Archive for October, 2006

Blackberry Farm (Walland, TN) – Simulacrum

Blackberry Farm is tucked away on the Tennessee border of the Smoky Mountain range. Its mystique conveys a moneyed southern charm – a place where good ol boys run the south over sips of artisinal whiskey while their wives spend the afternoon on horseback riding. I thought this place would be the equivalent to a remote French Michelin 3*** hotel – stunning grounds, opulent rooms, and world-class cuisine; afterall, the price tag is certainly that ambitious.

What I got was 3*** grounds, a no star hotel room, and 1* food – Keyah Grande this was not. The grounds are manicured, calculated, expansive, and gorgeous. They certainly convey a certain well-off Tennessee lifestyle that (I suspect) few people actually live. The hotel room was tiny and surprisingly noisy; if politicians do indeed stay here, they will want to speak in hushed tones. The food was delicious and safe with its southern influences but strayed a bit when trying to impart a world-class elegance.

The Route

If you decide to go, allot an extra 2.5 hours, and take the scenic route – it is stunning. Take I75 south of 321 to 78, drive east to 360, and then continue east on 43. Once you hit 360, you will see a range of picturesque scenery – cow and horse fields, battered barns, rivers, waterfalls, small hills, and pretty forests. Then you start ascending the mountains where there are multiple vantage points. Some random pics:

Image

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Keyah Grande (Pagosa Springs, CO) – Legitimate 2 Star Dining

(Note: The chefs have left Keyah Grande since this review was written.)

Like a great Michelin-starred French restaurant, Keyah Grande is tucked far away on a hill in the middle of nowhere. It’s located a few miles outside of Pagosa Springs, Colorado; a city apparently famous for its hot springs. As you drive down the road, there is a only a large gate with the letters – KG.Press the call button, the gates open, and you drive 2-3 miles down a dirt road up the hill. Twisting and turning until suddently:

Keyah Grande - Hotel

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Pierre Gagnaire (Paris) – Strictly Business

Gagnaire was the restaurant I most anticipated on this trip; so much so that I scheduled 2 reservations. However, they canceled one of the reservations unexpectedly. I was a very unhappy camper until L’Arpege came through w/ a next-day table.

To be honest, I’m not unhappy it turned out that way. This meal was very good – flawless even – but it lacked that special “something” that made my last Gagnaire meal transcendental. Solid 3*** dining but no revelations. Still my favorite restaurant, a perfect place to eat a meal alone, and I’ll continue to book a meal @ Gagnaire when I find myself in Paris – just beware of their email reservation system.

I had the Autumn menu. (The below pictures were taken from the same menu – they are used with permission.)

1. Prawns w/ Butter Sauce, Tarragon Jelly, Zucchini Blossom
Prawns were flawlessly cooked and they went perfectly w/ the salty butter sauce. There was also a brown sauce I didn’t catch that was too heavy for the prawns but it was easily scraped aside. Veggies were high quality. Very Good.

Pierre Gagnaire - Prawns w/ Butter Sauce, Tarragon Jelly, Zucchini Blossom

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L’Arpege (Paris) – More Extreme Veggies at Extreme Cost

The previous night’s meal was so remarkable that I had to plead w/ L’Arpege for an encore. Fortunately, someone canceled and a second meal became a certainty.

This meal was not as sublime as last night’s but it was a solid 3*** meal that easily eclipsed my previous meal in May.

1. The Egg

L'Arpege Egg

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Pierre Gagnaire (Paris) – Best Meal of My Life

I never got around to writing my Gagnaire review from my May trip – it was such an extraordinary meal (clearly the best of my young life) that i wanted to give it a proper review rather than trying to squeeze it in during the trip. These are the lost notes to the best dinner of that trip (and my life.)

The meal was a triumph – excellent ingredients, exacting technique, and near flawless flavor. Each dish played with taste combinations, textural differences, and temperature. This is a master chef who is confident in his abilities to source ingredients, pair ingredients, and cook. It was experimental but not in the Moto/El Bulli style; this was a more organic approach to experimentation. There were no nitrogen baths or crazy dining contraptions – just new combinations of food that enlightened and impressed.

1. Beef consommé gelee w/ Tuna, Rabbit Rillette & Pimento Pate

The tuna was not of the best quality (but great for France!) but the beef gelee played an interesting trick – it hydrated the tuna, infused it w/ a faint beef flavor, and seemingly elevated the quality of the tuna. The first of many fish/rich tastes that seemingly shouldn’t be complementing each other. I didn’t care as much for the rabbit but it was still tasty. Good.

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