May 8, 2006

Iron Chef New Jersey

Iron Chef New Jersey

The Food Whore had a sublime culinary experience on Saturday night. Sublime. You'll realize this is true, since I just referred to myself in the third person. Let me preface this story by emphasizing that yes, my friends spoil me completely to the point that it's shameless I go along with it. But the food.... the food.

On Saturday evening my friend Paul and I had dinner at the Ryland Inn in Whitehouse, New Jersey. We've had many dining experiences together, but they were mostly limited to the random restaurants around our former office in downtown Jersey City, and whatever we serve at our respective family barbeques. So this time he wanted to go to a restaurant where he knew firsthand the food would be superb. The Ryland Inn was rated by Crain's NY Business as "America's best Country French Restaurant." As an interesting tidbit, the chef Craig Shelton's bio says that he got a biophysics and biochemistry double major from Yale. Whoa.

We arrived promptly at 8:30 and were seated almost immediately. After perusing the 45-page wine list for some time, I was finally able to select a wine. It took forever because:

1. I'm probably more familiar with wine than the average person, but that would only make me a 3 out of 10 on the Wine Connaisseur scale.
2. I kept getting distracted by the fact that some of those wines were $4000 a bottle. Thereby solidifying my theory that rich people are NUTS.

I finally selected a bottle of the 1996 Riesling *insert a bunch of German words here* which I'd like to say I picked for some gourmet reason... But the fact of the matter is, my inner monologue went something like "Huh? The Germans make wine? I thought they only made cars and really deviant pron. I mean those two hobbies really help with the post World War II angst thing, but wine-making? I wonder if it's any good. Or if it tastes like blood."

I let Paul order everything, a first for me. I'm usually the Ordering Nazi. We had the Garbure of spring vegetables, tender herbs, braised pork belly and patranque and the salad of organic baby lettuces with field herbs, spring vegetables and black truffle vinaigrette for starters. The Ryland Inn has a 3-acre garden in which they grow most of the vegetables they served. Which is amazing considering my garbure alone had like 20 varieties.

As an appetizer, I had the "Charlotte of Asparagus," which was made with maine crabmeat, truffle potatoes, tomato and leeks vinaigrette. It was amazing. The presentation was straight out of a television show and the taste was perfection. It was as if despite all the ingredients, some of which are pretty strong, the chef managed to achieve perfect flavor harmony. Paul had the "Hudson Valley Foie Gras" with warm terrine of bananas, confit Buddha's hand, bitter chocolate and Perigord truffle. Having been made squeamish in the past, I'd never eaten "foie gras" which is duck liver, but was always curious about it since they make it on Iron Chef like average people make toast. I knew this one would be divine though, and it was.

In between the appetizer and the main course, a little square platter was delivered, compliments of the chef. It had on it these fried potato slices, with various purees on top. One was a tomato puree, another an avocado one, one was some type of shellfish and I'm not sure what the last one was. It was heavenly. I could have eaten a thousand of them. For the main course we both had the Maine lobster with white asparagus, quail egg, hazelnut, sorrel, morel mushrooms, field caviar and truffle tortellini. I don't even need to say anything more do I? You all know how it was just by reading it.

They brought out an appetizer dessert, again compliments of the chef, which was a ginger bread cake with date fig ice cream. I'm not a big fan of gingerbread but it was fine, especially paired with the date ice cream which was delicious. Then lastly, I had the creme brulee flavored with cardamom (a spice used often in Indian cooking) and Paul had the lemon tart with this lychee slushy thing on the side and some other flavor we couldn't quite place. When he read the dessert menu he laughed out loud, and since I was reading the same menu I automatically knew what had amused him. We may both be adults but I don't see "Tart of Six Nuts" ever not being good for a giggle.

The food was so amazing that it's good we're both happily married to other people, or I would have totally had to put out. On principle you know, lest my self-dubbed title of Food Whore be called into question by naysayers. How do you top off a super amazing meal with one of your best friends? Well, you go drinking. Of course. Thanks Paul!!

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