Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Downey Tasting/Lyon Hall

We look forward to the Downey Selections portfolio tasting in Arlington each spring, partly because it is a great time, partly because the Downeys make you feel like family at a big reunion, and partly because it affords us a once-a-year opportunity to sample some of the great restaurants in Clarendon.

I always have a short list of wines to try at these big portfolio tastings. It's just not feasible to taste all the wines being shown. This year, I was looking for a solid Bordeaux Supérieur and perhaps a Tannat for our list. With a mature list, there's not a whole lot that we're actively seeking. Both wines found and ordered and business being complete, Ann and I headed out for happy hour and an early dinner while waiting out rush hour traffic. As much as we would have loved to throw down with the Downey crew at the after party, we get so very few opportunities for alone time, just the two of us.

After the last tasting we attended, we ended up at Liberty Tavern thanks to a tip from Brennan Downey. That marked the end of a many year run at Willow, also a fine restaurant, mostly because while I enjoy the food at Willow, the food at Liberty Tavern speaks to my inner chef. Despite craving the food at Liberty Tavern, we decided to branch out and try sister restaurant Lyon Hall, an Alsatian brasserie concept. And we were so not disappointed!

Happy hour sees a bunch of the 20 or so by-the-glass selections marked down to half price, $4-$5. Ann had a Premières Côtes de Blaye, Château la Rivalerie, a reasonable Bordeaux blend. I started with a Blanquette de Limoux sparkler because I had never had this wine before. I've had sparkling Mauzac (the grape they also call Blanquette) before from AOC Gaillac. This Limoux was much more refined than the extremely rustic Gaillacs that I have tasted in the past, with only hints of the ripe pear and apple flavors that I have come to expect from Mauzac. In any case, it was delicious.

With our drinks we ordered mussels and fries and both were done well. Our mussels were prepared Moroccan style with tomatoes, chickpeas, tiny black olives, preserved lemon, garlic, ras el hanout, and finished with a sprinkle of fresh mint. Way delicious! The fries were hand-cut and everything you would hope for save being fried in duck fat.

After our aperitifs, we ordered a bottle of Gigondas and while were slurping away on mussels, owner Mark Fedorchak came over and introduced himself to us. While we were chatting, a runner brought us small samples of the pâté maison (photo below) which was unctuously delicious because of the liver it contained, something my customers would hate. It was a very nice gesture for Mark to send us the pâté. And I have to say that as good as the pâté was, the pickled vegetables were even better. Nice touch!

We asked Mark for menu recommendations and he insisted that we order the steak tartare. No offense but steak tartare I can get anywhere. Our server said that to get a real taste of the restaurant, we should get the sampler of their house-made sausages. That sounded more like the ticket to me so we ordered that and also a sampler of all five cheeses that they either make or age in house ("frommage maison"): ash-ripened goat crottin, goat ricotta, Calvados chèvre, a Roquefort St. Maure-styled blue goat, and a Cabécou-styled goat-cow double-cream bloomed rind cheese.

When the cheeses and sausages arrived, the runner also brought an order of steak tartare. Our server said that Mark really must have wanted us to taste it and I can see why. Made from skirt steak and topped with an egg yolk, it was both really flavorful and beautiful and texturally so much better than when made with filet. Mark, once again, thank you for your kind generosity. You see the remains of the tartare at the top of the photo below, above the cheese plate.

The sausages were really good and I appreciate that they were made in house, as our server Becca said, "with care and love." I think I enjoyed the small smoky Thuringian the best, but the big fat brat with cheese was delicious, and the duck/foie gras sausage was sinful. The big brat with chunks of Gruyère inside was a new form of sausage for me; I've never had this so-called Käsekrainer before. Really delicious!

After this smorgasbord, we could barely waddle to the car.

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