Last night, I had dinner at the Embassy Club, a private dining club in Des Moines. I am not a member; rather, my husband and I were their guests. For some reason, they felt they needed to treat me to dinner as a thank you for helping them with their wonderful Bonne Femme Cooking Class last April. (Frankly, it was my pleasure!)
What a night. Chef Michael Bailey is so much of a nut about fresh + local, that he has his own kitchen garden, right outside of the dining room.
The garden is rife with fresh Swiss Chard (my fave) beautiful heirloom carrots of many colors, herbs galore, beautiful baby squash (and blossoms), irresistible heirloom tomatoes–the list goes on.
Chef Bailey pulling scarlet carrots from his potager (kitchen garden).
Here’s how the meal progressed. First, I wanted to start with Oysters Rockefeller. No, oysters are by no means “local,” but this is a private dining club, and they do oysters. And they do them unbelievably well:
I’ve never had better Oysters Rockefeller. The Hollandaise was creamy—almost frothy—so that the oyster jiggled in it; after barely loosening it with a dainty little seafood fork, I practically poured the liquid-velvet creation into my mouth. The oyster itself arrived perfectly cooked but still a little sea-watery and bursting of the elemental brine. It was the oyster you tasted above all else–and that’s the way it should be.
Next, the salad:
I’m not sure I need to describe the above photo, but here it goes: Picked within minutes heirloom tomatoes, a little herb emulsion, some gorgeous edible flowers, a few delightfully fried squash blossoms (vaguely floral and vegetal tasting at once, with a delicate olive oil unctuousness). And startlingly crisp and herbal haricot verts, served either raw or just barely blanced. And that pickled pink veggie–adding a tart vinegary contrast to it all.
Yes, it tasted as good as it looked, if that is possible.
Onto the main courses:
I told Chef Bailey to serve me anything he wanted, as long as it involved Swiss Chard. He served me a gorgeous wild Alaskan Salmon–brilliant red–with pureed carrots (remember those beauties he was picking earlier?), “melted” leeks, and that gorgeous Chard, both stems and leaves.
Mr. Sportcoat’s choice was the lamb:
Another beauty: Colorado lamb, rifely marbled and juicy, it gave and gave when it came to flavor and pleasure. Grilled onion, and grilled picked-that-afternoon summer squash.
Chef Bailey’s caramelized banana split with homemade ice creams (including a killer white-chocolate pistachio ice cream that I’m still dreaming about). Contrasting it all was a creamy lemon cake (the doo-hickey with the raspberry on top).
And then, a cheese course:
Don’t ask me why they served cheese after dessert, but I wasn’t about to complain. Especially when it brought sheep’s-milk Pyranees cheese at a beautiful state of ripeness, a couple of dates, a few grapes, and toasted almonds, a few drizzles of honey. About the presentation: I’m speechless.
Volkmer-Jones paired each and every course with some amazing wines, including a Soave that he had just discovered on a recent trip to Italy (as an aperitif), a Pinot Gris from Oregon for the tomato course, a Cab-Merlot blend from Tuscany for the lamb, an obscure Italian low-tannin red for the salmon, and a touch of Inniskillin ice wine for the dessert and cheese courses.
Clearly, this was an amazing meal, and it shows just what this chef can do. For information on the Embassy Club in Des Moines, go to their site.