fiddlehead definition

fid·dle·head [ fídd'l hèd ] (plural fid·dle·heads) noun
Definition: edible fern shoot: the coiled frond of a young fern, often cooked and eaten as a delicacy

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Lawrence

I was not able to attend any of the dinner parties predating the opening of The Lawrence but have been so anxious for a chance to taste the menu. I am a frequent diner (and huge fan) of Top Flr and The Sound Table where Shane Devereaux is also Executive chef. So, on a sunny spring evening all by my lonesome, I finally made my way. Parking was unexpectedly easy on the corner of 8th and Juniper. I pulled into a free spot in front of the restaurant and wandered in. Well, to be honest, first I put my hand on the wrong door but caught my mistake before I could be giggled at. Scratch that. There was giggling.

I was greeted at the door by awesome bow tie clad co-owner, Patrick La Bouff (it really was a smashing tie) and seated at the chef's counter with a great view of the kitchen. Patric flitted about taking care of endless details. Shane was practically my dining companion and chef de cuisine, George Brooks (formerly of Rathbun's) was close by. From this vantage point I was able to observe the symphony that is the timing, plating, and garnishing of dishes. The kitchen had great flow. I love the warm tones and almost industrial sense about the place- really made Patrick's fancy bow tie stand out. Most of all, the lack of fluff around makes you concentrate on the food.

Erik Simpkins ( formerly of Drinkshop) shares the title of Co-Beverage Director with T. Fable Jeon, who will soon head the bar program at The Pinewood Tippling Room in the old Cakes and Ale spot in Decatur. Both are famed Atlanta Mixologists so I chose a cocktail to start. There are only a few on the menu but ask for a favorite and Eric can expertly craft a cocktail for you. He certainly knows his way around a Sazarac. Next time I need to try the Lady Lawrence: lavender mint tea infused vodka, ginger, lime, cassis and soda. The ladies next to me loved it.
Image from
I had wondered about the origin of the name but as soon as I was handed the menu, I figured it out (thank you religion minor). There are tiny images of a grid iron in different places of the menu. St. Lawrence is the patron saint of cooks, especially those who grill.  He was one of the 7 deacons martyred during the persecution of Valerian in 258. He died a slow, tortuous death over coals on a grid iron (which is on display at the Church of St, Lawrence in Lucina). He is also fabled to have said that he needed turning, making him also the patron saint of comedians.

10 courses, ready, set, go...

The maiden bite: Herbed whipped feta, beet, celery micro green. Fresh, light, subtle, and soft way to begin.

Crispy pig ears
Brined, thinly sliced and fried crisp then tossed in fennel salt. I've had pig ears many times, usually in an unsuccessful manner. These were crisp, absolutely grease free, and addictive. The faint fennel flavor is so unexpected. I couldn't stop reaching for more and kept thinking about what a perfect theater snack they would make. If only I had a bigger purse with me...

Pickled quail egg with micro cilantro.
This was my favorite of the evening. I would return just for these (read: hurry up and open for lunch). Tart and savory with just a touch of salt and pepper. So simple; so perfect.
Georgia English pea salad
I can't get enough of pea shoots this spring. I have been garnishing with them, adding them to sandwiches, and topping my eggs in the morning. I love this idea of pea greens as a main salad green. They have more bite, more prominence than say, Romaine.  The peas themselves were crisp and popped in my mouth with freshness, as did the cranberry beans. I made sure to toss the garlic and lemon dressing about. The entire dish was light and vibrant and full of textures from the smoothness of the Parmesan shavings to the crunch of the toasted ciabatta.

B&B pork brawn
B&B Family Farm head cheese, trotter fritter,pickled salad with Chinese radish, cucumber and cilantro, ciabatta. Oh how I loved this dish! The trotter fritter was so crispy on the outside and so warm and smooth on the inside. I loved the seasonings in the head cheese. Shane talked about the farm where the heritage pig came from. This connection to an ingredient by a chef easily comes through in lush flavors and careful attention to flavor.

Fish sticks
Salted cod, chick peas, pulverized tomato, and chive. I enjoyed the playfulness of this dish and loved the chick pea "stick." I have never had chick peas in a form like this. I really loved the transformation of such a simple, overlooked (by me) ingredient. The women next to me were moaning over the dish. Really; moaning. They were also enjoying pairings with each of their courses, some different than mine. Eric was explaining his pairing choices, noting subtleties of flavor components. I opted for a glass.

Potato gnocchi, spring onion, fennel frond pistou, chicharonnes
So many plates of this dish came out of the kitchen. It is clearly an early favorite of the restaurant. The pesto of fennel fronds was an unexpected surprise. I have fronds in my garden that our now earmarked for a dish at home. If only I was as skilled in the gnocchi making department.

Georgia rabbit schnitzel
This was such a pretty dish. I really captured that, right? I was trying to be stealth with my phone so this fuzzy image is all you get. You will have to see it for yourself because it was delightful. Greens of herbs de Provence, celery, and fennel topped it and charred tomatoes were nestled alongside the tender rabbit.

Heritage pork cheeks, spaetzle, Brussels, Three Philosophers jus
Holy smokes! Order this rich, almost decadent dish. The malty sweet jus is plate scrape inducing. The spaetzle is used sparingly and very crisp. There are a lot of spaetzle dishes around lately and the plate is usually loaded. A little goes a long way. The Brussels are a great balance with the jus and as a textural element. 

Golden raisin butter cake, salted caramel
When this was placed before me, I kind of shrugged it off. I was super stuffed and while adorable in a tiny jam jar, I just couldn't muster. "Just try it," Shane said. The cake was warm, gooey, and buttery, comfort food at its finest. He nodded towards the ice cream. Confession: I don't like ice cream. I humored him and took a small bite, then another and another until it was gone. Parsnip ice cream, or as he calls it, "parsnip milk." This is the second best ice cream I have ever tasted and I want more. *Best ice cream ever: mustard from now defunct Joel.

my view
I tried a good bit of the menu and really loved the chosen courses. I look forward to coming back.  Shane always has these unexpected pairings of ingredients with Asian spices with French technique that always works. Co-owners Darren Carr and Patrick La Bouff bid me adieu as I made my way for the door to drive home with the windows down after a great experience on a beautiful southern night. Experience...that's what it is. The Lawrence is more than just a restaurant; it is an experience.  I look forward to dishes that are edgy but approachable. I also look forward to August 10th, St. Lawrence's feast day. Something needs to be grilled.
The Lawrence on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The smell of rain

Petrichor is the sensation that hit me as I walked outside today. I stood tall and breathed in the air with purpose. Just a few weeks ago I came across this magical word on a piece of mixed media art and googled it. It filled me with joy to find that there is a word in the English language for something that evokes such strong emotion within me. I have been saying it aloud and repeating it in my mind in order to preserve it. Petrichor, petrichor... The revelation of this word is akin to finding out there is a word for the scent of an infant's head or your first love's scent. Petrichor is as much a feeling as a smell, a sixth sense. Smell evokes much deeper memories for me than other senses.

A smell/feeling is like a taste/feeling. When I have a bite of strawberry pie, I am not just tasting. Suddenly I am in a diner with my dad on a warm summer night after he says "let's go get strawberry pie." The memory and the taste cannot be separated. This is why I enjoy the arrival of spring and the foods it brings. They remind me of moments like shucking peas with my grandmother or hunting mushrooms as we camped in the mountains.

The smell of rain is an awakening of my soul. It reminds me to be grateful and be present.

From Henry David Thoreau's Walden: "A single gentle rain makes the grass many shades greener. So our prospects brighten on the influx of better thoughts. We should be blessed if we lived in the present always, and took advantage of every accident that befell us, like the grass which confesses the influence of the slightest dew that falls on it; and did not spend our time in atoning for the neglect of past opportunities, which we call doing our duty. We loiter in winter while it is already spring. In a pleasant spring morning all men's sins are forgiven."

That mossy earthy smell in a primeval way reminds me of my connection to the earth, my smallness. It conjures up moments of my childhood, the free days of wandering the woods and discovering its wonders. We take for granted the simple pleasures of stopping to catch crawfish or settling on a patch of moss to read a few chapters of a book. The smell of rain makes me olfactorily richer. It forces me to take pause and for a moment be enchanted.


Monday, April 16, 2012

Table Asheville

My first introduction to table Asheville was at a table of incredible charcuterie at the 2011 Atlanta Food and Wine Festival. I stopped by their station in the Whole Pig section of the tasting tent many times, not only for the vittles but for the conversation. Jeremy and Matt were the names I wrote down in my little nerdy notebook. I kept their business card and remembered all of their Asheville suggestions. We talked about the local food scene as I tried salami, pate, head cheese and fried pigs ears. I also ate 100 devils on horseback while we laughed and sipped Stella (they had a very convenient location to the Stella table). I talked about the devils on horseback for weeks. Jacob Sessoms house made bacon is an enduring ...I so want to say "taste sensation" here.... His house made bacon is luscious. Those Hickory Nut Gap Farm pigs graze happily on Western Carolina grass and clover and drink spring water. Better than sunshine.

This past week we drove to Asheville to eat and explore what the city has to offer. We had to go to table to give back the love we received at the Atlanta Food and Wine Festival. 
Devils on Horseback
We took a long walk through the streets of downtown Asheville before dinner, scouting out after dinner drinks. Sazarac caught my eye. We will soon be friends, I thought. As you enter table, you get a glimpse of what is going on when you walk by the open kitchen. We were greeted by the sweetest smile, a "cmon on" (I really liked this),  and led to our table.
Our server, Stuart, arrived to take our drink order and welcome us. I was so overwhelmed by the menu that I couldn't make a decision. How to narrow down choices when I want everything? So difficult to decide among so many foraged, local, and seasonal ingredients. It's not even a large menu. I described my cocktail likes and dislikes and he suggested the Carpetbagger. It contained bourbon and sounded perfect; it was.
Crusty bread, butter and the tiniest olives (I really like tiny things) arrived. Wish I had taken photos of the salt and pepper dishes and vases on the table. Gorgeous simple pottery pieces I can only assume were locally made adorned each table.
I finally chose the golden beets, local sorrel, honey yogurt and house bacon. The plate arrived with the beets artfully arranged in a vibrant display. Almost looked too artistic to eat...almost. Moments later the same dish was placed on the table next to me looking equally beautiful yet completely different. I loved this. The beets were incredibly tender, the red veined sorrel tart and crisp, and the bacon crunchy and salty. We also had a plate of devils on horseback and they were just as great as I remembered them.

My entree choice was a no-brainer. Magret duck breast, olive spoonbread, English peas, ramps, local morels and lavender. If only my photograph did it justice. The dish was perfection. It was beautiful and savory smelling before I even took a bite. The duck was cooked perfectly and so very tender (rare for when I order duck). The wine selection was perfect for the dish. Ryan Brazell has created a dynamic list.
My first taste of morels for the season was so worth the wait. These were so earthy, savory, creamy and mellow.
A parting shot of dessert before my date scarfed it down.
I had a glass of Eagle Rare bourbon.

Our check came in adorable fashion, inside a stoneware mug. Little details like this are charming and memorable. On our way out, we stopped a moment to chat with the chef and give our compliments on the meal. We talked a bit about the experience at last year's Atlanta Food and Wine Festival. Jacob told me that he will be there again this year. Sampling his bacon is reason enough to go.

I will return to table Asheville very soon and have already recommended it to friends. Unfettered, fresh, local, seasonal food with an open kitchen, knowledgeable and friendly staff, and uncluttered atmosphere. It works well.