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Thursday, February 17, 2011

Lunch at The Grain House, Basking Ridge NJ

Hey Foodies,

I'm chopping the Valentine's Day menu up a little bit to talk about today's lunch.  Here at GVK, I'll be reviewing my experiences at restaurants, as well as my trials and tribulations in the kitchen.  I'll give the dishes a rating out of a five-point scale, along with my thoughts.  Hopefully they'll help make eatery choices a little easier on you!

A bunch of people I work with/for (including my boss and my boss's boss) all flew/drove into the office today for a series of meetings, and lucky-yours-truly got to go to lunch with them!  (I get to go to the fun stuff, woohoo!)  We all went to The Grain House in Basking Ridge (click the name to go to their website), which is a local spot next to a hotel next to the office; so it makes for a convenient business-casual meal.  I've been there often and never been disappointed.  Today's entree was quite tasty and not something I'd even seen before, so I had to get it.  Not to mention the OUTSTANDING appetizers.  I know, capital letters indicates a PBD (pretty big deal), so I have to say, if nothing else, go with a friend or two and get a table-full of appies.  Well worth it.  Plus, if the fireplace is going?  Super-cozy.  If I weren't with work colleagues at 12:30 on a Thursday, you'd find me curled up with a glass of red right next to that fire.

We ordered appetizers for the table - there were ten of us, and they were all just really darn good, so they went really quickly:

  • Golden Calamari with Peppadew Peppers, Oranges, Pignoli Nuts, and Reggiano Cheese.  I'm always a fan of calamari, but this was outstanding.  The breading was light, and flavored with lemon and lime; and while I've seen peppers in calamari before, the wedges of orange were new.  These were also breaded, and with the hot and chunky tomato sauce served alongside, was sweeter than any I've had before.  Great flavor puts this over the top at 4.5 out of 5.  It doesn't feel right to give my first dish five stars - but it's definitely a contender!
  • Mediterranean Plate: Falafel, Hummus, Tabbouleh, Tapenade, and Grilled Flatbread.  I saw this on the menu and silently cheered!  E put me on Mediterranean food not long after we met, at a restaurant in North Brunswick called Headquarters.  While nothing can touch the experience of Headquarters (which I'll review separately), this appy took me right back.  I had fun explaining the different items to the people scratching their heads at the different names:
    • Falafel = patty made from ground chickpeas and/or fava beans;
    • Hummus = a spread made with ground chickpeas, olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and garlic;
    • Tabbouleh = a type of salad made of bulgar wheat, parsley, mint, tomato, onion, and seasoned with lemon juice and olive oil;
    • Tapenade = pureed kalamata olives.. mmmmm....
    • Flatbread = they just gave us pita pockets.  :)
While not many of my co-workers tried it, it just meant more for me!  Everything was fresh and tasted just right.  I especially liked the olive tapenade, big shocker there, but the whole plate was delicious and perfect.  Extra whole olives and tomato wedges made the dish complete.  I could have had two of those full plates and been a very happy girl.  4.75 out of 5!  I KNOW!!!  This wasn't a 5 because it wasn't fully authentic, and you could tell, but a lot has to be said for fresh ingredients.  Never underestimate the power of locally grown food.
  • Red Corn Nachos: Flash Fried Organic Tortillas, House-Made Salsa, Scallions, Spiced Beef, Braised Black Beans, Fresh Avocado, Jack Cheese.  These were okay but what really made them stand out were the red chips they used instead of your typical tortilla chips.  The guac was homemade too, but surprisingly flavor-less - I guess because it was really only avocado and not true guacamole.  I only had one small bite and I didn't even take any meat with it, so it may be unfair to rate this item, but heck, I still will: 2.5/5.  E and I make waaaay better nachos; I'll review them next time we make them.  Babe, soon? :)
  • Fried Mozzarella.  This was a special-menu item: Grain House gets seasonal local cheeses from The Valley Shepherd Creamery (linked), a dairy farm north of me that I actually went to with my cousins two winters ago.  This was the selection for this time of year.  The shape was similar to the mozz sticks you get at TGI Fridays - you know, the long, thin rectangles?  But the breading - like the calamari - was light and airy, and it was topped with bean sprouts and a tomato almost-salsa.  Some of the best mozz stix I've had in a long time, if not ever; but it's almost unfair to rank them in the same category.  It's like the Friday's mozz stix grew up, graduated college, put down the Solo cups, and went to culinary school.  4/5.
  • And finally, the Almond Crusted English Cheddar with Slow Cooked Applejack Compote.  WHOA.  GVK Rule Number Two: When in doubt, go with the cheese.  Saturated fat aside, cheese makes just about anything taste heavenly.  And this.  Was.  HEAVENLY.  Pretty sure I heard angels singing as I took my single bite of this - yes, unfortunately, I only got a little bite because the plate was meant only for two, and I was sitting at the foot of the table with nine hungry people-way-higher-paid-ranked-than-I-am.  And everyone loves cheese.  Oh well, at least I had my tapenade!  The apples were sweet and sugary, and matched the sharpness of the cheddar and bite of the almonds in perfect harmony.  Mouth IS watering as I type this.  You know when you build something up in your mind so it may seem better than it actually was?  Well that's not happening with this.  It was that good.  Pair a bite of cheese/almond/apple with a bite of the hot cinnamon bread they serve you at the table, and bask in the flavor.  And if you are into wine?  I'd pair this with a rich, full-bodied Merlot.  Yes, I am a wine-and-cheese freak.  Man, this is not helping my mouthwatering issue.  Anyway, let me just give this experience a 5/5 and stop gushing so much.  Also - this is on the dinner menu, so if you don't see it on the lunch menu, just ask for it.  And if they tell you they don't have it, call me.
So, after the appetizer feast, I was feeling pretty good, but of course I needed an entree, right?  The entire menu is quite intriguing, but something caught my eye and I just had to go with it: the Lump Crab and Sea Scallop Sausage with Fresh Chives and Black Artisan Linguini in a Spanish Saffron Sauce.  It also includes freshly roasted tomatoes in the saffron sauce, which added additional light flavor.  However, the sausage is what caught my eye.  I always love a good hot and spicy, but I am a seafood addict and had never seen a seafood sausage of any kind, much less two of my favorite types.  And black linguini?  Why not.  Let's do this.

Honestly, I was hoping for more sausage.  I suppose I should have known; anything gourmet-seafood for a low-low-price of about $15 will have limited seafood and a whole lotta pasta.  But, everything was quite tasty; I'm not really "mad about saffron", but it was light and complimented the smokiness of the linguini.  PS, do you know how they dye the pasta black?  Bonus points if you can tell me how in the comments - no google-cheating!

I also ordered a side salad (gotta get my green in), which was a spring mix with pears, walnuts, gorgonzola, and red onions tossed in a honey vinegarette.
Probably should have moved my other plate out of the way.
Wasn't crazy about the dressing, but I normally get my dressing on the side so I blame myself for this one. 

Whole entree gets a 3 out of 5; if I got more sausage and less of everything else, it would be a 4.  Quite recommended!  I gotta get me a sausage maker, though, so I can make this meal myself.  With, um, more normal looking pasta most likely.

Turns out that, of my colleagues, I got the most exotic item on the menu.  Burgers, sammies, and salads were well-received.  We did not get dessert or drinks; service was (and consistently is) excellent (was quite crowded but they always kept our water glasses full and asked how we were doing).  Whole experience at Grain House is a 4 out of 5. 

Summary: Go for the delicious appetizers, cozy atmosphere, and the great service!

Next post: back to our regularly-scheduled Valentine's Day Menu.

Cheers, C

1 comment:

  1. I'm pretty sure the black pasta had squid ink to make it black. I learned that from Cooking Mama on Wii.

    Also, definitely get a meat grinder to make sausage! There was one left in the basement of the house I moved into and it's awesome!