Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Final Farewell

I'm not referring to anything serious here.  Lucy is still okay as are all my dogs and all the people in my life.  Believe me, I count my blessings every day ....

No, this is about Durham.  One more time.  You may remember my post about the place and about Watts Grocery a few months ago.

I still love Watts Grocery.  But we had a memorable "last supper" at Vin Rouge and I would be remiss if I didn't tell you about it.

A French bistro in Durham?  Yup, and a damn good one.  This was not our first meal there; indeed it was usually on our list of favorite places everytime we visited, but this meal was particularly wonderful.

It started with our server, Jason.  He is what every server (even the ones at the French Laundry and Per Se) should aspire to.  Professional yet personable.  REALLY knowledgeable about the menu and the wine.  When it came time for dessert, we were too satiated, but Henry lamented the fact that chocolate mousse was on the menu.  Several minutes later, Jason quietly slipped a mini-serving in front of him and we never saw it on our check at the end of the evening.  Now that's what I call exemplary service.

When it came time to order a bottle of wine (de rigueur at every meal for us, duh, no wonder we aren't skinny), General Manager Michael Maller showed up to help.  He and Henry had a spirited discussion about French reds at which point Michael said, "Wait, I'll be right back.  You have to try this."  THIS turned out to be a taste of - you won't believe it - wine FROM A BOX!  Surprisingly enough, it was really good!

It came from St. Joseph in the northern Rhone valley of France.  It is made by Eric Texier who is Michael's favorite producer.  Apparently he only made two barrels of it in the 2008 vintage and all of it came to Durham.  Vin Rouge is the only restaurant in the world to have it in the boxes.  What fun!

I was smart enough to order the Dijon mussels, which were fabulous.  Even more fabulous though, was the bowl they came in.  It was cast iron, slightly tilted and had a grate along the side which allowed for the Dijon butter sauce to flow out unimpeded so you could dip both mussels and bread into it.  Brilliant!  Check it out:

The chef at Vin Rouge is Matt Kelly.  I don't know him personally, but I can attest to the fact that he knows his way around a kitchen.

My favorite salad at Vin Rouge involves Bibb lettuce, haricot vert, radishes and Dijon vinaigrette.  Here's my take on it.

BIBB LETTUCE SALAD  (in the style of Vin Rouge)

Bibb lettuce leaves, washed and dried
Haricot vert (French green beans), trimmed and blanched
Radishes, thinly sliced

Dijon Vinaigrette:
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/4 cup champagne vinegar
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Pinch of granulated sugar
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive (I like Olio Santo)

Place Dijon mustard, vinegar, salt, pepper and sugar in a bowl and whisk together.  Add olive oil in a think stream and whisk to emulsify.  Taste to adjust seasonings.

*the above is the classic way to make a vinaigrette.  If you want my down and dirty way, just put everything in a jar with a tight-fitting lid and shake well to blend.  I'm just sayin'.

Place lettuce leaves in a bowl with blanched haricot verts and radishes.  Add a minimal amount of dressing (less is more) and toss gently.  Plate and serve immediately.

Note:  in the interest of full disclosure, I couldn't find haricot vert at Whole Paycheck Foods, so I had to settle for locally grown green beans.  Fair enough.

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