June 9, 2013

Blackberry Farm: Southern Hospitality

Scenic Accommodations.  Exquisite Cuisine.  World-class Service.  Southern Hospitality.  Blackberry Farm, Walland, Tennessee

Great Smoky Mountains, Walland, Tennessee

Thanks to Travel + Leisure Magazine and Foodspotting, my family and I were given an opportunity to stay at the idyllic resort of Blackberry Farm in Tennessee. 

Located on 4,200 acres in the heart of the Great Smoky Mountains, Blackberry Farm has garnered renowned acclaim: they were Travel + Leisure's #1 Resort in the Continental United States for 2011 and just named Bon Apetit Magazine's #1 Hotel for Food Lovers in America for 2013. 

Old Walland Pond

With luxurious accommodations, world-class cuisine, and a serene setting, it actually is the impeccable service and hospitality that make Blackberry Farm so special.  Guests are invited to explore whatever aspect of the property they would like and there are a myriad of activities available; from Orvis-endorsed fly fishing to horseback riding to culinary classes with the Chef.

Dinner served nightly at The Barn, Home of James Beard award-winning Chef Joseph Lenn
The scenic beauty of the Great Smoky Mountains and the adjacent National Park were stunning, but I'd be remiss by not admitting that the exquisite cuisine was one of the main reasons I was excited for the trip.

Farm Fresh Eggs, House Made Sausage, and Locally Sourced Ingredients Highlight every meal

Classics like Southern Fried Chicken and Farm:Table Cuisine Epitomize the Cuisine

All Meals are Included with the Standard Stay Package, including those by James Beard Chef Joseph Lenn
The food and meals exceeded every expectation I had and I was continually impressed whether it was breakfast, lunch, or dinner.  Dinners are served nightly in the Barn and, besides the gorgeous venue, its the home of James Beard Best Chef Southeast Joseph Lenn.  

Inside the Barn, complete with Full Open Kitchen View
James Beard Best Chef Southeast Joseph Lenn
All meals are included as part of the standard stay package and if you've ever had any concern regarding all-inclusive meal plans, you can dismiss them here.  The food and cuisine were on par with any top-rated or acclaimed restaurant in the United States.

The "Foothills Cuisine" that Blackberry Farm is noted for features the ultimate farm:table philosophy (an on-site charcuterie, garden, livestock, winery, and brewery see to that) combined with modern cooking techniques often featuring Southern favorites.  

Owner Sam Beall's book highlighting the Foothills Cuisine of Blackberry Farm (signed and autographed by author Beall and Chef Lenn during my stay)
Overall, it was an amazing trip and visit to one of the premier resorts of the continental United States.  While I'll long remember the scenic vista views, the mouth-watering cuisine, and the luxurious accommodations, it is the friendliness, service, and hospitality of everyone at Blackberry Farm that made the visit so special for myself and my family and the reason I hope to someday return.   

Thank you Chef Lenn and Blackberry Farm

Thank you Travel + Leisure Magazine.  Thank you Foodspotting.  Thank you Blackberry Farm.

It was a trip of a lifetime and a cherished chance to escape, to relax, and to enjoy.

July 28, 2012

Seeking Xiao Long Bao

One of my favorite foods is Xiao Long Bao or steamed dumplings.  It's a Shanghainese food and consists of a thin wrapping around pork and broth that is then steamed in bamboo baskets.  A few variations, of crab meat or vegetables exist, but my favorite tends to be the simple pork-based version.

Xiao Long Bao fans like myself consider a few things to be important when searching for a great xiao long bao.  1) the skin should be delicate and thin.  This isn't a thicker dumpling for frying 2) there should be plentiful soup or broth.  3) the quality of the pork, not too fatty, not too dry, is important.

In China, especially Shanghai, there are a multitude of top-notch restaurants serving this regional specialty with fans adamant about which they find the greatest.  Across the world, Din Tai Fung, started in Taiwan but whose founder was from China, is widely considered to be the best.  With outposts in Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, Korea, Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia, and the United States, Din Tai Fung is a xiao long bao fan or novice's best way to sample this fantastic dish. 

While I mention the United States as a location for Din Tai Fung, it's a travesty the locations are currently limited to Los Angeles and Seattle.  I've been to both locations, but given the Bay Area's large ethnic population, continue to be surprised we don't have one to call our own.  And unlike NYC, which has their famous Joe's Shanghai as a substitute, I'm hard pressed to strongly recommend any local versions as Din Tai Fung replacements. 

Thus, I continue to seek Xiao Long Bao in the area.  Whenever a new spot opens, I'll be there.  Until then, let's hope Din Tai Fung comes soon. 

The following are a few of the better choices in the Bay Area:

1) Yank Sing, San Francisco
2) Hu Chiang Dumpling House, Cupertino
3) Shanghai Dumplings, Saratoga


July 1, 2012

Farewell, Foie Gras

On July 1st, 2012, California became the only state in the United States to ban the consumption of foie gras.  Foie gras, a French delicacy consisting of fatty duck or goose liver, is an extremely common dish used by high-end chefs and has fans across the country.

Seared Foie Gras (Alexander's Steakhouse SV, Cupertino)

Although Chicago temporarily had a ban from 2006 to 2008, their ban was repealed after the City Council voted to overwhelmingly overturn it following comments made by their then Mayor Daley.  California's ban will be the only one in the United States and was actually passed in 2004, with 8 years for local producers to comply with the ban.

The controversy over foie gras largely is due to the production methods.  Ducks and geese are force-fed a rich diet such that their livers enlarge beyond normal size.  These fatty livers are then collected.

Animal rights activists have felt that force-feeding birds is an inhumane practice whereas foie gras producers and many chefs consider current methods to reflect a humane treatment of birds that naturally want to consume excess amounts of food prior to cycles such as migration.

Foie Gras Appetizer (Chaya Brasserie, San Francisco)

Whatever the view regarding the production of foie gras, it's clear that the delicacy will be missed by many high profile California chefs, including Michael Chiarello, Thomas Keller, and Tyler Florence, as well as diners.

In the lead up to the July 1st, 2012 date, numerous restaurants such as La Toque in Napa, Alexander's Steakhouse in San Francisco, and Chaya Brasserie have held foie gras events to raise money and awareness over the issue.  Creativity in using the dish has also blossomed as it's been featured in ways never seen before.  As a food fan, it's been a fun run up to the date and we'll see what happens in the future.

Foie Gras Sushi (Restaurant Mitsunobu, Menlo Park)

Until then...Farewell, Foie Gras!