its embrace.

This was a beauty of a thing and delicious too, but the cheese plate that RJ ordered really upstaged the Terrine.

THIS was no usual cheese plate. It was more like a cheese PLATTER, sufficient to serve TEN! AND each cheese was more remarkable than the one before, and it took MANY tries of each to decide our favorites.

The soft runny, Délice de Bourgogne (upper left) was my favorite, followed by the Smokey Blue (just underneath the Delice).

It did remind me, though, that the truest food expression I have ever heard is, “Cheese closes the stomach.” In other words, never have it before a meal or you won’t be hungry for the main event. This was a massive amount of cheese for one person and, luckily (for him), we didn’t let RJ get away with eating it all!

What could be better after a great meal, but a little…shopping?!! I’m always in the mood. The Blackberry Farm shop was wonderful.

The star attractions were the Blackberry Jam (how could one not buy THAT?) AND The Blackberry Farm Cookbook, which brings me to my good news.

I am pleased to be giving away a copy of The Blackberry Farm Cookbook. Thank you Blackberry Farm and Clarkson Potter/Publishers! Read Part Two for details.

So how lucky were we?!! We had an extraordinary meal in a memorable place with wonderful friends AND I have some jam and a beautiful cookbook as a reminder. We'll definitely find our way back to Tennessee...


Ciao Chow Linda said...

Wow what a meal. You make me want to pack my bags for Tennessee - and Blackberry Farm.

Sue said...

It WAS awesome! And I'll go with you!

The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

What a great experience. I want to stay there! I want to eat there!

Chocolate desserts can surprise you. Despite my obession with chocolate, I did find my chocolate dessert to be the weakest one I had in Jackson on my vacation.

Ha ha! You said rhubarb!

Sheila said...

Soooo beautiful and the food looked amazing too!

The dessert has me drooling.