This year for my "birthday dinner" (observed the Saturday after my birthday), I opted for something a little different. Usually, our go-to meal would involve Beardslee Castle, a venue that acted as the sight of our wedding reception (delicious food -- can't wait to get back there and offer up a review!). Actually, Dave even said, "Want me to make reservations at Beardslee?" I had to stop him with a different suggestion.
The Tailor and the Cook is a Utica restaurant that's been open shy of one year. It's a unique place in more ways than one; not only does it feel like an eating experience straight out of a larger (more modern) city, but many of the ingredients used by the talented chefs are locally sourced. We've heard nothing but good about the place, so I've been itching to get there. It's one of those "demands reservations" joints, so Dave hooked us up, and our mouths were watering and minds were wandering in anticipation.
Upon entering, one can tell that the experience would be special. Located in a newly up-and-coming area of the city, the bare brick walls are accentuated by local art and reclaimed wood trim. Edison-style bulbs dangle precariously above tables with mixed long, shared booth-style seating (which creates an intimate, yet still open and private atmosphere). Three large barrels (wine or whisky? Does it matter which?) have been repurposed into light fixtures for the front bar, which double as conversation pieces. The mix of modern and earthy is well-executed from front door to back bathrooms (which, before I even get to the food, I must say were incredible. The ladies' room held an antique Singer sewing machine with vintage cookbooks, stark black-and-white industrial photography on the walls, a plethora of lotions and a sink that could double as an art installation. Yes, it was THAT worth mentioning).
After being politely seated and informed of jaw-dropping specials, we were offered sparkling spring water or tap water. We shot the moon (don't usually drink sparkling), but I was equally as impressed that they reuse (cleaned) wine bottles filled with chilled tap water which stay at the table. It sounds simple, but the efforts to reuse items and the simple air of class that the stylish bottles gave to each table struck a sweet chord with us.
It took some doing, but we finally decided upon our meals (I considered going vegetarian, but this was a special occasion and it was a Saturday, so...I went for it): mine, a glass of Newman's Own organic Chardonnay and the pork chop meal; Dave, a glass of Ommegang's Three Philosophers brew and the hanger steak (which his curiosity taught us that this is the cut that butchers used to bring home to their own families without offering them to customers). We opted to share a cheese platter, and our entrees came with salads.
Okay. Let me stop right here. Saying "Dave got steak, I got pork" sounds mundane, boring, average. This was anything but. The meals were served as courses; not dumped in our laps while our waiter juggled a dinerful of other patrons. We were brought each item in a royal fashion, each plate constructed lovingly as if by a doting father. It was far from your average experience. Even our bread was brought to us by a guy carrying a basketful of the stuff (from Old Forge), doling it out one at a time on our plates with a delicious honey butter.
The cheese platter was one of the specials (which usually means you're paying more for it), but it was reminiscent of a cheese platter that we shared during our Vermont honeymoon and anniversary trips. Only better. There were five cheeses, each from local farms -- a bleu cheese, a smoked gouda, a goat's milk chevre, a cheddar, and I totally forgot the last. (Sorry!) Alongside these were a couple of dried fruits, apple slivers, honeycomb (yes, on the comb...how do you even EAT that? Who cares, we had fun with it), grainy spicy mustard, cornichons (baby gherkins!) and rustic crackers. They were all impeccable and we had a blast sharing combination of flavors and choosing our favorites. Rather, I chose my favorite (that gouda was da bomb); Dave couldn't choose. Oh, and we clearly didn't get a picture.
Even our salads were impressive. Everyone had the same molasses vinaigrette (it wasn't that sweet or heavy-tasting, really) and local hydroponic greens topped with sunflower seeds and beans. It was the first time that we realized how salt (and pepper) can heighten the flavors of a dish SO MUCH. I'm pretty sure it was a fancy schmancy type of salt, but a sprinkling brought out a taste that we couldn't devour fast enough.
Here's where things get embarrassing. Have you ever eaten something so good that you make noises you wouldn't normally make in public, no apologies? Yeah. It happened. I should also say that we were the only folks in the place losing our cool enough to do this. Still not apologizing. We don't go to a restaurant like this for the "scene", or to BE "SEEN". It's for sharing in a special experience and, in this case, the best meal we've ever had in the Mohawk Valley. Onlookers be damned.
So, Dave's meal was actually the pan roasted hanger steak with fingerling fries, fresh arugula, Gorgonzola butter and a red wine demi glace. Yeah. It was insane. (C'mon, steak with bleu cheese AND fingerlings? Shut the front door. One good thing about humans is that they've come up with seemingly CRAZY food combinations that can change a person's thinking.)
Even after trying a bite of Dave's meal, I had to declare mine the winner. (Not sure he agreed.) Man, do these folks know the meaning of "complementary flavors." The impeccably cooked chop, the excitement of the first ramps of the season (and the surprise of the evening: braised celery as a side vegetable? Delish!), creamy nutty risotto with a sweet-but-slightly-bitter cherry sauce to pull it all together? Doubly insane. Seriously, all I could tell the waiter when he checked on us was "Insane. Just insane."
Since we were shooting the moon, we grabbed dessert -- Dave enjoyed the Jones Family Farm cheesecake (we LOVE their cheeses, and I just happen to have their daughters in school; it's awesome to know that it wasn't a 100% selfish act in eating here; we were also supporting local farms who deserve the heck out of it!) and a Utica Roasting Company's Drip coffee (they just happen to be TTATC's neighbor; talk about local!) while I got buttermilk panna cotta with a blueberry sauce and DELICIOUS graham-style cookie, plus a decaf cappuccino (also courtesy Utica Roasting Company).
Ultimately, one of my favorite parts about this meal (aside from the flavors, the execution, the incredible service, the local sourcing) was the conversation it brought up. Since this meal was obviously costlier than most (like, a once a year sort of meal), we discussed what we were actually paying for. Simply put, it's costlier to ensure that your ingredients (all the way down to the herbs) are quality and responsibly sourced. The lives of the animals that we eat have value beyond that of a dollar value menu. The food deserves to be respected as it's grown, as it's prepared, and as it's eaten.
That being said, we'd give this joint a 5 out of 5 possible spoons. It was THAT GOOD. (Maybe we could take off half a spoon for price, but we think it was worth the splurge.) We even told the hostess (whom Dave knows from work) and our knowledgeable waiter that it was the best meal we've ever had in the valley. Makes some of the usual local fare seem like heavy loads o' crap. (Yes. Yes, I said that.)
If you're interested in visiting "The Tailor and the Cook", find out more at their website. You can see their menus (and cost) as well as their sourcing practices. Oh, and as for one of those challenges that folks face more than we'd like to admit: Dave wore jeans with a button-down shirt (he brought a blazer along but didn't wear it) and I wore a nylon skirt, top and 3/4 sleeve sweater, although we saw a complete range in clothing -- from shorts to preppy orange/coral/pink slacks (on a gentleman) to dressy. So, I guess anything goes, but keep it classy, folks. Not that I have to tell you that. ;-)