Last night I had the immense pleasure of going to Terra. Last summer, I spent quite a lot of time walking past Terra on my way to visit a friend at his bar. Every time I walked past, I stared, rather rudely I'm sure, at the diners sitting on the great outdoor patio. I also tried to inhale as deeply as possible, hoping that the intense smells would allow me to almost taste the food that I would likely never get a chance to eat. And then last night happened. I finally entered the quiet and unassuming building and was thrown into a world of deliciousness.
My dinner partner (R) had thankfully had the foresight to call for reservations. Good thing too, as our server told us that she had overheard the dinner manager on the phone telling someone that he had a 5:15 or a 9:15 reservation available. I'm not sure how much a reservation is needed during the week, but I would say that it's a must on the weekends. I would also recommend taking advantage of the complimentary valet service, because parking is brutal. There is a small lot behind the restaurant, but it fills up quickly, and several of the spots are reserved for other businesses.
After we were shown to our table, our first mission was to pick a wine - a little bit of a daunting task. The wine list is huge. Thankfully, there was a section called "Wines We're Drinking with our Meals." We focused on that, narrowed it down to the type we wanted, and finally settled on the Trig Point Cabernet. It was an excellent choice too, as it proved to go well with everything we ordered.
Having decided on a wine, we moved on to appetizers. Some friends had recommended a couple of dishes, so R & I took their advice and ordered the "Quack" Madame and the BBQ Lamb Shoulder Stuffed Mac & Cheese Gratin. Both certainly lived up to the hype. Let's start with the lamb. Lamb is one of those foods that I like, but really have to be in the mood to eat. I'm pretty sure that if it was cooked like this, I would eat lamb every single day. It was braised in ancho chilies, which gave the lamb a great spice profile. Despite the fact that this was a mac & cheese, the star of the dish was the lamb. The pasta was just there as an accent, and the breading on top was there simply to add a textural contrast. The lamb was super tender and perfectly braised. The consistency was what you would expect to find in pulled pork. It was a really pleasant surprise - definitely not what I was expecting.
|Lamb mac & cheese on the left, Quack Madame on the right. Beautiful.|
Onto the "Quack" Madame. I love duck. And I always forget how much I love duck until I have it. This was served on toasted brioche and topped with caramelized onions and a fried quail egg, with an arugula and tomato salad on the side. It was perfect. The brioche was thick and there was a butter flavor that just made everything a little bit richer. I don't know that I can really do this dish justice by describing it, so I'm just going to insist that you try it for yourself.
Entree time. The menu at Terra isn't terribly extensive, but it took me forever to decide what I wanted to eat. I would have loved to try a little of everything, so I suppose I'll just have to go back. At any rate, R decided to order the Duo of South Carolina Quail (side note....Terra prides itself on using as many local ingredients as possible, which automatically took it up a few points in my estimation). The dish had a few pieces of grilled breast and a few pieces of fried legs. It was served with collard greens, mashed potatoes, andouille gravy, and topped with crispy parsnips. Delicious. The quail legs were tender and perfectly breaded. The quail breast was smoky and char-grilled. It was juicy and the little bit of skin that was left on added some great flavor. The collards were sweet, but still had a little tiny bit of the bitterness that makes them collards. Collards are one of the vegetables that I'm extremely thankful that I discovered in the last year. The ones that accompanied this dish are pretty much the reason why everyone should give collards a chance. I had never had parsnips before, but I think I'm going to start eating them more often. These added a little bit of a crunch and a nice lemony accent to everything. Now let's discuss the andouille gravy. I could have eaten this with a spoon. Sausage gravy is definitely not one of my favorite things. It's usually thick and rather gross to look at. This gravy wasn't heavy, it was pretty, and had an absolutely OUTSTANDING flavor. You could probably add it to some biscuits for a nice twist on breakfast.
|This was the quail. The grilled breast is in the front, collards on the left, parsnips on top, mashed potatoes & fried leg on the right. My favorite gravy in the entire world was underneath all of it.|
After much back and forth, I finally decided to order the Braised Beef Canneloni. Good choice. I suppose you could call this a pasta dish, but the pasta, like in the lamb mac & cheese, wasn't the focus. Instead, the focus was on the beef and the wild mushrooms. It was spectacular. It almost seemed a little too simple to serve in a place like Terra, but sometimes simplicity makes something taste better. There was such a focus on the individual ingredients and how they meshed with each other. And the beet, feta, and walnut salad that was served with it? Let's put it this way: I never knew that I liked beets. And now I think I'm going to start putting them in everything. The salad itself was a little salty for me, but was still an excellent complement to the beef. By far this is one of the best meals I've ever had.
|Canneloni on the right, beet salad on the left.|
|Close up of the canneloni. Look at all of those mushrooms surrounding it!|
At this point we were stuffed. I didn't think that it was possible for me to eat anything else. Until our server brought the dessert menu around. R ordered the Pistachio Creme Brulee, I ordered the dessert special (a dacquoise with vanilla meringue cookies with layers of dark chocolate and milk chocolate mousse), and then we found out that Terra makes all of their own ice creams. And that they have a Maker's Mark flavor. Yes, you did read that correctly. Maker's Mark ice cream. I actually stopped our server as she was going through the list of ice creams to make sure that I had heard correctly. As both R & I like bourbon (probably more than is healthy), we had to add this to our order.
|Creme brulee in the back, dacquoise in the front, and the fabulous ice cream on the left.|
Creme brulee is not my favorite dessert in the world. I generally don't care for it, and while this was better than most, I still can't say that I'm a fan. R, however, loves creme brulee and assured me that this was great. The burn across the top was even, the inside was the perfect consistency, and the pistachio brittle topping was a great accent. As for the dacquoise, I really only have one word: AWESOME. I was sold at "chocolate mousse," but the meringue cookies were a nice touch. They had a nice hint of vanilla that offset the chocolate really well. I would totally order this again.
And then there was the ice cream. It looked like plain vanilla ice cream. And then you tasted it. And as it melted against my tongue, there was this infusion of bourbon. So surprising, and definitely not something that anyone (except, apparently the chef at Terra) would ever think to make. If you get the chance, I would recommend that you try this ice cream. I wish that I had had more room for dessert, because I could have eaten about 6 more scoops of this ice cream. Plus it went really well with my exceptionally fresh and really hot cup of coffee.
If you ever get the chance, you should go to Terra. Just an overall amazing experience. The atmosphere of the restaurant (all exposed brick and ceiling beams, coupled with dim, but accented mood lighting), the coziness that created an intimate dining experience, and the leisurely pace of the meal were outstanding. Our server was great - she was very friendly, without being intrusive, and gave us some good input on our orders. I love that Terra uses a lot of local ingredients, that their food isn't pretentious, and that everything about this place contributes to a great experience.