Recipe for Success
First Anniversary Dinner boasts the best of Blueprint of 3rd.
By Jan Walsh
Tonight’s first anniversary dinner begins with a prayer. And ends in a toast. And in between we discover new, highly recommended dishes at Blueprint on 3rd.
This restaurant’s success could be a blueprint for other new restaurants to follow—yet not an easy one to replicate. From the careful sourcing of every ingredient to the hiring and training each staff member, the model begins and ends by drawing deliciousness into and executing excellence on every detail. Much credit goes to owner and operator, Dean Robb, and to his wife and co-owner, Jenny Walls Robb, who graciously greets guests making all feel welcome. The core team also includes Robb’s son, Brandon, who serves as assistant manager, executive chef, James Huckaby, and Sean Wattson, as restaurant manager and sommelier.
We start with Champagne, oysters, cast iron pimento cheese, tomato salad, and calamari. The melt in my mouth oysters are baked in creamed spinach with apple smoked bacon, parmesan. Blueprint’s tomato salad is as good as it gets. A line up of local tomatoes is topped with field pea salsa, fried Vidalia, and a creamy green goddess. The calamari is a platter full of golden and crisp goodness, served with two sauces: a tasty ginger ketchup and a vibrant cilantro-serrano chimi.
For entrees, Kev selects the pork tenderloin, and I opt for the red fish. His pork is smothered in—not your daddy’s onions—but a beautiful burnt onion peach compote. The tender, juicy pork is nestled on a bed of wilted spinach in a generous bed of yellow creamed corn, bursting with fresh, sweet, and local flavors. Kev raves and highly recommends! My fish is a beauty—delicate, mild, and sweet. The fish floats on a bed of haricot verts and roasted red potatoes. And it is topped with a marvelous medley of summer veggies: fresh cut, yellow corn kernels, cucumber, field peas, and tomato. This dish has it all!
For dessert we finish with scrumptious strawberry shortcake and house made ice creams paired with a luscious dessert Sauternes wine.
If the first year is truly the hardest with a new business, then I can’t wait to taste the second year of Blueprint.
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View Blueprint on 3rd Profile
Favorite Finds from Seasons 52’s Summer Menu
By Jan Walsh
Seasons 52 Fresh Grill, Birmingham’s executive chef, Lisa McCollum hosted us for a sneak peek tasting of the Summer 2019 menu. We tasted 10 new dishes and four new cocktails.
Kev picked his two favorite cocktails. And I chose mine. He loved the
rummy Cocojito complete with edible straw and the Peach Riesling Mule of Riesling wine, peach and orange blossom vodka. And I sipped Rosé Sangria of rose Royal Post Rose, honey lavender, white cranberry, and lemon, with fresh a lavender garnish, and the Raspberry Hibiscus G&T with edible flower atop. And all the spirits are light, refreshing, and fun—eating a straw and a flower!
We have never dined at Seasons 52 without a flatbread starter. Today, chef Lisa serves a corn flatbread. If you love cornbread, you will enjoy this one. Kernels of roasted yellow corn melds into creamy aged cheddar. The corn is topped with a new spiced bacon, which is also found in other summer dishes, and is drizzled with a sour cream, lime spritz.
The Spinach and Artichoke Dip proves to be the best I have ever had. Oh my… golden, roasted artichokes blanket the top of the cast iron casserole dish. And as we dig into the spinach and roasted tomatoes below, with our lavosh crackers, I begin to horde this dip, moving it closer and closer to my plate. Synthesizing with the veggies in this extraordinary app is a complex, cave-aged, Gruyére—assertive enough to stand up to the grassiness of the greens, balancing the dish beautifully.
Another scrumptious starter is the Grilled Chicken Ravioli. Seasons 52’s seasonal raviolis, cut in house, are always amazing. But this one might be my favorite ever. The pasta pockets are filled with grilled chicken smothered in a fresh, olive-oil whipped, sweet ricotta. The same soft cheese is found underneath each of the four raviolis, holding them securely in place, as the dish is being served and eaten. And the raviolis are dressed with a tasty, in season tomato vinaigrette, adding a lovely layer of acidity. Highly recommended!
Our favorite salad is also an Italian find, Spiced Bacon and Burrata Panzanella. The cheeses found in Seasons 52’s recipes are always exceptional. The care they give to sourcing them is evident in every bite. In the Panzanella, a divine Burrata cheese crowns this beautiful bowl of blistered tomatoes, spiced bacon, and crunchy ciabatta croutons, all tossed in vinaigrette.
Pot-Roasted Basil-Ricotta Chicken is our favored entrée. This comforting crock takes me back to my Uncle John filling the house with aromas of roasted chicken and wild rice, which afterwards was one of the first dishes I learned to cook. Seasons 52’s chicken in a pot boasts a tender and moist white meat bird, resting atop an incredible, earthy, and deeply flavored roasted tomato pilaf, brightened with French green beans.
Blueberries are in season. So, the Blueberry Cheesecake Minis are a must! These guilt free, diminutive desserts are tiny towers of creamy cheesecake layered with a luscious blueberry compote, crumbly graham cracker crust, and topped with plump, dewy, indigo berries—bursting with fresh blueberry juice. View Seasons 52 Fresh Grill Profile
Succulent Surf, Tender Turf
Marre Allen’s new summer menu items exceed expectations.
By Jan Walsh
Rather than dreading a drive down Highway 280, I find it a convenient excuse to pop in for lunch at Marre & Allen Kitchen + Bar. Here at the Birmingham Marriott, I can regroup over a leisurely lunch.
Not only is Marre and Allen a cut above most all hotel restaurants, it is also one of my favorites. I have dined here for lunch, dinner, and brunch many times since they opened and have attended private functions at the hotel. The food is always amazing. General Manager, Chris Townsley’s food and beverage background and expertise are evident everywhere, and are tasted even in the smallest, delicious details.
Today I stop in for lunch to find some new menu items. Hmm, Shrimp Po’ Boy sounds perfect, but I substitute the fries for a Caesar side salad. Chris drops in the restaurant and hooks me up with their new wine by Chuck Wagner—Bonanza. The California Cabernet Sauvignon is medium ruby in color and boasts notes of blackberries, vanilla, and chocolate. Very silky and smooth for a Cab. I can taste whey Chris recommended this lovely wine—it is very food friendly!
My mouth not only waters, but also drops open, at the first glance of my gigantic po’ boy. Crusty French bread is overfilled with gorgeous, golden fried Alabama White Shrimp, topped with marinated cabbage slaw, sliced tomato, and spicy remoulade. And the first bite telling—this feast for the eyes has it all! From the crisp texture of the golden crust and firmness of the succulent shrimp, to the juicy in season tomato and the tangy, crunchy slaw, it is a synthesis of satisfaction. It is the po’ boy of all po’ boys! And it may be the best po’ boy I have ever had. Can’t remember a better one.
A few days later I cannot not stop talking about the po’ boy until Kev could no longer handle it. So, we head to lunch at Marre and Allen planning to order two po’ boys… until Kev spies a ribeye on the new menu. I order the sandwich again, and he opts for this Grilled C.A.B Ribeye. I always cringe a little inside whenever he orders a steak because he likes his steak medium plus or medium well, which is not a chef’s or grill cook’s preference of rare. So, most times, his steak is either too rare or overcooked. But not today. On first cut, he shows off its cooked to order, which to him is cooked perfectly. And on first bite he declares it to be one of the best steaks he has had in years. Slightly pink inside, tender and juicy. And its Cabernet reduction sauce enhances rather than overwhelms its beautiful beefy flavor. Whew! Well done, Chef Chad Schofield. Maybe I should keep this picture to show what is in his mind when he orders a steak? And it is served with a tasty, creamy, garlic mashed potatoes and tender and grassy jumbo asparagus.
And my po’ boy? It is the perfect replica of my previous one. It like Marre and Allen, is tried and true, exceeding expectations time after time.
View Marre & Allen Bar + Kitchen Profile
Where to go for our anniversary dinner? Ocean Restaurant.
By Jan Walsh
Kev and I are regulars at the bar at Ocean. We love to pop in for a relaxed dinner and watch chefs George Reis and Rick Trent prepare our meal in the open kitchen.
George and I go way back. Ocean was the first restaurant to join Birmingham Restaurants, before it launched in 2007. And prior to this, I had been dining here and reviewing the restaurant for print pubs. Seems like yesterday… And I have followed Rick’s culinary career, dining on his deliciousness, from Ocean to other local restaurants and back to Ocean.
Upon our arrival George greets us at our table, “I saw you on the reservations list, and said, ‘What, a table?’,” George laughs. We enjoy catching up with him, as we order cocktails and our favorite app—baby lobster tails. The tails arrive perfectly curled, steamy hot, with aromas of hickory wood and George’s secret “the love” spice recipe.
Rick stops by the table and shares his recent discovery of cooking kudzu leaves. I never knew kudzu was edible and am intrigued. He also says you can make jellies of their blossoms. Who knew? And tonight, he has made a kudzu pecan pesto for the Georges Bank Sea Scallops. No one does scallops better than Ocean, so I am in. Kev orders the Snapper Whole Fish from the Gulf of Mexico, hickory grilled. And we pair our entrees with flutes of Cava. A trio of enormous scallops arrive with bright green kudzu pesto, drizzled over and alongside the dish, which includes a colorful lady pea hopping john. The pesto’s earthy, nutty, and spinach-like flavors accent the scallops without overpowering the mild, sweet flavors of the delicate scallops. And the hopping john rounds out the dish with its light and lovely mix of rice and veggies. Kev’s snapper is a beauty! Never a whiff of a fishy smell in all the years we have ordered fish here. And tonight, is no exception. The whole fish is fresh and pristine. Each bite of the flaky, white snapper speaks to its quality and freshness. And it is served with a creamy, comforting side of sweet potatoes topped with cauliflower and Brussel sprouts that add a lovely layer of texture to this plate.
For dessert George surprises and treats us to a trio of temptations and Cava, which makes our anniversary here even sweeter. I fall for the tangy lemon custard lava cake, decorated with an artful design of flowers, using the plate as a canvas. Kev loves the sweet baklava purse. And we both devour the gourmet strawberry short cake. Once again, the desserts at Ocean are exceptional in their uniqueness, presentation, and most especially, their deliciousness.
View Ocean Restaurant Profile
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