Finding the Quinones Room is somewhat of a treasure hunt….BB and I followed the signs, walked through the breezeway, and down the stairs to the door with the big Q. Neutral curtains parted to reveal an elegant seating area furnished in shades of chocolate and cream. The intimate dining room is to the right with only ten tables covered in white linens. Antique mirrors, Venetian glass chandeliers, and lacquered wood frame chairs with a vintage patina lent a quiet air of Southern moneyed aristocracy.
At first, the service seemed too serious for my taste. There was a selection of water and the delivery of four mini cheese bread sticks before our server, Rafael, introduced himself in a barely audible hush. We would be having the prix fixe menu with the wine pairings….a multi-course marathon that began with a kir royale.
Bread service arrived on a wooden skewer. Various sizes and kinds of bread, from sourdough to onion, complimented by soft, sweet cream butter.
Two mini cheese gougeres were devoured tout de suite, as well as a shot of celery root soup with red onion jam, both gifts from Chef de Cuisine David A. Carson. Little bites that packed big flavor.
Krug Grand Cuvee champagne was poured in advance of our first course. I knew it would be a crudo, something ultra-light. Atlantic blue fin tuna, sashimi style, and Kumamoto oysters were paired with tiny cubes of Asian pear, slivers of radish, the bowl decorated with droplets of shoyu, a type of soy sauce. This would be the only dish I didn’t really enjoy.
For lack of a better monicker, the “drink boy” came by with a 2005 sauternes for our next dish, a foie gras terrine. I commented to BB that I usually prefer foie gras seared. I also noted something peculiar….the drink boy once again short-poured my wine. Perhaps that is a standard practice in fine dining? To pour an almost imperceptibly short glass for the lady at the table.
A square plate came out with a square of the foie gras terrine, accompanied by three, questionably four, preparations of Fuyu persimmon and a little mound of spiced cocoa nibs. There was a persimmon puree, a dollop of persimmon preserves, and a slice of candied persimmon. I believe the streak of orange-y powder along the side was freeze-dried persimmon, but I could be wrong. Each little bite of the decadent foie gras was immaculate, with a smudge of sweet persimmon. What could make it even better you ask? Four baby popovers made with a mild cheese and the slightest hint of sweetness. Heaven.
A row of tiny Nantucket Bay scallops sat upon a cauliflower puree, each one topped with black pearls of caviar. Sauvignon blanc, fresh with hints of grapefruit, paired nicely. Rafael had loosened up as I quizzed him about his former employment. Turns out he has always worked for Quatrano and Harrison, the pair that own Baccanalia, Floataway, Abbattoir, and Star Provisions.
Loup de mer, a simple white fish, was made stunning with its toppings of earthy black trumpet mushrooms and baby potato chips made with fingerlings, all resting on a bed of melted Spring onions. Chardonnay was the obvious choice for wine.
Now things would take a turn for the rich, heavy, dark. Drink boy poured glasses of a 2007 pinot noir from Willamette Valley as the dance of service continued with unwavering steadiness. Truffled cabbage and Jerusalem artichoke provided the creamy base for a chunk of braised veal cheek, so tender it fell apart at the mere sight of my fork. But first BB and I sliced into the crispy veal sweetbreads that crowned the meat, lightly fried in a coating with a hint of nutmeg. He loves sweetbreads. If they were always this good and tender, I can see why. Although small, the braised veal was filling, containing quite a bit of fat. It was a very rich dish.
The menu listed loin of loin next. Huh? We chuckled…..was it loin of lion? Hilarious. Turns out it was venison. Louis M. Martini Reserve cabernet sauvignon was poured….still short. Glazed young vegetables like Brussels sprouts, carrots, and beets were scattered beneath two thick slices of roasted venison, cooked perfectly medium rare. Unlike the veal, there was not a speck of fat, yet the dense meat was succulent and smooth, the outside of the roast coated with a spice rub containing a hint of clove. A dollop of caramelized onion stole the show…I savored every sweet bit of it.
On to the cheese course, a segue into dessert. Cumberland, a medium bodied cheese with little holes, reminded me of fontina. It was paired with Ellijay apples, both preserved and cubed, and young arugula.
Time for dessert wine, what appeared to be a Spanish tawney. Our first dessert (yes, there were two!) was a glass cup layered with cranberries, brown sugar streusel, then toasted meringue, providing intense tanginess, crunchy sweetness, and fluffy chewiness, a crazy combo of textures.
Our final course was two dense cubes of Valrhona chocolate ganache with a small scoop of frozen chocolate custard on the side. The best part of the dessert was the thickened sweet potato puree, sprinkled with crispy chocolate nuggets.
Quinones Room lived up to the hype, the seamless execution a study in precision, both in service and in the food itself. Was it the best meal I’ve ever had? Quite possibly.
1198 Howell Mill Road 404-365-0410