Sunday, February 14, 2010

River Oaks Restaurant

In the spirit of Valentine's Day, I have decided to blog about where Jon took me to celebrate. Before I start blogging about this let me reference our take on Valentine's Day. It's a sweet holiday, but nothing to go all crazy about. We simply celebrated it with spending time with each other over a great meal, good wine, and great conversation. We decided to celebrate Valentine's on Friday night as opposed to Sunday night, the actual day of Valentine's. We did this simply to avoid any crazy crowds and to taste a restaurant's typical menu and not some pre-fixed Valentine's menu where they have over-priced what they have decided you're going to eat. Sweet Jon was trying to surprise me on the place; however, I guessed where he was taking me a few nights earlier. I was thrilled whether it was a surprise or not because we have been talking about going to this place ever since they hired their new chef. Let's talk about the chef first - Master Chef Jose Gutierrez (pictured above). Most Memphians have heard of this chef. Many know that he is one of an elite few who have earned the title of Maître Cuisinier de France. (By the way there are only 52 Maître Cuisiniers in North America.) Likely most think of his 22-year reign as head chef over the dining institution, Chez Philippe. Neither Jon nor I experienced Chez Philippe while he was chef there. However, numerous times we enjoyed his food at Encore Restaurant & Bar downtown when it was open. José Gutierrez became the chef at Encore after he left Chez Philippe - whether it was right after or a while after, I am uncertain. Encore was one of our favorite Memphis restaurants and unfortunately it closed sometime in 2009. Of course, there was rumor Gutierrez was going to open up a new restaurant so we kept our ears open. Then, about a month or two ago I received an email from River Oaks Restaurant saying they have hired a new master chef - Jose Gutierrez! Don't ask how I got this email - especially since I have never been to this restaurant before. But, I have been on countless Memphis websites and have signed up for all kinds of restaurant newsletters so who knows. Great way to stay updated in the Memphis culinary arts :) So, yes, you guessed it. For Valentine's, Jon took me to River Oaks Restaurant .

River Oaks Restaurant is located right next to the Poplar Avenue and I-240 overpass. I have grown up around that area and I can remember when this restaurant was Cockeyed Camel with big screen TVs, the constant flow of cigarette smoke and whiskey, dart games, and all other sorts of bar games. So, it was kind of weird walking into it Friday night and being welcomed with fine art on the walls, Reidel water glasses, soothing light music, bread and butter plates, the sound of fine silver and crisp white china clinking, wine, men and women dressed in their business casual attire, etc. Definitely a change from Cockeyed Camel:) You get the idea. Ok, here we go with the review. To start with the positives.... All in all, Jon and I enjoyed our experience at River Oaks. The service was great - even though our waitress commented on how young we look and did not believe we were over 15 and politely carded us. We get that a lot. I guess we'll appreciate it when we're in our 80's and look like we're in our 60's. Right. The restaurant was pretty packed, but died out early and not too far after we sat down for our 7:30 reservation. So, it's a little bit of an older crowd. One thing I loved about it is that Jon and I did not have to scream at each other throughout the meal. The music nor the other customers were too loud. Where we sat was not secluded, but definitely intimate and private enough to where we didn't feel like the people next to us could here our conversation. Another perk....the best before-dinner bread I have ever put in my mouth! I have no idea what kind it was, but it was divine. And, I like how the waitress just served us one slice of bread each instead of giving us a whole basket. This way we did not fill up on bread and therefore not able to enjoy our main course ahead. The menu definitely looked familiar. Practically Encore's menu with a few additions. Jon and I got the warm goat cheese salad to start of with and then he ordered the duck and I chose the pan seared grouper. We both enjoyed our meals, but they were nothing to write home about. His duck was rich, but a little too fatty. My grouper was light, but could have used a little more flavor. Being such wine lovers, I think it's almost impossible for Jon and I to sit at a restaurant and not order a bottle of wine. Jon perused the wine list and unfortunately found that the cheapest bottle was $28! A little disappointing about the lack of selection - at least for inexpensive, good wines. With all of this said, we give River Oaks Restaurant 3 stars.

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