Monday, April 20, 2009

Ohio's First (and only) Certified Green Restaurant

That's right, gentle reader! The Greenhouse Tavern opened for business last week and tonight I and three of my friends descended upon the establishment for a tasting of their menu. Chef and owner Jonathon Sawyer has been blogging extensively about the renovation of the space for quite some time now (as well as posting photos up on Flickr), and it was finally great to be able to walk into the finished space and see the result of all of the hard work that he and his team put into the place to make his vision happen.

The premise of the GHT is that all of the food served is local, sustainable, and accessible. Jonathon started this tradition with the restaurant he was previously involved with, Bar Cento. With the GHT, he is blessed with not only a three level eatery, but when the roof space is finished (and there will be seating on the roof, too), he will grow some of the herbs and other greens he will be using in his kitchen. Seating right now consists of the basement, a ground floor, and two second floor eating areas (think mezzanine) on opposite ends of the restaurant. The basement space is a smaller "chef's" table area where the kitchen is located. There is also outdoor patio seating once the weather gets nicer (which was definitely not today).

GHT is located literally three doors down from Michael Symon's award winning Lola. Here is the brand new sign for the GHT:

We were seated on the first floor right next to the bar. Almost immediately, bread service began.

This is fresh bread and a very finely processed (in terms of texture) duck rillette. It took the place of butter and oil and when spread on the bread added a wonderfully unctuous and flavorful element. Having to make sure that the bread was up to snuff, I tried it without any rillette. The bread itself was quite good. Upon going down into the kitchen area after our meal I discovered that the bread they serve is cut from this wonderfully large loaf of round bread. Not a miche, but it looked like it was composed of individual dinner rolls that had been allowed to proof together and fuse. When baked, it made a marvelously large loaf of bread, perhaps three feet in diameter.

The GHT menu is surprisingly easy to navigate. It consists of a single page and has Firsts, Seconds, Thirds, and Halfs. Or, in regular-people-speak, small appetizers, regular appetizers, entrees, and side dishes. You are encouraged to mix and match however you'd like your meal to progress. There were between 4-6 dishes in each category and only two daily specials, so you won't feel overwhelmed with the number of choices. We decided to go with a mixture of five appetizers (Firsts, Seconds, and Halfs).

First, a daily special ... savory bread pudding with fried chicken livers on top:

This was delightful. The bread pudding was creamy, rich, and savory. And the surprise for all of our palettes was the addition of nutmeg. It added an almost "sweet" twist to the flavor profile of the pudding. And the chicken livers were completely amazing. Crispy, rich, livery, but not too livery. Eaten alone and then with the pudding it was marriage made in heaven. I could've eaten the entire dish alone if I had had the opportunity.

Next up were the breakfast radishes topped with creamery butter and simple sea salt. This was served with a dressed watercress salad:

I'm not a huge radish person, but these were amazing. The radishes were mild in flavor, but cold and crispy, the butter was creamy and delicious, and the little bit of salt on top just put the dish over the edge. There are so many layers going on at the same time. Texture, flavor, and temperature.

Next up was a dish that my dining companion Nancy was interested in trying, the cabbage gratin. Think of it like "French Onion soup without the soup part" was how someone had described it to her. The cabbage is joined with onions and caramelized to an inch of their life to create this incredibly rich dish that is then topped with cheese and put under the salamander until the cheese is bubbly and browned:

Next up, steak tartare with a poached egg, mustard, and cornichon served with grilled bread.

This was far better than I thought it was going to be. I'm not a huge steak tartare fan, but this was very good, especially when eaten with a bit of the mustard and some of the egg. Rich and fatty, the crispness from the bread and the sharpness of the mustard really brought this dish together for me.

Next up is the pommes frites with a poached egg and chervil:

One of Chef Sawyer's signature dishes at Bar Cento was the pommes frites. He has not only brought that knowledge with him to the GHT, but I think he has improved upon it. Pairing pommes frites with a soft poached egg may seem strange to the American palate, but when you got some potato and some egg in one bite, it was quite lovely. The one thing we discovered as we were digging through the frites was the presence of whole garlic cloves, crushed. This lent a "kiss of garlic" taste to the frites. The one thing that none of us really got was the chervil. Its flavor just wasn't there and visually, it didn't seem to be in the dish.

Okay, so we've finished our appetizers. Now it's time for the entrees. I decided to go with the Ohio burger with rosemary pommes frites and homemade vinegar.

When I go to establishments where I don't know about the quality or sourcing of the ground beef, I always order my burger medium well. Tonight, I was a trusting soul and ordered it medium. I was not disappointed. I have been on a quest for a good burger for a while now and just have yet to find a burger that truly satisfies my soul. My search ended tonight; this burger was divine. The burger actually came out just a shade less done than medium, but I decided to give it a go anyway. And I'm glad I did. Besides being savory, the thing that struck me about this burger was how juicy it was. And the grilled bun was a perfect foil for the meat and cheese. It was both crusty where it had been grilled and soft on the interior.

One of my friends decided to order the Tom Cod en Papillote. Inside the paper pouch was a wonderful sauce of wine, butter, and fresh black truffles. This also came with sliced potatoes (also cooked inside the pouch).

Apart from the actual butter used in the pouch, the fish itself was soft, creamy, and incredibly "buttery". Just melt in your mouth good.

Another friend ordered the buckwheat noodles with clams, tomato, and chili.

I tried a little bit of this as well and discovered why she ordered this tonight even though she had it previously. It was delicious. The noodles were cooked, but still had a nice bite to them. The clams, tomato, and chili were wonderful together, little bits of capricious heat distributing themselves throughout the plate of food.

Finally, we couldn't pass up dessert and I decided to have the Valrhona bittersweet chocolate Pot du Creme with a almond cookie dipped in chocolate and sprinkled with fleur de sel. (Nancy's Red Eye setting on her camera happened to click in just as I snapped this photo.)

The cookies and Pot du Creme are designed to be eaten together. What can I say about this dish. Heaven on a plate. Truly. The cookie complimented the Pot du Creme which complimented the cookie. This dessert is designed for the hardcore chocoholic out there. Of which I am a total fan. And given the cute presentation (there are two cups of Pot du Creme and two cookies), this is a dish that would entirely be appropriate to share with someone else.

Finally, after our meal (which took a good two hours from start to finish), we descended into the basement to check out the open kitchen and the chef's tables.

I feel that my review would be incomplete if I didn't include two details that some might find noteworthy. Chef Sawyer is very aggressive with seasoning. This was how he cooked at Bar Cento and this is how he cooks at the GHT. I personally don't think the food is too salty. But it is on the edge. He is definitely not afraid to use salt to bring out the best in the food he serves. I only mention this because I could definitely see a customer who was sensitive to salt having an issue with how the food leaves the kitchen. And seeing as there are no salt and pepper shakers on the tables, the food is meant to be eaten how it leaves the kitchen.

Second, unbeknownst to my little group of foodies, the Chef directed our server to comp our desserts. Now, we didn't know that at the time we ordered them, and I just want you, the gentle reader, to understand that while I certainly appreciate the gesture, I have in no way held back from what I really thought about my experience.

I thoroughly enjoyed my meal at the GHT. I will be going back soon. The prices are extremely reasonable for this quality of food, the food itself is marvelous, and I know that I am supporting a restaurant that cares about local farmers and purveyors and has adopted a sort of "do no evil" type of mentality. And that's the kind of place I want to support with my dining dollars. I hope that you do, too.

1 comment:

Nancy Heller said...

LOL on the slightly red dessert photo - same thing happened to me when I snapped Edsel's apple tart!

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