Wednesday, February 25, 2009
It used to be a room that reminded me of Bette Davis in her later years. Caked-on makeup that couldn't cover up the wrinkles, a smear of too-red lipstick, some crumbling at the edges that was only magnified by the brightness of the lighting. Now it's more like Ellen Barkin, sexy in middle age, all low lighting and diaphanous curtains, elegant but comfortable to be around.
Appropriate, if you think about it, since the hotel that shares its location is all about old movies. Gracie's in the Hotel deLuxe, formerly the dowager that was the Mallory Hotel and its dining room, had a coming-out party for its new head chef, Mark Hosack, to meet the local food media.
The new menu was solid and surprisingly upscale, obviously influenced by its membership in the Heathman group of hotels and their tony dining establishments. I knew I was in for a treat when the first thing offered was a choice between a flute of Violet Champagne with a housemade maraschino cherry or a glowing Ginger Drop (left, above) in a sugared martini glass, a skewered slice of candied ginger leaning against the rim.
Like the Oscars, everyone was on their best behavior for the show and the food looked and, for the most part, tasted maaaahvelous. It was all free, too, though menus with prices were provided, each section somewhat preciously titled as though it was part of a movie. The soups and salads, or "Introductions," were in the $5 to $9 range, with the not-so-small plates ("Center Stage") slightly more at $9 to $10. The big guns were "Featured Attractions" and ranged from $13 to $22 per.
My favorites, aside from that killer Ginger Drop, were the first two courses, starting with a light and refreshing take on the Caesar with whole spears of romaine to pick up with your fingers or, much less fun, cut up with knife and fork (sigh); gorgonzola cheesecake (to die for!) served with a whole head of roasted garlic and a balsamic reduction (photo, top); and a roasted beet salad topped with lightly dressed arugula and half a poached pear and a sprinkling of candied walnuts and goat cheese (right, above).
The entrées were well-executed and nicely plated but didn't quite have the charming flavors to earn an Oscar. My osso buco (left), which should have been succulent and on the verge of falling apart, was a bit dry and didn't have the expected beefy punch. A tablemate's gorgonzola ravioli with roasted butternut squash and hazelnuts was surprisingly blah-tasting and the pasta was a little thick and chewy.
The desserts, however, brought everything back into focus, starting with a deep-fried bread pudding and simple caramel sauce that had everyone licking their fingers and thinking it should be on the breakfast menu (which it is). The plate of assorted cheeses was fun, though it could have had more interesting choices, and the little platter of mini desserts (right), with baklava, chocolate mousse on a chocolate "plate," and a teeny shoe-fly pie, was a close runner-up for the statuette.
All in all, I'd give this particular place two thumbs up, though not waaaaaaay up, for its art direction and production values, though it would help if the characters and the plot were a little more developed.
The Driftwood Room's Ginger Drop
I raved to Michael Robertson, maestro of the cocktail shaker at the venerable Driftwood Room in the Hotel deLuxe, about this drink and begged him to let me share it with GSNW readers. He was kind enough to agree, and not only wrote it down himself but told me where to get the special ingredients. Thanks, Mike!
1 1/4 oz. good vodka [Mr. Robertson's emphasis - KAB]
3/4 oz. Domaine de Canton*
1 oz. fresh lemon juice
1/2 oz. lavender simple syrup**
2 dashes rhubarb bitters***
Candied ginger, sliced 1/8" thick and skewered
Fill cocktail shaker half full with ice, add all ingredients and shake. Serve up in a martini glass with a sugared rim. Add skewered ginger.
* Domaine de Canton ginger liqueuer available at Uptown Liquor Store.
** To make lavender simple syrup, heat 1 c. sugar in 1 c. water in small saucepan till sugar dissolves and stir in 1 Tbsp. lavender flowers. Allow to cool and strain out lavender. Refrigerate.
*** Rhubarb bitters available at Uptown Liquor Store.
Details: Gracie's at the Hotel deLuxe, 729 SW 15th Ave. Phone 503-222-2171.