Saturday, September 18, 2010

What makes a great restaurant? The Pluckemin Inn

Ever ask what makes a great restaurant? What makes any business great for that matter? There are so many factors involved in each and every business that require specialized knowledge, attention, and expertise to make them run. But if there is one common thread through every success story, it is customer service. If you had to wake up each morning and ask yourself just one question, it should be "How do you take care of your customers?"
Today we got a first hand lesson, starting with a family school appointment that ended at about noon, leaving us hungry and looking for a place to eat. We were dressed a little more than on an average Saturday morning, and my son suggested perhaps a little nicer venue as it was also a special day. So we went to several favorite spots along our route home, selected for no other reason than their order of location along the route from Morristown. The first was closed for a private party, the second was closed for lunch on Saturdays, and then we arrived at one of my all time favorites, the Pluckemin Inn. We entered the restaurant to find a group of about 20 in the tavern room, but otherwise the restaurant was closed. When someone from the staff approached us (who,  in the interest of full disclosure I knew from some of our wine events there), he explained that they were closed until 5pm on Saturdays, with the exception today of the small private group in the bar who were just about to move down to a private room for lunch. We talked a second and I told him our story, to which he jokingly inquired why they were the third restaurant we stopped at! He thought about it a split second and said "tell you what, let me check in the kitchen and see what they can do" and promptly came back with an offer of crab cakes, burgers (great here!), steak frites (also great here), or personal pizzas. I demurred, not wanting to put them out, and the reply was a sincere and resounding "no trouble at all, we can't let you all go down the road hungry!" 
And so we had a great lunch, a couple of delicious and moderately priced glasses of wine from a favorite Burgundy producer, a couple of espressos, and left an hour later - happy, fully sated and grateful forever. And all this was done graciously, with no rush, no sense of the staff being put out at all - just plain old superb customer service. All this in a truly great restaurant where we have had numerous wine maker events where they seamlessly and easily create delicious menu to pair with the wines, where they have one of the finest selections of wines you will find anywhere from good everyday affordable hand crafted small growers to some of the greatest wines in the world. Yet there is no elitist snobbiness, no intimidation and no BS - simply a pleasant and sincere attitude of "How can I help you?"  Bravo!

Friday, September 17, 2010

White Burgundy Young and Old - Elements Restaurant.

Had a fantastic tasting and dinner with a selection of wines from Burgundy, pairing a young vintage with an older version of the same wine for each flight, each paired with a dish created by Chef Joe Sparatta of Elements Restaurant to match the wines. What a perfect setting, a private table upstairs, endless passed appetizers including an heirloom tomato tart that was outstanding, pureed pepper soup, salmon tartare, all washed down with Eric Rodez Brut Rose Champagne. The rest of the evening included unbelievable food and seamless service - if you haven't been - go! The wines were presented by Olivier Daubresse, one of our favorite importers and one of the sharpest palates I have ever tasted with. His long term relationship with his growers and the sheer amount of time he spends in Burgundy in the cellars and vineyards selecting his wines has given him a depth of knowledge that is disseminated throughout the eveing in a fun, relaxed, honest and charmingly French accented manner.
The wines and details are below - normally the only way to get great older white Burgundy is to buy young wines and store them, but these gems are available - perfectly stored by either Olivier or in the cellars in France. Fortunately I am back to Elements for two more events in the next week (tough job but someone has to do it!) and will report on the rest of my Elements Trifecta. Here are the details and a list of the wines - older wines are available but limited - call 908.953.0900 or email me at Chris Cree if interested.

First Course: Local peach salad: quinoa, fleur de vert, black garlic, poppy seed sponge cake - unique, different and delicious!
2006 Domaine Larue St. Aubin en Remilly 1er cru $56.00/$48.00 - Pale straw color. Lovely crisp and fresh - still very primary. Great acidity and minerality with the hallmarks of the En Remilly site - still locked up with tight core of solid fruit. Great value, huge potential for the patient! Drink 2013-2016
2002 Domaine Larue St. Rubin en Remilly 1er cru $60.00/$51.00 - Hints of straw gold color, beautiful nose of clover, acacia, hazelnuts - complex and mature and beautiful! Silky, broad and developed on the plate, reinforcing the lovely scented nose - rich and showing lovely secondary notes, yet still fresh and not at all past prime. Declicious with this dish and a great example of the precision and quality Didier coaxes from this great terroir. An over acheiver!

Second Course: Wild King Salmon "white clam sauce", fines herbs risottoe - creamy warm and rich.
2006 Domaine Bzikot Puligny Montrachet Les Folatieres 1er cru $110.00/$92.00 - Sylvan Bzikot just gets better and better, a true rising star in the Puligny firmament! This 06, while a little tight and closed has tons of potential - stony, mineral, beautiful Puligny! Pale straw color, hint of pear, quince - youthful and tight, it has lost a little baby fat and not yet moved into its next phase. Lots of promise here, but linear and tight tonight, especially in contrast to its elders. Drink 2015-2020(+?) I like the older wine with this course, but I want a case of this in my cellar!
2004 Domaine Bzikot Puligny Montrachet Les Folatieres 1er cru $114.00/$95.00 - A hint of gold/amber, nutty, evolved, mid concentration with hazelnut and almost a hint of caramel. Not sure this has the depth to go too much longer, but a beautiful drink now. From now - 2013/4

Third Course: Griggstown pheasant: foie gras, corn, pork belly. This was another terrific disch, the rich fois gras and salty smoky pork belly bringing lovely contrast to the Pheasant. Again, the older wine won out! Imagine that!
2006 Domaine Borgeot Chassagne Montrachet Les Embrazees 1er cru $102.00/$85.00 - Still a little youthful but fuller and more open than the Bzikot 2006 folatieres, this is more opulent and upfront in style, creamier, less mineral - typical of the site. Still in first gear, drink 2013-2016
1999 Domaine Borgeot Chassagne Montrachet Les Embrazees 1er cru $112.00/$95.00 - came out a little cold and closed, with almost an earthy note - opened up nicely and put on weight and aromatics in the glass - mature and ready to drink, broad and mouth filling.

Fourth Course: Veal, potato, truffle, mushroom blanquette - again another hit, detailed and precise, each component defined on its own but when combined in a bite were fantastic. My desciption doesn't do it justice! perfect with the Grivault, the older one better but only by a nod.
2004 Domaine Albert Grivault Meursault Perrieres 1er cru $135.00/$110.00 - Ahhh! Grivault Perrieres! What can I say - these wines are great right out of the gate and everyday of their vinous lives, changing and evolving and improving way longer than their elegant understated style suggests. Jjust opening up but still quite youtful, primary and fresh. Som tropical fruits, orange blossom. One the palate mouth filling, silky, with a lovely creamy texture and good underlying acids. Again, in its youth but deliciously so!
1999 Domaine Albert Grivault Meursault Perrieres 1er cru $140.00/$119.00 - just a hint of color, and just beginning to show a trace of secondary notes this is an adolescent wine with a lot of promise. Beautifully detailed, elegant, seamless with discreet power and depth underneath. Another 5-10 easy, but delicious now and every day until it finally fades away.