At last year's March of Dimes (save the date this year, it's November 2) Signature Chefs event we purchased a dinner for 4 at Virginia's Brine (www.brinerestaurants.com) where the folks from Rapahannock Oysters haved teamed up with Chef John Critchley (previously of Urbana and Bourbon Steak) to create a casual, yet exciting venue offering something novel and delicious.
The large open dining are faces a bar and open kitchen as was not too noisy (it was quiet for a holiday weekend) and the wooden accents keep the feel warm, but the wooden chairs are deadly after an hour or so and the steel twined legs can tear your pants or dress should it get entangled as the double-helix metal legs can be sharp in places. That indeed is the only bad thing I can say about Brine.
The staff is friendly and warm and we got a great greeting from manager Cara, who helped Chef John throughout the night along with other servers including Paul, as we had settled in for a multi-course tasting menu with paired drinks.
Barboursville Brut started us off and I can't think of a better choice when in Virginia on a beautiful evening; the sunset was so gorgeous we had to run out to take photos (see FB).
Our first course was a simple salad of Golden & Candy Cane Beets with Marinated Honeysuckle Cheddar Cheese and a dressing of beet juice, agave and lemon that was less of a vinaigrette and more of a sauce that I just could not resist. The cheese was rich and intense and creamy and dish was a true fresh taste of local ingenuity. The theme of brining had already started with the marinated cheese; what a great idea!
Every meal at Brine should feature oysters and we haven't had any since August isn't an "R" month, but it's now September! Riptide from Cape Cod, Whalebacks from Maine and Rapahannocks from Virginia were served and I can't imagine 3 totally different types of mollusk offering such different flavors as well. While these come with cocktail sauce and amazingly inhouse made Barrel Aged Bourbon hot sauce(use that on the bread), a small dash of the mignonette is the way to experience the oysters' flavors.
In-house baked Parker House rolls arrived hot from the oven with sea salt on top and we tried to refrain, but it was hard. Soon the Sashim-grade tuna arrived with a habanero-Red Pepper Sauce with Thai Basil, Mustard Seed and Najiki that was sweet and smoky and not too spicy in the least. Paired with an amazing High West Rendezvous Bourbon Cocktail with Lemon, Sugar, Allspice Dram and Egg White Foam it was brilliant.
Golden Tilefish is so rare in these parts and a welcome change here with Carolina Gold Rice in a Moroccan broth with Olives, Garlic Scape and Chermoula.
Broken Dreams Chardonnay 2013 from Napa is new to me and has a yummy hint of vanilla but little oak overtone that can be so Napa.
I think my favorite dish all night was the amazing Organic Kelp Pasta literally made from Plankton and served with Chili Threads, Middleneck Clams, Guanciale, and Preserved Lemon in a rich sauce that blew me away. Our friend Kevin called it "brain food" which was perfect.
The sea Scallop that arrived next was huge and came on a bed of salsify(check that out on FB) puree with chanterelles, caviar and marinated Finger Mushrooms. It was a sublime dish and as we were filling up, the one huge scallop was indeed enough.
I loved the STRUB 2013 Riesling that Cara brought next as it was to be paired with the briniest (save for the oysters) dish all night, BBQ Autumn Olive Farm Berkshire Pork which had been brined 30 days and smoked and served over Beemster Cheese Spoonbread (gluten free!) with Braised red Dandelion, Sherry & Bacon which had a vinegar essence but was clearly the essence of brining and Brine. Will does not like semi-dry Riesling (even though it was a brilliant pairing), so Cara preferred some Linden Rose 2014 which everyone loves.
Dessert was a perfectly light single and oh so adorable Profiterole with Sea Salt, Caramel gelato and Butterscotch Sauce served with a double espresso to send us home. Calvados was also offered, but I refrained so as not to mix too much!
It was a totally fun experience, a great meal and a super place to go as it was indeed only about 25 minutes from our house on a no traffic night with free parking in a huge garage next door. What could be better?
Many thanks to the entire team for making us feel so welcome at Brine, where I know we shall return to be pickled once again!