On the heels of a rainout at FSU, I had dinner at the bar at Cypress, a fine-dining restaurant in downtown Tallahassee. I decided to go tapas-style and order three starters as my meal, two of which were excellent.
I began with the salad special, local organic baby spinach with red onion, goat cheese, and candied pecans, served with a poppyseed vinaigrette and topped with duck confit. I left a few poppyseeds. The duck confit was outstanding – not that I’ve ever had bad duck confit – while the spinach leaves were very fresh and unbelievably green. All the dish lacked was a little heat, because it hit so many other dimensions of flavor, from the sweetness of the pecans to the tang/acidity of the cheese and the vinaigrette to the slight bitterness in the spinach.
The second dish was a blue crab cake tower, with two crab cakes, each sitting on a tostone, then stacked on top of each other, with a jicama-melon salsa on top and a smoked onion-jalapeÃ±o tartar sauce on the bottom. The crab cakes weren’t made from lump meat, but that would be my only real complaint, as they still had great crab flavor and a red pepper kick, which was nicely complemented by the creaminess of the sauce and the faint sweetness of the melons in the salsa. The tostones were sort of irrelevant, since it required a lot of work to cut them into manageable pieces.
The last dish was a pecan-crusted quail which turned out to be a pecan-battered quail, and it was the one disappointment of the evening. The interior of the quail was undercooked, and while I know that game is typically served medium-rare, I find quail that’s cooked less than medium to be gamey in texture and flavor. The accompaniments lacked the balance of the earlier dishes, and the smoked tomato vinaigrette and sweet pickle relish created a rather low pH for the dish as a whole.
I loved the food but was most impressed by the little things at Cypress. They make their own breads in-house every morning; my bread basket had two miniature buttermilk biscuits as well as two pieces of a fantastic sponge bread, with a perfect crust and very soft interior. Because I said it was my first time at the restaurant, I received a “gift from the kitchen,” a watermelon shooter with diced heirloom strawberries and a hint of mint in the liquid. And most impressively, even though I didn’t complain at all about the quail, the bartender, Grant, took it off of my bill because he noticed how much food I left on the dish after practically licking the previous two plates clean. It was an unnecessary step but indicative of an awareness of the importance of customer service.
â€¢ I stayed in the Fort Walton Beach area Friday night after seeing a game in Niceville and got takeout from a little Thai place in Fort Walton called Thai House. The kitchen had just closed but they were willing to make me some pad thai to go, but I’m sorry to report that it had zero taste. I was a little put off when I discovered that it had no heat; I was asked how spicy I’d like it, and I said, “Just a little bit,” after which the woman who took my order said, “Mild.” That’s not the same thing to me, and what I got was mild, not a little bit spicy.
â€¢ On the drive from Niceville to Tallahassee, there ain’t much for lunch, so I stopped at a Sonny’s BBQ, which is a chain of Q joints I’ve seen all over Florida. Don’t waste your time. Their “signature” baby-back ribs had no flavor whatsoever, while the BBQ beans were almost as blah, and the corn bread was sickeningly sweet. The only acceptable item was the fried okra, straight out of the fryer with a crispy crust made with stone-ground cornmeal.
â€¢ I hit Paschal’s in the Atlanta airport for Sunday breakfast. I ordered their chicken hash, which is more of a stew with onions and chicken stock thickened with some form of starch, although it was pretty good even if it wasn’t really a hash. The main problem was the service, as the waitress screwed up two parts of my order, and the coffee, which was what my cousins in Italy call acqua sporca – dirty water, which I could see through when I held the glass mug up to the light.