You had me at service

What is it that makes us return to a restaurant?  Is it the comfortable chairs, as our Executive Chef recently wrote about?  Is it the astonishing mouth watering dish that you find yourself dreaming about when pondering where to stop for dinner?  Or is it the amazing service?

VellumAnn Arbor, MI

Vellum
Ann Arbor, MI

For me, it has always been about the service.  Anywhere from the greasy spoon where the ma and pa behind the counter engage you in friendly conversation, to the six course fine dining back server and front server experience, it has to have great service for me to return.  Not perfect service, no no, I never strive for the perfect dining experience, just something that takes the dining experience from average to extraordinary.  I understand that mistakes happen, and servers get busy, but it is how they conduct themselves in a professional and welcoming manner that keeps me interested.

We’ve all been there, the situations where you try a new place for the first time and you swear you will never be back.  Once a place has a black mark for me, I swear I won’t go back for years!  I don’t even realize how much time goes by…I almost forget the reason why I didn’t like it in the first place…but I won’t choose to give them a second chance unless someone else suggests that we go.

I have to say that my friends and I are a tough crowd, not because we aren’t easily pleased but because we expect great service.  It’s the expectation where we come from.  Most of us are chefs, restaurant managers, servers, bartenders, event coordinators, hostesses, dining room assistants, and just plain foodies!

My foodie friends and I recently met in Ann Arbor for dinner, a mecca of great places to dine!  How can one from out of town even chose where to go?  Well for us, Vellum had us from the get go.  Their website was top notch, and their Chef de Cuisine was from Kalamazoo and a WMU graduate!  We had to check it out once we had read that, and we were not disappointed.

Beer Vellum

For me the experience started with (if you’ve read my past blogs…you could probably guess) that’s right, an ice cold beer.  I was pleased that they had Final Absolution from Dragonmead (one of my favorites) and Dragon’s Milk from New Holland on draft.  They also had my favorite bourbon, Basil Hayden’s in which I enjoyed after my dinner.

But it wasn’t the great beer, bourbon, or even the modern American chow that blew my socks off, it was their attention to providing wonderful service.  We were first greeted by a nice amuse bouche from the chef, they removed all dirt y silverware throughout the meal, and when our entrees arrived they presented us each with a complimentary sample of wine that paired nicely with our entrée selection.  After dinner they surprised my boyfriend with a complimentary upgrade from his VSOP cognac to an XO cognac.  We never wanted for anything, the food was great, and the Director of Operations, Ric Jewell was a real pleasure to meet.  Ric Jewell and our server created the ultimate dining experience for us.  We felt like royalty, and will return because of the service in the near future for sure.

The food at Vellum was a bit too modern for my taste; I like a more classical approach.  Not moth balls classical, but just you know, somewhere in the middle.  While their food was tasty, when I ordered the bone marrow, I expected a bone on a plate with a little demitasse spoon.  Instead we received bone marrow custard, with braised short ribs and cute little root vegetables.  Tasty, but not what I expected.  So while it may not be the food that pulls me back to this modern year old establishment it will be their attention to providing excellent service.Bone Marrow Vellum

So what is it that you look for in a restaurant?  Comfortable chairs?  Great food, modern food?  Or outstanding service?  We want to know!

Alana Fisher
Event Coordinator
Allie and I

Turned off by Turnips?

In a world with such a variety of vegetables, us cooks are always challenged with produce that people do not typically like. This is also where we strive to create dishes that stretch taste buds and change people’s minds. I hated onions when I was a kid, pushing my mother’s hard work around the edges of the plate like it was toxic. For instance, if it was french onion soup, all the bread, cheese and broth would be gone leaving a pile of lonely onion in the bottom of the bowl. It wasn’t until I started having onions in different and interesting preparations that I learned the beautiful complexity of an onion and its flavor (not to insult french onion soup). Onions and I have been close ever since.

A Turnip from my Mother's Garden

A Turnip from my Mother’s Garden

Apart from the onion, I have heard many people explain their dislike for turnips. Turnips are abundant this time of year and usually have a cheap price tag. I also think this misunderstood vegetable is the most delicious root vegetables there is. With the strength of a potato and the delicate flavor of a sweet radish, turnips are universal in the cooking world. There are many easy ways to prepare this lost vegetable, even far beyond my knowledge. These are a few of my favorites:

Grilled Turnips: An all-time favorite. In a salted pot of boiling water, cook turnips whole until tender. You can check this easily with a toothpick, just like a potato. Make an ice bath with equal parts ice and water and a few pinches of salt. Place cooked turnips in the ice bath until they cool to room temperature. The skins should peel very easily from the turnip. Once the skins are discarded, slice the turnips into pieces that will be easy to grill. Toss with salt and olive oil and place on a hot grill until nicely marked on both sides.

Turnip and Potato Hash: Great with eggs in the morning, or next to a grilled steak, or both! Just dice your potatoes and turnips evenly and boil in salted water until tender. Remove and saute in a hot skillet with olive oil and salt until crispy. Add thinly slivered red onion and fresh thyme to deepen the flavor. Toss with a tab of butter and a small amount of lemon juice to sweeten and add acid.

Pickled Turnip: There are a wide variety of pickling brines out there, and I’m not sure if I’ve found my favorite for turnips yet. I have had great success with making simple brines (consisting of vinegar, water, sugar and salt). Heat water and vinegar, whisk in salt and sugar until they’ve dissolved. Pour the hot brine over raw turnips, wedged or whole, and refrigerate for at least a week. If you are not very familiar with making pickling brines, try David Chang’s pickling brine from Momofuku, www.esquire.com/features/guy-food/momofuku-recipe-1009 .*

Momofuku Pickled Turnips

Momofuku Pickled Turnips

Turnip Chitara: Derived from the Italian word for guitar, chitara is cutting vegetables in a spaghetti-like shape, emulating guitar strings. There are mandolins and other gadgets that whip out a beautiful chitara, but with a steady hand and patience, this can be done with just a knife. Saute in olive oil with a small amount of garlic, but not for long, as you don’t want your chitara to overcook. De-glaze your pan with white wine and add heavy cream to create a pan sauce. Reduce until a nice thick consistency occurs and season with salt. Garnish with parmesan cheese and fresh radishes. Add bacon or ground pork in the beginning to make this a heavier dish.

Turnips from Kirklin Gardens

Turnips from Kirklin Gardens

There are a million possibilities for turnips and other vegetables out there, we just have to experiment and never be afraid to try new things. So the next time your child says, “I don’t like onions”, or you find yourself not ordering a dish because of an ingredient, please remember that our taste buds change daily, and that there is always a way to make something delicious.

Happy Holidays,

Nathan Shaw
Lead Line Cook

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