Last night we headed out on the town to go to opening weekend of a new restaurant: Rosendale's Modern Bistro. Although Rosendale's opened a couple of years ago, Chef Richard Rosendale switched things up this past year, putting the formal, white-gloved service restaurant upstairs, and making the downstairs into the Modern Bistro. Getting back to basics with custom dining, the bistro is a more social experience, with moderately-priced dishes that are simple yet complex, and perfect for sharing. In light of the economy, Rosendale's Modern Bistro is music to a foodie's ear.
We'd made reservations in advance, and I'm glad we did - they were bustling! As we waited for our table to be ready, we were greeted by Vince, who offered to make us something special from the bar. More than a bartender, Vince wowed us with what he prepared - we had to track him down and make him give up the ingredients. My drink, on the left, included Creme de Cassis, orange Vodka, Triple Sec, a splash of cranberry juice and a squeeze of lemon. E's drink, on the right, has (from what I remember!) Rye, Elderflower Liqueur and fresh lemon juice. I'm usually a lightweight, but these were so good that I had 2, along with a couple of sips of Malbec later in the evening.
Palates open and bellies growling, we were happy to see our appetizers and get dinner started! I didn't want anything heavy or cloying, so I chose the Ham and Melon Skewers, composed of watermelon topped with prosciutto, which sat atop a reduced sherry vinegar syrup. Salty, cool and sweet, this was a perfect way to start off.
I normally don't mention E's meals too much, but I'll make an exception. E chose the White Truffle Popcorn as his starter, and after I tried a piece, I was hooked. Tossed in butter, sea salt and truffle oil, it was reminiscent of the escargots in garlic sauce that I grew up with. Then again, I have a really strange palate, so maybe it's just me.
We also had some really fresh bread, which was just how we like it; soft on the inside with a crisp crust, and sliced somewhat thin.
It was served with butter that was sprinkled with Himalayan sea salt and black pepper, which enhanced the butter's creaminess and flavor.
When it came to mains, Chef Rosendale had me at "braise". I ordered the Olive Braised Lamb Shank, which was described as "traditional braise, rosemary, natural sauce". The lamb was perfectly tender, and the flavor was deep and complex. The meat fell off the bone, and was somehow tender and luscious at the same time, making it the perfect comfort food.
Since the menu was sharing-friendly, E and I split several sides. I normally hate sharing, but this weekend has been really fun - why limit yourself to one dish when you can try two?
The definite star of the meal were the French Beans with smoked honey, toasted almonds and tangerines. Absolutely magical, the beans were perfectly tender and the honey was smoky-sweet, with a slight bacon undertone. The almonds and tangerines rounded out the dish fabulously, adding just the right amount of crunch and acidity. Complex yet simple, this was a must-try.
I love ketchup, to the point that I was shipped two giant bottles of Canadian ketchup to tide me over last year. The sweet potato fries were so good that I didn't even want the ketchup, as good as it was.
I loved that the Steamed Asparagus was subtle. Flavored with Hawaiian sea salt and lemon oil, they had a slight crisp left to them, and tasted just like they should. Simple works, and I wish more chefs would understand that the way Chef Rosendale does.
We were lucky enough to have the chef take a moment away from his busy kitchen and come to our table. It was especially great for E - in high school, he was at the Greenbrier in the middle of a culinary competition, and needed to crack a coconut and be able to use the shell, meat and water for various dishes, but had no idea how. In a world of hurt, E spent dinner preparing himself to crack the coconut using (sterilized) machinist tools his shop teacher had brought along. Thankfully, the then-sous-chef came over to his table, bringing over a chef's knife and coconuts, and taught him how to do the cracking.
You may recognize Chef Rosendale from numerous specials shown on Food Network, and was the youngest member of Culinary Team USA and the captain of the team in 2008. He's also a certified ice carver, the youngest chef to be on active status for the Certified Master Chef exam, and an all-around nice guy.
We had a hard time choosing a dessert to share, but finally decided on the Lemon Curd, which also had ginger ice cream, toasted meringue and crushed berries. Refreshing, tart, crunchy, sweet and soft, it was a great ending to a wonderful evening.
We were also brought out a teeny bit of creamy tapioca to try. Olivia (our server) was right - this was just like Grandma's, only better.
Check out the tiny spoons, especially compared to a sugar cube!
In all honesty, it has never taken me this long to write a review, let alone post it. Having worked in several restaurants and eaten in many others, I'm pretty critical. I kept waiting to find a flaw, but I couldn't. Dinner at Rosendale's Modern Bistro was, in all honesty, the best meal of the year, and one of the best of my life. The food was fantastic, and had a price point that allowed us to spoil ourselves, and try some of everything. The staff was amazing - after we were done, Olivia apologized for being so short-staffed. Apparently, there were only 3 servers that night handling a full restaurant, and we never even noticed. We must have had every single one of them at our table at one point or another, and not only were they friendly, attentive and fun to be around, but they genuinely seemed happy to be there, even with all the stresses of opening weekend. The blog actually came up in conversation, and Olivia even wrote down the URL and later invited me to a girls-only brunch the next time I was in town. So Olivia, if you're reading, thanks for an amazing time, say hi to the rest of the crew for us, and give yourself a huge pat on the back for all of your hard work.
It takes a lot of hard work and dedication for a restaurant to survive, never mind thrive. I have a feeling that we'll be seeing Rosendale's for many years to come.
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