Sunday, March 25, 2012

Five Fabulous Females and One Marvelous Meal

The first few days of my new gig at The Elms were a head-turning whirlwind. My first day was also the first day for much of the opening staff, so it was a kick to be experiencing orientation while also helping to coordinate it. In the midst of all the madness, we were munching on fare that was sticking to my ribs in order to manifest itself in my arteries. Subway here, Wabash barbecue there and a flurry of Daylight Donuts later and after three days, I was sandwiched out and would've given my eyeteeth for a vegetable. An oasis for the taste-buds arrived on Wednesday night on my first outing with some of my new coworkers...we took our Corporate HR Manager Britney out to the Rieger Hotel for a night out to celebrate her birthday and a deliciously fine time was had by all.

The Rieger Hotel Grill and Exchange is a gorgeous restaurant and bar in a historic building that dates back to 1915. Fitting then, that our group would choose a historic former hotel for our Big Night Out. I've written about a previous experience at the Rieger when my dinner posse group had a drink at Manifesto, the sexy speakeasy downstairs. Manifesto made for such a memorable evening that I vowed then that I would return for dinner upstairs. Lucky for me then that I was invited out with five fabulous female coworkers; April, Jenai, Amanda and Erin, who invited me to join them to fete our corporate HR guru Britney.

Praise must be showered on our cohort Erin who acted as our culinary guide for the evening. Erin was formerly employed with The Rieger and we are beyond thrilled to have her on board as our new restaurant manager at the Elms. Erin graciously served as our elegant tour guide through the myriad of choices on the Rieger's menu. In the end, we embarked on an edible journey that left me swooning.

The Rieger is a leading light in cocktail culture and that's largely due to owner/libation wunderkind Ryan Maybee. He's been written about in everything from the New Yorker to Vanity Fair and when we entered, he was indeed front and center behind the bar. I'm fine with a fine glass of wine during most nights out, but here and Justus Drugstore are two exceptions to the rule: I must try one of their cocktails. I went with the Blood and Smoke, a sultry smoked concoction that features applewood-smoked bourbon, Dolin Rouge, Cherry Heering and Orange. April said it best when she tasted my drink...that cocktail should be experienced with a cigar sitting at the darkened bar downstairs in Manifesto....if smoking were allowed.

The food began with a spine-tingling teaser of an amuse bouche: a delicate lamb ravioli topped with Pecorino cheese and soaked in a lamb au jus that made me want to indelicately lick the plate. Erin then chose our starters. The Frisee was a flavorful salad course with pork cheek ham, a farm fresh egg and a pickled habanero vinegarette that blew my scalp a good way. The Spinach Ravioli was a colorful and tasty starter stuffed with goat cheese and sweet potato and Crum's Heirloom Cayenne. The Salumi Board was laden with a wicked-good mortadella and sliced duck as well as a small pot of addictive bourbon-fig jam. The creamy foie gras terrine and crunchy sweetbreads were also a treat as well.

We deliberately chose several different entrees in order to try them all and indeed, the plates had barely landed before a flurry of forks flew about the table. Amanda chose the short ribs with fried oysters in a bearnaise sauce. Britney went with the Braised Catfish with heirloom beans and local polenta and Jenai went with the vegetarian choice, a creative take on eggplant parmigiana. Erin's entree was the grilled octopus with butter hummus and a killer harissa mayo. April, typically not a meat-eater, went all out with her choice: the Braised Rare Hare Barns Rabbit with bacon, tomato, pine nuts and potato dumplings. I chose the special: succulent duck breasts served with a white gazpacho. In the end, we all dug each others entrees but our preferences were our own, in every case.

The finale was a platter of pastel-colored macaroons from Natasha's Mulberry and Mott, the very French patisserie in Mission Farms and Country Club Plaza. We each popped one in our mouth and surely enough, each melted into the perfect bite. Mine was a St. Germain and it was elderflower-flavored. Outside, the evening had been slate-gray and rainy all evening...these sweet little bites seemed to usher in a taste of Spring to brighten our nights.

After meeting the Rieger's quite awesome chef/co-owner Howard Hanna, we left so giddy from this excellent adventure that we stopped off at Austrian eatery Grunauer for a nightcap. The place was packed and our new Executive Chef at the Elms, Steven, met up with us. Amiable Grunauer barkeep Chris suggested a dark and delicious Austrian beer called a Hirter Morchl for me and we all got to sample an Austrian apple brandy.

It was a brilliant evening that we are all still talking about. We feted Britney in fine fashion and enjoyed a fabulous meal. The girls giggle at my geekiness over food but seriously, a meal like that is pure joy for me and I like to express my spades.

Our night at the Rieger is definitely my idea of team-building.

The opinions in this blog are expressly my own and do not reflect the opinions of the Elms Hotel and Spa or Widewater Hotels.


Anonymous said...

Oh my! Sounds so wonderful - sorry to miss it. The foodie descriptions are amazing, Greg!


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