Friday, February 27, 2015

The Rieger Hotel Grill & Exchange

For the second year in a row, Chef Howard Hannah has been nominated for the coveted James Beard Award, the "Oscars for Chefs", according to our local news anchors. (I honestly don't like that term, but it's been coined, so whatever...) In company with Chefs Patrick Ryan, Nick Wesemann, and the Gerrelts, Chef Hannah is one of the finest Chefs in the America, in this humble blogger's opinion, for one reason: he. just. cooks.

I was having a conversation with a coworker the other day and we agreed that the best part about Chef Hannah's work is that he just cooks; no fuss, no frills, just honest-to-God cooks. He respects the ingredients, is all about nose-to-tail cooking, and just...cooks! He uses every part of the animal. When I was in Culinary school, I went there on a class field trip of sorts and he showed us his pig ear terrine. 

"It barely sells, but I like it, so I keep it around," said Hannah. I remember it, still, so clearly, those years ago.

Rabbit Liver Crostini
I loved his laid-back attitude about everything. So I was really excited to drag my boyfriend there for a Saturday night dinner. I should have known better than to just walk in and not call ahead, but it was a sort of spur-of-the-moment thing, so we just sat at a table in the bar. I had looked ahead at the menu, though, on Foursquare and immediately wanted a rabbit liver crostini appetizer. B got the winter greens salad. The whole menu was American-French in style; American ingredients with classical French techniques, it seemed.

I didn't take a picture of the salad because I was nearly blinded by the flash of my camera. One thing about the Reiger: it's dark. I mean DARK. It wasn't just "ooh, this is nice and relaxing and so intimate dark"; This was "I can barely see the plate in front of me" dark. Maybe it would have been better in the dining room, but come on.

I get that you're supposed to have a fancy restaurant with dim lighting to make it feel more intimate...but honestly if I hadn't used the flash on both the crostinis and the sweetbreads, I wouldn't have been able to even see my food, which is a shame: the food is beautiful! I just want to see my beautiful food! Even just the tiniest little nudge on that dimmer would have made a difference; just enough to see the food without getting blinded by the flash of the camera. Sure, sure, I don't have to take pictures of the food...but, in my defense, if I didn't, I would have barely any idea what's what. 

Then again, on another note, there are restaurants that are completely dark, totally blind, that you have to be guided in by your blind server to your seat. You eat completely in the dark and are completely encapsulated by every other sense, which opens up since your eyes can't. You enjoy the food more. You experience the food more. But I don't know if that's what was going on here.

Anyway, the rabbit liver crostinis were absolutely delicious. Honestly, I could have made a meal out of the entire thing. Just give me a tub of rabbit livers and a crust of bread and call me a happy girl. I just love liver. I think that it's a fantastic little morsel and the fact that chefs are turning their attention to these fantastic little morsels is one of the best things that could have happened to this modern age. People are thinking about food, now, in ways that we haven't in years. We show respect to the animal by using all of the parts, by enjoying all of the parts...nothing goes to waste, which is what 'nose-to-tail' cooking is all about.

Sweetbreads with grits and butternut squash
I got the sweetbreads, since I knew that if anyone would show them the proper technique and work, Howard Hannah would. B(who has never even heard of what sweetbreads could possibly be) took a bite and loved it. The hominy grit that it came with was so filling and creamy that I barely finished my proteins...my own fault, of course, since I loved it so much that's mostly what I ate. And the butternut squash was perfectly roasted. I loved the flavor of the sweetbreads, but I almost wish that it didn't have the breading on it...I almost wished that it was just simply pan-seared with some sweet cream butter with a little salt, not a layer of breading all around it to make it appetizing for the less-adventurous diner. Maybe I'm picking at it too much? Oh well, it's what I remember thinking.
The Rieger Hotel Grill & Exchange on UrbanspoonB's flatiron steak was so tender he didn't need a fork. I offered to take a picture of it so he could see what it looked like, but he laughed and said no. We were both so full by the time we left that we were practically hobbling to the car. I really should have worn my "fat" jeans.

All in all, I loved it. Amazing, simple, non-pretentious food that's not trying to do anything 'special', necessarily...they're just respecting the food, the ingredient. The servers there know a lot about the food and the respect and love that Chef Hannah puts into every bite, and it shows.

So, yes. Great service, great food. Don't make the mistake of not wearing the fat-pants, though. You'll thank me when you walk to the car.