Aging Well

A Husband’s Birthday and a 40 Year Port, at Blueprint on 3rd

By Jan Walsh

Kev chose Blueprint on 3rd for his birthday dinner. We arrive early, valet the car, and enjoy a glass of wine at Blueprint’s Bar before dinner. Here we catch up with restaurateurs, Dean and Brandon Robb at this family-owned, local restaurant. Dean shares his excitement about the restaurant’s upcoming 5th Anniversary this year. Wow! Seems like yesterday, we were sitting at the front round table for the opening dinner. The restaurant has also aged well, over these five years, as one of Birmingham’s best, although we knew it from the start.

After being seated at our window table, I spot a “Grower” Champagne on the wine list, Aubry Growers, 1er Cru NV, the perfect food friendly, birthday bubbly. Just after our server quietly pops the cork, Dean surprises us with Sushi Grade Tuna Tartare, saying it is the perfect dish to pair with Champagne. Oh, my! Chef James Huckaby brings the heat with Blueprint’s tartare… Delicate diced tuna is mixed with bits of green and purple onion, red pepper, and wasabi peas, tossed in an original orange marmalade ponzu, floating atop creamy sriracha. Sensational! Blueprint’s tartare tingles the taste buds and is my favorite ever. And Dean is correct, the spicy tuna is a nice match for this dry, entry level Champagne, with its notes of green apple and lemon. We will be back for more of this pairing.

I delighted Kev that he is to order anything he wants for his birthday, without my input. And not surprising he finds a pork belly starter and looks no further. And I am intrigued by the fried grits. The Pork Belly is a generous cut, fork tender, and boasts notes of spiced rum and molasses. It is served with an apple salad and Marcona almonds, adding acidity, crunch, and nuttiness to the plate. Just when I thought I’d had every grit imaginable, Chef Huck fries them! Blueprint’s Shrimp and Grits arrive in a cozy, little iron skillet. The succulent Gulf shrimp come curled up with deep fried, golden grit fritters, topped with scallions. And this cutting-edge skillet of comfort is jacked up by the smokiness and acidity of a vibrant, smoked tomato vinaigrette. Highly recommended!

For mains, Kev orders a steak, fit for king and a birthday, Seared Beef Tenderloin “Au Poivre.” And I go for the heat, with Spicy Blackened Redfish. Although I love spice, I do not often order blackened food due to bad food memories of the blackening overtaking beautiful fish. The generous, juicy, cooked to order peppered steak, along with its broccolini, mushrooms, cauliflower, and purple onions, are smothered in a peppercorn cream. The depth and deliciousness of this melt in your mouth dish makes it a must for carnivores. Chef Huck’s thick, tasty, mashed potatoes stand up to the steak, making a perfect counterpart.

My big catch redfish is masterfully blackened: big, and bold. Yet its spicy, blackening, and the resulting caramelized crustiness does not overpower the fish. Sweet and subtle redfish flavors shine through further brightened by a beautiful shrimp bisque atop. Thus, if you too tend to shy away from blackened fish, be not afraid. A delightful helping of roasted garlic wilted greens and mashed potatoes anchor the plate. Kev and I agree that Chef’s smashing mashed potatoes taste more like my own made from scratch at home, than the typical, bland airy, whipped to a frazzle, restaurant mashed, pleasing us both.

The Robbs suggest Apple Coffee Cake with ice cream for the birthday candle. Sounds good to Kev, but this does not stop him from also ordering the Carrot Cake. And I forgo cake when I see a 40 Year Port on the menu. As Kev makes a wish and blows out the candle on is coffee cake, the ice cream melts into the crumble topping. I watch, wondering what he wished for, while enjoying the nose of my rare Taylor Fladgate 40 Year Tawny. Unforgettably intense and complex, I detect in this aged elixir synthesis of roasted coffee, nutmeg, dried fruit, with hints of honey and spice. On the palate this bouquet becomes even more finessed and finishes long and lovely. Aging well is an art, perfected by both my husband and my port.

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