Monday, October 18, 2010

Bluegrass Tavern

We were able to cross Bluegrass Tavern off our list of "must-tries" last week when we attended a Charm City Chowhounds dinner there last week.

The meal consisted of 5 courses + an amuse bouche. When we got the preliminary menu via e-mail, I was worried that I wouldn't enjoy the food, as I don't eat veal, am not fond of rabbit, and have a serious, inexplicable aversion to breakfast sausage. But I found those to be some the least of the meal's problems. Even so, I came away with an appreciation for the way the restaurant prepares meats. Four of the five portions of meat we were served were perfectly cooked and seasoned. Additionally, the majority of the accompaniments were also close to perfect. The big problem was that few components actually worked together.

foie gras torchon, pomegranate & cherry jam, pain perdu
The foie gras itself was delicious, but there was too much overly-sweet jam and the pain perdu tasted like a cinnamon donut.
rabbit loin confit, endive hot and cold, hazelnuts, pickled enoki
mushrooms, port wine emulsion

This course was definitely the weakest, but let me start with the positives: I love endive, so having it both raw and cooked really worked for me, as did the nutty crunch of hazelnuts. Now the rest: the rabbit was boring and dry, and the pickled enoki draped over it had a jarringly vinegary flavor. On the other hand, the "port wine emulsion" was completely flavorless.
sausage stuffed quail, maple poached quail egg, Anson Mills stone
ground oats, house hot sauce
This riff on breakfast could have been very successful. The quail and sausage were a perfect match, tender and nicely seasoned. The savory oatmeal was gorgeous. But the quail egg didn't really add anything and I couldn't taste the maple at all; Mr Minx's yolk was cold and no longer runny. And the hot sauce was just plain a bad idea. Perhaps if it were thicker, like Sriracha or gochujang, a few dots could have been placed in the bowl to use or not. Instead, it was like molten lava, destroying everything in its path with its pungency.
bacon-wrapped veal loin, cauliflower puree, red wine ravioli
This dish was a clever idea that suffered in execution. The raviolo was filled with red wine that, once the pasta was broken, served as a sauce for the tender veal wrapped in bacon. Unfortunately, the effect was more akin to someone spilling his glass of wine on the plate. The cauliflower purée, however, was a lovely creamy touch that almost made up for the underseasoned and underwhelming sauce.

venison backstrap, aged cheddar grits, snail & piopini
mushroom ragout, escargot butter
The only completely successful dish of the evening was the venison. The meat was tender and flavorful, perfectly cooked, and the grits were extremely rich and cheesy. But the absolute star of the plate was the snail and mushroom ragout that tied the protein and starch together with a buttery, garlicky accent. This dish definitely tasted like more.
apple & pare pavé, apple caramel ice cream, apple gastrique
Finally, we were presented with a symphony of sour. The pavé was a bit tough to cut, and the layers of tangy Granny Smith apples and underripe pears cried out for a sweet touch. Instead, we got an apple gastrique (made with vinegar!), and a not-sweet-enough - not to mention melted - ice cream. Another case of good idea, bad execution. I think the amuse would have worked better as a dessert.

Sous chef Ryan Krumm took credit for the meal, which may have been a bit overly-ambitious. Clearly he has some mad skillz when it comes to meat prep, but some of his combinations were real misfires. Had the meal consisted of an endive salad with hazelnuts, a soup made from the cauliflower purée, and the venison dish, perhaps with an amuse of the foie paired with the dessert's gastrique, it would have been far more successful. As it stands, however, it was a bit of a disappointment.

While this particular meal did not rise to the very high expectations I had of Bluegrass, I'd like to go back someday soon to try offerings from the regular menu - the crawfish hushpuppies, the lamb shank, the charcuterie. There's definitely huge potential for a great dining experience.

Bluegrass Tavern
1500 S. Hanover Street
Baltimore, MD 21230

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