Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Dining at the Clifton Inn

So angry from the long trip of the w(h)ine trail(please see two entries prior), we rolled into the Clifton. Attempting to compensate for the lack of carbohydrates from our meat and cheese with cracker, lotsa wine lunch at 2pm...I mandated McDonald's (No worries, we held back with a double cheeseburger and single). As we drove up the drive to the Clifton and saw the Relais & Chateaux insignia, I thought to myself..."Meg, throw the McDonald's wrappers in back seat, out the window, burn them, stuff them under the seat...anything"...my god was I embarrassed. Hurridly, doors slamming and distracting the host from our hamburglarery, we walked up to the matre d, shaking his hand and helped him welcome us to some kind of wonderful.

God do I want to talk about the upgraded suite for no reason, the complimentary Madeira inspired by Jefferson...the fact we have our own porch, sitting room with windows abound. But I MUST tell you about our dinner. Our fancy night. Our night that mandates no sexy time after...the one where you feel so sated...like Thanksgiving or Christmas....so damned stuffed...you are happy to not have to bid adieu to family, so happy they're not still hanging around(picture that crazy Uncle who just wont leave and all you can do is wish he would, cause you're just SO FULL).

That's us...tell me 10 months ago that I would be dining in this opulence, I would laugh. "Surely you jest little person", I would say..."I have been to the mountain, have you seen my food resume?" "The Inn at Little Washington, The Laundry, Michael Mina, Gary Denko, Komi, Volt, Cindy Paucin"...I guess our list grows.

And our list plain out stopped at unexpected innovation. Think about it. You dine at "The Inn at Little Washington" or "The French Laundry" and nothing surprises you because you know everything MUST be the BEST...OR IT SUCKS! Weigh our differences between the two, Chef O'Connell wins outright. But you come here...much like the McDonald's in the car and the drive up to the special insignia...we expected nothing close to what we have come to experience.

More or less, it's like going on a blind date, expecting to see Rosie O'Donnell, and there you have it, Gisele Bundchen arrives.

By my life, accidental has been the best ride. Ask me about my soul mate, the one whom I adore? She came to me after a parody act on stage, goofing on a graduate school professor. No expectations, I found a priceless artifact from heaven. And you're asking me, "Are you comparing the food at The Clifton to your angelic wife?"

Well, "Does the food compare?" Well, someone was singing at the chef's table. It was no angel, and he has been seen in the Devil's choir. Fail to differentiate heaven and hell, you have no difference who actually sang the praises (In one life, it coulda been an angel).

As I write I wonder should I list the menu outright, should I blog detail by detail, or should I just hit the highlights of the chef's creative juices? And then I wonder, it does no justice to just mention what the chef did without mentioning the staff and their elaborate detail to everything. Then I think about what the sommelier said as I casually mentioned while walking out, "I just wanted to dance on the kitchen table". "I think they might have liked that", she said.

Hell yeah I thought...pirates, swashbucklers making their way through cuisine like pioneers, conquerors, or the people who defended their beloved land and pressed onwards, sometimes diving on their own swords out of allegiance to greatness. Their flag was in their food, their own locavore movement of "Good". There was no foolin' around. There were no frothy foamy trickery of gimmicks on a plate. Food appeared, nothing but the whole food...God Bless Grilled Squash, Squash Puree, Toasted Squash Seeds, and Braised Rabbit. God Bless the home made pasta with Roasted Butternut Squash Pasta ,and the Chicken Liver Pate with Char...God bless the fact they incorporated a Char...and I don't mean Artic Char, but burned Char to just about every course. THAT was the inspiration amongst many other things that made the menu unique and GREAT! THAT was the secret ingredient, the spice if you will. Ninety-nine of One-Hundred chefs would have effed that up, guaranteed.

Per our usual routine at the beginning of the meal, we gave the menus back to the server and said, "Just have them pick what they want for us, we'll take the five course tasting." And mid-way through the meal the sous chef and one of the youngest of the fold looked at my wife and said, "How can you just say, "Pick out dishes" and not worry"? And we thought, and trusted, and I guess we just knew. Replying with conviction we uttered, "We know it is all going to be good, we wanted you to pick out your favorites". In an unspoken word, at a chef's table, you can feel the energy, the passion, and the know how that whatever makes its way to your mouth...it's like something mom or grandma made. When it hits the nostalgia meter...the chef has transported you home.

That is a Chef's table, that is a kitchen.

That is the Clifton Inn.

Next time, I'm jumping on the freakin' counter top, grabbing copper pots and banging them around!

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