116 South Alfred Street
Alexandria, VA 22314
I must say that I was surprised to find a hotel restaurant with a menu that intrigued me, particularly one outside of DC. The Grille at Morrison House is quite tiny with about 10 tables and a small bar. The decor is charming with a fireplace on the far wall and booths along one side though the furniture almost gives the room an office-like feel.
The Grille is headed by Dennis Marron who also runs Jackson 20, a restaurant specializing in southern cuisine. A broke surfer from the Jersey Shore who sort of fell into cooking as a way to pay for his surfing habits; he ended up at the CIA then spent a number of years in California and Minneapolis before returning to the East Coast and settling in the DC area.
Amuse - Roasted Duck Breast
The duck itself was a bit dry though the preserved fruit and rich sauce complimented the bird nicely.
01a: Umami - Yellowfin Tuna Sashimi, Pickled Red Onion & Seaweed Salad, Warm Shitake Dashi
I had such high hopes for this course, but the concept proved far more interesting than the execution. I expected a rich mouth filling savoriness but got a dish that felt watered down and flat instead. The fish was bland and uninspired and the dashi broth lacked the characteristic umami flavor, ironic given the name of the dish.
01b: Gazpacho - Heirloom Tomato with Blue Crab, Watermelon and Cucumber
At least this lived up to expectations. The broth bore the sharp tang of fresh tomato as well as a peppery bite both of which complimented the sweetness of the crab. Surprisingly I didn't care for the watermelon, whose sweetness felt out of place amidst the vegetal soup.
02a: Cheeks - Braised Kurobuta Pork Cheeks, Brown Sugar Bacon, Charred Frisée, Roasted Shallots
Cheek meat is one of those things that is hard to completely screw up but at the same time hard to make exceptionally well. The meat itself was done well decidedly tender with a sticky sweetness accentuated by the bacon. Unfortunately the dish needed a countervailing element. While the frisée might have done the trick, the charring stripped most of the natural flavor, leaving a rounded sweetness.
02b: Foie - Foie Gras Torchon, Pickled Red Cabbage, Summer Berry Compote
My reaction to this dish reminded me of the halcyon days when I couldn't appreciate foie. A good torchon should be rich and smooth but this tasted overly metallic lacking the richness critical to a good foie. The tart red cabbage and berry compote provided a nice one-two punch of acidity and sweetness; pity the foie fell flat.
03a: Progression of Scallops - Diver Scallop Crudo, Cold Smoked Scallop and Meyer Lemon Gelée, Seared Day Boat Scallop with Bacon Espuma, Coquilles St. Jacques
An ambitious course, the varied preparation of scallops were each unique enough to be interesting. Of the quartet, the crudo with its lithe texture and delicate acidity and the rich bacon-loaded seared preparation stood out.
03b: Ravioli - Lobster Ravioli, Tarragon-Truffle Cream and Garlicky Greens
Probably the biggest disappointment of the night. The lobster was slightly overdone, but the tarragon truffle and greens complimented the shellfish quite nicely. Unfortunately the texture of the pasta was absolutely appalling, thick and doughy it sucked the flavor and life out of the other elements of the dish.
04a: Lola Duck - Pan Roasted Duck Breast, Forbidden Dirty Rice, Foie Gras Emulsion, Fig Purée, Turnip Greens, Turnips, Brulée Figs
The duck breast was spot on, beautiful texture with the generous skin and fat adding a savoriness, accentuated by the foie gras emulsion. The turnips added a lush vegetal bitterness and the fig provided a ripe sweetness both of which complimented the duck.
04b: Lamb - Curry Dusted Elysian Fields Lamb Loin, Sweet Potato Purée, Green Olive Tapenade, Olive Oil Powder, Mint Purée, Curry Oil, Lamb Jus
The second entree consisted of a beautifully cooked lamb loin. The fragrant curry, bright mint and floral olive flavor give the dish a very Mediterranean feel. Finally a well-implemented execution of a well-thought out dish.
05: Cheese - Chef's Composed Cheese Plate
The name "cheese plate" belied the course we received. The focus of the dish was a heavily toasted brioche and grilled cheese. The cheese itself was fairly mild, but the preparation as a whole was quite enjoyable.
06a: Coconut - Coconut Cream Pie, Coconut Macaroon, Pina Colada Foam, Saffron & Coconut Sorbet
I'm generally ambivalent about these multi-component desserts; often they are simply an attempt to substitute quantity for quality. That seemed to be the case here as all the desserts were enjoyable but none proved to be particularly noteworthy.
06b: Panna Cotta - Goat Cheese Panna Cotta, Peach Compote, Blueberry Gelée, Peach Paper and Blueberry Coulis
Another impressive sounding dish that didn't quite deliver on execution. The panna cotta was simply too monolithic dense blunt and a bit too firm, it lacked the requisite delicacy. The fruit did add some acidity but the flavors needed to be sharper and more focused
I came to The Grille with high hopes; while the lamb and duck were noteworthy, the rest of the courses were merely adequate. The food is better than the staid fare that typifies "hotel restaurants," but ultimately the food at The Grille doesn't quite deliver.
Monday, January 3, 2011
116 South Alfred Street