Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Grille at Morrison House

I have a hard time passing up restaurant Groupons. I like to buy them for the places we frequent (Nando's and Tacklebox) but I also try to use them as a tool for finding new restaurants. When the Groupon for The Grille at Morrison House hit my inbox, I was intrigued by the promise of a five course chef's tasting menu for only $32. I had never heard of The Grille or the Morrison House, but I'm always up for an adventure. My friend Victoria suggested that we each purchase two and make a double date out of it.

The Morrison House is a Kimpton brand hotel tucked just off King Street in Alexandria. It oozes old fashioned charm as soon as you walk in the door. The hotel is so pet friendly that it features a chalkboard near the door welcoming each guest's pet by name.

The Grille is made up of several dining rooms and is located next to the Piano Bar that hosts jazz musicians and sing alongs. As the night progressed, the music and singing from the Piano Bar grew to an all out hootenanny. The drinks in the bar must be plentiful!

The five course menu started with a complimentary bite that tasted like a cross between tuna tartare and Pringles. For someone who loves Pringles as much as B does, this was not a bad combination.

For his first course, B chose the Umami (yellowfin tuna sashimi, pickled red onion, seaweed salad, warm dashi broth). While nicely executed, it was a bit too similar in composition to the amuse bouche (minus the Pringles).

I started with a toasty warm bowl of squash soup. It was served with a smattering of seeds on the side and we were left a bit perplexed as to whether we should scrape them up with a spoon and toss them in the soup. I ended up chasing the seeds around the plate with a spoon for a bit before giving up and focusing on the soup.

B's next course featured foie gras served along side an interesting textural combination of pickled cabbage and huckleberry compote. Though we don't usually like foie gras (I know, that is sacrilege coming from food nerds like us), B was pleasantly surprised by how much he enjoyed this dish.

While I left all the foie to B, I gobbled up the tender braised pork cheeks served with lardons (fancy pants name for "big fatty bacon chunks"), frisee salad, and roasted shallots.

Next up for me was the Progression of Scallops which started raw (diver scallop crudo), moved into tart and modern territory (cold smoked scallop with lemon gelee), went traditional (seared scallop with bacon espuma), and finished on a warm and cozy note with a baked scallop gratin.

The Jackson Pollock below is B's lamb. B ordered the lamb. Again. The End.

Before dessert, we were each served a cheese plate that was most memorable for the sprinkling of honey "dust" on top that had an interesting grape nuts-like texture and gave the dish a sweet flair.

My dessert was actually a combination of four desserts all featuring coconut as the main ingredient. From a pina colada concoction (that hovered in between sippable and spoonable) to a classic macaroon, it was coconut heaven.

B's apple crisp dessert lacked the drama of my coconut dish but since it disappeared in about a minute, I'm going to assume that he enjoyed it.

I give major props to The Grille at Morrison House for accepting four Groupons in one sitting and being as pleasant as can be about it. This was a great example of where a Groupon experience leaves you with a positive impression of a restaurant that you didn't even know existed before Groupon shined its bright light on it. While we'd be much more tempted to go back for the tasting menu if it cost $32 instead of $65, I'd be happy to return for a smaller meal or perhaps (after a few rounds of drinks) a sing along in the Piano Bar.

Second Thoughts from B

When it comes to splurging on a meal, restaurants that feature tasting menus are right up our alley. We enjoy the opportunity to taste many different dishes and allow the artists in the kitchen to wow us with their skills.

I find it odd that people spend a lot of money to eat the food of a well-known chef, yet handcuff their talent by asking them to hold certain ingredients while adding others. If you're going to drown the dish in salt, why not just go to McDonalds and have them do it for you? Would you commission a painting and then tell the artist to add some red here and a tree there?

Sure, tasting menus may mean you'll have to endure some misses and try things you'd normally not select, but that is the fun for us. In fact, some of our most memorable meals have resulted from tasting menu dishes featuring ingredients that we'd never order on our own. Komi's goat, Hook's beet salad, CityZen's cheese plate, Poste's tomato salad, Volt's vegetarian courses, and everything from Minibar, immediately come to mind. (And yes, even the old favorites like lamb have a chance to be reinvented in new and surprising ways)

Now I might consider adding The Grille's foie gras to the list of memorable surprises. Let me be clear, I'm not saying that The Grille is necessarily in the same league as the other restaurants, but other than the Dim Sum Brunch at Cafe Atlantico, I don't know of any other place that will feed you and surprise you for around $30 (thanks Groupon!).

So next time you find yourself at a nice restaurant, put yourself in the hands of the chef and remember the words of Julia Child... don't be afraid!
Grille at Morrison House on Urbanspoon

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