Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Tuesday, 4/27/10 - The Lodge at Castle Hills

Date: 4/27/10
Restaurant: The Lodge at Castle Hills
Location: 1746 Lockhill Selma
Executive Chef: Jason Dady!

I knew when I made my list that the Lodge was going to be an experience to look forward to. I wasn't wrong. There were points of frustration, some of which that could have been avoided, but there were many shining moments of yummy as well. This is Chef Dady's first and fanciest restaurant, nestled happily in the neighborhood of Castle Hills--which we found out was actually named FOR the house that Chef Dady turned into a restaurant! It was the Castle on the Hill. Go figure!

The entrance sneaks up on you, and the driveway is narrow and winding, entering this fairytale manor.

South Texas wilderness at its best.

Frustration #1: our reservation had to be 6:15pm or 8:15pm. 6:15, we were stuck at home with plumbing issues, so 8:15 it was. 8:15 is not a good time for natural light. And the Lodge is very very dim. So sadly, all of my photos turned out disappointing and dim. I understand if you need to click "back" at this time. Really. I do.

See what I mean? Intimate quarters, which would have been very uncomfortable for agoraphobics like myself, except that the other two parties in the room came in at the 6:15 seating, so by the time our first course came, they were packing up to go.

Somewhat to our surprise, we recognized our waiter, Antonio. We had seen and heard him at Insignia (Dady restaurant) two weeks ago, and he had served us at Bin 555 (Dady restaurant) a few months back. It was sort of fun to play a "let's backtrack all the restaurants we've eaten at to find out where we know this guy from!" game. (Hint: we've eaten at a lot of restaurants.) Anyway his service and food descriptions was spot on. We both knew we wanted the Chef's tasting menu, which is 7 courses plus an amuse bouche plus a palate cleanser. I wanted the $30 extra wine pairing, Tavis stuck with his diet Coke.

(Side note of interest: at the Saturday night dinner at Artemisia's, our dining companions were my Advanced Pastry chef and his family. When I told my chef that we were coming to the Lodge this week, he said, "Oh, the chef de cuisine used to be at St. Philip's! Ask your waiter if Robbie's working tonight, and if so, tell him Chef Martin says hi." Robbie was and we did. Stay tuned to see what happened!)

Our meal opened up with an amuse bouche that perfectly captured Dady's playful slant towards savory and sweet. It was a Cabrales bleu cheese with apple compote and nougat. Like apple pie with a slice of cheddar on top, but even better. My palate was already doing a happy dance (which if literal would probably have made my face look mighty strange).

A seared scallop crusted in Himalayan black sea salt and Meyer lemon zest, laying on a little buttered brioche atop a Yukon mousseline. The potato mud (literal Chinese translation of "mashed potatoes") at the base really served no purpose flavor, color or texture-wise so I'm not sure why it was there. But the scallop was delicious, sweet with a slightly heavy crust of salt, and perfect with the ultra-buttery brioche. Salivation central!

The only picture that turned out semi-decent with the flash, sigh. This lovely little trio of soup, salad and sammich was just awesome. The soup is a cold tomato and buttermilk bisque which had so much essence of FRESH tomato, probably because it was cold. Tavis no likey cold soup. The salad in the center is heirloom tomato and cucumbers with balsamic vinegar and a horseradish creme fraiche. I thought it was really lovely and well-balanced, sweet and pickled and tangy. I could've eaten a lot more of it without even complaining that it's VEGETABLES. And the sammy is a little grilled brie, which of course was lovely with and without the soup.

(Tavis prefers my sherried tomato basil soup and grilled goat cheese sammiches. I told him there's room in the world for more than one tomato soup and grilled cheese.)

This was an odd duck. Namely, because it was supposed to have duck confit in it and we could not find it anywhere. Maybe the pasta once thought about a duck, and that was enough? Regardless, this orecchiette (little ears) pasta with lots of parmigiano-reggiano, fresh sweet corn and garlic breadcrumbs was delicious. Just...not ducky.

And here we come to part one of where "Chef Martin says hi" became the password for win. The fourth course was an option of grilled salmon, or seared foie gras for an additional $15. Tavis hasn't cared for foie in the past and he likes salmon, so he went with that. I opted for the foie. However, right before this course, Antonio emerges to let us know that the chef has made us each tasting portions of BOTH. Connections, I haz them.

Here is our salmon, lovingly crusted in salt and spices and seared, atop a bed of green grapes, white asparagus and pearl onions. I had a bite of everything, went "huh..." and set the rest aside. It certainly was an unexpected combination of flavors, with the fresh sweet grapes standing out on the plate. I just felt like I'd had salt-crusted seafood already this night with the scallop, and I vastly preferred the scallop. Not to mention I was already getting mighty mighty full by this time. We were already an hour into our meal, Spurs were losing but we didn't know it, and it had been a long day. My enthusiasm was flagging.

It perked back up a bit when my seared foie gras emerged. Rather than contrasting flavors in this dish, Chef Dady (and/or Robbie) chose to enhance both the butteriness (with more buttered brioche underneath) and the sweetness (with the apple compote) of foie gras, making it into something truly decadent and fabulous. I felt like the happiest bowling ball in the world after this dish.

And we still hadn't reached the "entree."

Least favorite palate cleanser ever! Lemon granita. Tavis said it tasted like frozen Crystal Lite. I thought more of a zesty household cleaner. Citric acid overload. Poor tender tongues.

On to entree, the first edition. Quail on blue cheese farro with a grilled apple ring and pear salsa. I politely nommed my quail, tried the rest and found it not worth making myself sick. It was flavors I'd already experienced by this point, and to greater success--the amuse bouche was wonderful and gave me all the happy cheese+apple I wanted.

Second edition of entree. Beautiful beef that put the "tender" in "tenderloin." Alongside are roasted tomatoes, potatoes, shiitake mushrooms and underneath is bourgignon sauce. I could barely stuff a single delicious bite in. Pro: Antonio offered to box it up for me. Con: he forgot to give it back to me after he boxed it. Wah!

Part two of "Chef Martin says hi." We each got two desserts. I am not too proud to say that I somehow found room for both of them. A girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do!

First dessert: Chef Dady's love affair with Nutella continues. This is what's described as a "souffle-inspired Nutella and dark chocolate cake," with peanut butter mousse alongside and a caramel base. I really can't figure out what's souffle-like about it; it's a dense cake, so it doesn't feel like it was lightened with beaten egg whites. It certainly didn't ever rise. Antonio suggested it was made in a hot water bath like souffles are. That might make sense. Anyway, it was exquisite and I want everyone in the world to eat it. As long as you leave some for me.

Second dessert: meyer lemon curd on a homemade shortbread cookie with blackberries. It was like everything yummy about a lemon meringue pie, flaky cookie, tangy lemon. Very refreshing and not hard to pack away at all.

Returnability: yes, but with changes. The setting was beautiful, the service was wonderful, the flavors were challenging, fresh and enjoyable for the most part, and the price is very fair considering what you get. But 7 courses was just too much for us, especially when it was actually 11 courses by the end of the night! There also seemed to be too much repetition of ingredient pairings in the tasting menu, which could easily be avoided by going with the 4 course you-choose-it tasting menu. And finally it was too late at night after a very long day to really give this meal the time and energy it deserved and required. I will definitely be back, but I will know my own limitations. (Maybe I'll bring Chef Martin next time.)