Monday, August 10, 2009

Prelude to Staplehouse - a summer feast 8/9/09

Prelude to Staplehouse is a very cool project from Muss and Turner's Ryan Hidiger and his lovely wife Jen. Like many of us, they have a dream, and they're plotting away with how to make it happen. In their case, their dream is to open a neighborhood "staple" in their own hood, Grant Park. And while they save and plan, they are building momentum, their menu and their cred by hosting small dinner parties at their home.
Mr. AT and I were lucky enough to get two of the nine coveted slots at their Sunday night dinner this week. These twice monthly events feature multiple courses and wine pairings and seats go on a first come first served basis via their mailing list.
The evening started with wine/beer/cocktails as the guests, all 20 and 30-something foodies from in town and Vinings mingled. A good guest list is essential to any dinner party, and luckily the kind of people attracted to Staplehouse events seem to be kindred spirits and made for awkward silence-free dinner conversation.
Not only are Ryan and Jen an adorable couple, but they are also gracious hosts, and Ryan and his trusty sous chef for the night have some serious cooking chops. The six-course dinner made use of local, seasonal ingredients, and the generous pours of the paired wines added to the pleasure of each course.
Our meal started with a tomato gazpacho, which was luxuriously creamy without actually having a single drop of cream in it other than the dollop of tarragon whipped cream on top. Gazpacho is one of those things I always think I like, and then inevitably three bites in, I recall I don't like it that much. Fortunately the Staplehouse take on it broke that mold and was good to the last drop.

The grilled peach salad with goat cheese and honey was a revelation - like summer in salad form. So simple and yet so incredibly delicious.

After only two courses, I knew this meal was something special, but it certainly didn't stop there. The wild mushroom bruschetta may have been a bit unwieldy, but with a knife and fork, I devoured every earthy bite.

The quail was perhaps the weakest link in the meal, but even still was lovely. Mr. AT's dish was perhaps a bit undercooked, and quail is always a lot of work for little meat. Even on this dish there was something to love, though, and the corn bread was good enough to earn approval from a table full of Southerners.

The last two dishes took advantage of my favorite of summer ingredients - figs - so they were winners in my book before I even took a bite. The berkshire pork tenderloin chop was perfectly cooked and juicy, and the figs were wonderfully sweet and caramelized. Even better was the fig cake with fig jam and vanilla ice cream. The cake managed to stay firm even as the ice cream melted, and I could eat a vat of the homemade fig jam. To die for and pretty impressive from a guy who professes not to be a baker.

After the meal, the chef took time to speak to us about his dream of opening a neighborhood restaurant with seasonal, local food and reasonable prices. What's not to love, right? I admire that they're opening their home to strangers in order to share their passion for great food, and I think it's a remarkably thoughtful way to approach building a brand and a local reputation. I for one will be first in line at Staplehouse whenever it opens its doors, but for now I'll have to just look forward to their Labor Day taco party.

Check one of the meals out for yourself on their site.



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