Sunday, March 22, 2009

food fit for a king, or at least a prince

dragholm slot courtyard

 we went to dinner last evening at dragsholm slot, about an hour's drive from our house, to celebrate my birthday. i've been there 5-6 times for work-related workshops and have loved the place for a decade. the food was always great--the chef used to be french (i remember we once went for a tour de france themed dinner)--but i realized after last night's visit that now it's even better! they have definitely kicked things up a notch--embracing the nordic kitchen, using local ingredients and generally being inspired by the area.
we arrived just as it was getting dark, but i quickly snapped a picture of the courtyard area in the fading light. we went in and were welcomed and asked if we'd like to sit in the inviting leather chairs of the lobby and have a glass of champagne. we, of course, said yes. and they brought us not only champagne, but some fantastic little appetite wakers.

most interesting was the little baby carrot served in "dirt" which was made of finely chopped hazelnuts and almonds and really did look like rich potting soil. underneath was the most delectable veggie cream. the long stick is made of very danish rye bread (rugbrød) and was perfect for sweeping up all of the delicious vegetable cream, tho' i'll admit to a strong desire to actually lick the little flower pot clean. there were two other little bite-size yummies--a little round potato with more of the "dirt" on top and another which could make me revisit those ugly celery roots we get in our organic box from årstiderne--they brought out the best in the celery flavor and masked the most objectionable overpowering celeriness. most interesting of all was that the dish was inspired by the terarrium outside the main door (which i unfortunately failed to take a picture of). i love the notion of echoing one's surroundings in the kitchen.

then, we moved on to the restaurant, where we could settle in for our choice of 5 6 or 7 courses. we went for 5, since sabin had elected to hang out with our neighbors and we didn't want to have too late a night. before the first official course, they served a delicious foamed potato soup with a sprinkling of crispy chicken skin on top. there was also a basket of delicious muffin-sized breads--a dark one with malt and a light one. to go with those were a horseradish butter and a butter laced with more of the flavorful crispy chicken skin.
between the two of us, we tried all 7 of the available courses. we also ordered the suggested wine menu to go with. that consisted of wines carefully chosen to complement each course. since we were ordering different things, we decided that this was the best route to go. we were not disappointed. the courses were:
  • salted scallops with peach pureé (from the castle's own peach tree), bread crumbs and forest herbs from the castle grounds. with this there was a 2006 riesling auslese trocken fass 12-08 from hof bechtermünz, in the rhine. (i'm not that keen on reisling, but this was a good one.)
  • a summer salad (pearl-sized potatoes and radishes in a dressing) served with grilled mackerel. on the side were pickled pearl onions that complemented the fattiness of the mackerel perfectly. the wine with this course was a 2002 puligny-montrachet first cru la garenne from marques de mac mahon, burgundy. (a completely brilliant wine)
  • "seabed" which consisted of king crab, crayfish, two kinds of fresh spring caviar, squid and pickled seaweed. on top was a seafoam that really tasted of the sea. served with this was another glass of the champagne--s.a. claude gazal's carte or grand cru blanc de blancs. this was beautifully served in a glass bowl with a glass bell over it, which was dramatically removed by the waiter.
  • veal and sweetbreads with a "grandma dressing" consisting of creme fraiche, a bit of sugar, dill and horseradish and a few leaves of romaine. the veal had been slow-cooked at low temperature for 48 hours. the wine was a 2004 chateauneuf-du-pape la crau from domaine du vieux telegraphe in the rhone region. 
  • local leeks with goat cheese, croutons and ramsløg, a wonderful wild mild garlic found this time of year. sprinkled over the top was a fanastic ash made of hay. the wine was a red from the rhine, a 2005 spätburgunder rubeus from j. koegler.

 there were two dessert choices:
  • "moss"--a chocolate dessert with hawthorne, yogurt, lemon mint and another herb we weren't familiar with (havesyre). served with it was a  2007 neuburger/goldburger auslese from m. altenburger in burgenland.
  • an apple dessert consisting of apple sorbet, some super light apple cake that was baked for "around" 45 seconds in the microwave and had a lovely sponge-like quality on a bed of honey and surrounded by various seeds. there was a  1999 pinot gris eiswein from andret josef to accompany this.
it was the kind of dinner that as a home cook who is interested in food and trying new things, you simply should have on a regular basis (i'm thinking quarterly). it was challenging to the palate, it was thought-provoking. there was an admirable focus on produce from the local area and with emphasis on the castle's own forests and fields where possible.  my favorites were the scallops (i adore raw scallops--they are my favorite sushi and these were raw) and the vegetarian main dish--the leeks. the ashes weren't overpowering while i ate the dish, but i could taste that smokiness in my mouth the whole way home.

husband liked the mackerel dish and the leeks best. i wasn't so fond of the mackerel, mostly because the summer salad that accompanied it was warm and that tasted wrong to me. mackerel is a strong fish and needs a very strong complement to go with it. i didn't really think the summer salad cut through the oiliness and smokiness of the fish enough. however, the puligny-montrachet that went with it was the most brilliant wine of the evening.

the "seabed" was an inspired dish and although it had foam on top and it's my opinion that foam was over already 2005 when we first began to see it, it was a very interesting dish. the entire area where the castle is located was once under the sea, so it was a homage to that geographical fact. that was challenging and interesting in a culinary sense.

i had the apple dish for dessert and wished a bit that the intense appley-ness had been tempered with another flavor--it was apple, apple, apple, calvados (which is really just more apple). and although the individual ingredients were interesting in and of themselves, they would have been served well with another flavor--perhaps mint or cinnamon.

in all, tho', it was a brilliant meal. interesting, challenging, intellectual even. it aspired to greatness and in many ways it achieved it. i feel like the experience reawakened my own cooking inspiration, which had gone a bit dormant in the face of too many root vegetables over the winter. i'm looking forward to the greens that spring has to offer and i feel inspired to take a walk in the forest to find some of the first leaves and bring them to the table. i also feel inspired by the notion of looking to my own surroundings for presentation...the carrot in a pot was both whimsical and delicious.

the only complaint i have about the evening is that it wasn't possible to have a little stroll around castle, so i had no chance to feel the deliciousness of a hint of a ghost in the air. that's apparently only reserved for guests who are staying at the castle, which seems more than a bit unfair when you've just paid a small fortune for dinner. finding that out after the meal very nearly soured the experience for me, but i managed to talk myself out of it (mostly by remembering how brilliant that puligny-montrachet was). despite that disappointment, it was a lovely, romantic evening with husband and a great way to spend my birthday. dragsholm slot may be a bit off the beaten path, but it's definitely worth the journey.


Just Jules said...

lovely lovely

Brenda Pruitt said...

Happy Birthday! Sounds divine.

Char said...

love the specialness of the birthday glad you had a good time.

Amanda said...

Happy, hapy birthday, dear friend. See, we aren't that many year sapart, what with my 38th looming near on the horizon! Wish I was there to celebrate with you!

Mary-Laure said...

I would have gone for the chocolate dessert! Happy birthday!

Barb said...

Wow, my mom took me out for dinner on Saturday for my birthday too, but I have to say my dinner pales in comparison to this description. It's only 8:00am here ~ but I am salivating over your description of the foods served. Sounds delicious! Happy Birthday again. Barb xo

Relyn Lawson said...

OH!!! Happy, happy birthday! What a way to celebrate.

Pia K said...

I found my way here from heidikins meme-post, thought I'd leave a comment since I've spotted some really nice colourful stuff here:) We were at Dragsholm last summer, no food but a lovely photowalk in wonderful weather. I'm a castle buff so I take every opportunity to do some castle/garden spotting. The meal, at least the vegetarian parts, sounds lovely - a belated happy birthday coming from Sweden!