Restaurant Eugene has been at the top of my (exponentially growing) bucket list for quite some time now. Chad’s birthday was the perfect excuse to finally try it out this past Friday evening. Four hours, seven courses, and seven bottles of wine later, Restaurant Eugene officially became my new favorite restaurant.
The restaurant has an understated ambiance – upscale without any unnecessary pretentiousness. We enjoyed a cocktail at the bar while waiting for the rest of our party to arrive. Upon inquiring whether they had blue cheese olives for a martini, the bartender replied that although they didn’t have any on hand, he could certainly conjure some up. At that point, he actually went into the kitchen, returned with a plate of blue cheese, and proceeded to stuff the olives in front of us. Freshness at its finest.
After several minutes, we were escorted to our table, located in a semi-private room in the back of the restaurant. The square table created a cozy and intimate space, perfect for our party of nine. We were presented with two menu options: the regular dinner menu (an assortment of a la carte dishes) and the tasting menu. The tasting menu entailed another set of options: the vegetable tasting and the chef’s tasting, both seven courses and updated on a daily basis.
Per restaurant policy, the entire party has to order from the tasting menu if you choose to enjoy that option. After giving the tasting menus a 30 second once-over, we collectively decided that was the way to go (and we didn’t exactly have to twist anyone’s arm to get them on board). In order to ensure that we covered all our bases, I went with the vegetable tasting and Chad, with the chef’s tasting.
The meal began with a trio of amuse-bouches. I love little unexpected surprises during a meal, and these were only the first three of many.
- First up, a shooter of apple-ginger soda and Prosecco, topped with an apple-butter foam. The shooter sufficiently wiped away any remaining saltiness from the martini.
- Next came a delicate spoonful of radish that sat atop a cabbage puree. The radish was crisp and clean, with just a hint of creamy puree.
- The third bite really set the bar high for the remainder of the meal. We were presented with a beautifully sous-vided egg with a citric marmalade, baked chives, garlic chips, and a sprinkle of roe – all encased inside a perfectly sliced egg shell. The texture and saltiness of the garlic chips and roe prevented the bite from being overly rich. I’m pretty sure the server cleared away nine empty (more like scraped clean) egg shells from our table.
About an hour in, the first bread course arrived. There were actually three bread courses served throughout the meal, presumably baked fresh from H&F Bread Co. next door. Each round was accompanied by the most exquisite whipped butter you have ever tasted, coarse sea salt, and pepper imported from India. I think I actually woke up dreaming about the whipped butter the next morning, it was that memorable.
Finally, it was time for the first course – beet tartare. The beets were finely chopped and served over a satsuma (orange) gelee, with a crispy raisin tuile, and fresh ricotta. The beet-ricotta-tuile combination was fantastic. I wasn’t extremely fond of the gelatin texture of the satsuma, but the orange flavor paired nicely with the beets.
The second course was a medley of winter squash and fennel, roasted in a bay leaf ghee (clarified butter). For an added touch of sweetness and pop of color, the vegetables sat atop a schmear of pumpkin puree. To finish things off, they were dusted with chopped pecans and pumpkin bread “soil,” which added a nice crunch at the end.
On the chef’s tasting side, the second course was a torchon au foie gras, which I was hesitant to try. Foie gras used to be one of my favorite indulgences, until a less-than-appetizing experience at Bacchanalia several months ago. Since then, I have steered clear of the dish. After hearing rave reviews around the table, I decided give it a try, and have since become a foie gras believer again. The foie sat atop a pecan puree, and was accompanied by an apple sorbet, a slice of pumpkin bread, and foie gras powder. On paper, the combination sounds strange, but it worked in the most delicious of ways. The textural combination of all the elements came together into one unforgettable bite.
My third and favorite course of the evening was the sunchoke risotto. I happen to love sunchokes and find them to be both highly underrated and underused. The sunchokes and roasted chestnuts added an element of nuttiness to the velvety risotto. The risotto was topped with a sliver of Ossau-Iraty, a French cheese made from sheep’s milk. This creamy sliver took the richness of the dish to another level, providing a smooth and gentle finish.
After course three, we were presented with an “intermezzo” to cleanse our pallets. This consisted of a spoonful of buttermilk sorbet, caramelized apple, and a sprinkle of crushed cocoa.
Course four was a bowl of mushroom & benne (sesame) dumplings. A light and salty dashi broth was poured over the dish tableside, really boosting the flavor of the accompanying kale, celery root, and scallions. Had I been at home, I probably would have picked the bowl up to ensure that I didn’t leave a drop of dashi behind.
The fifth course was a plateful of “roots & greens” – sweet potatoes, celery root, pickled beets, kale, and roasted carrots. A smidge of apple butter and a dollop of buttermilk completed the dish. The vegetables were vibrant, earthy, and roasted to perfection. The kale was cooked into crunchy chips and I was pleasantly surprised by the slightly bitter flavor of the celery root, balanced by the sweet apple butter. The pickled beets actually took away from the dish in my opinion, and they remained on the plate for the most part.
The cheese course (number six, in case you lost count), was a close second to the risotto. A healthy sized chunk of Green Hill cheese (from Sweet Grass Dairy in Thomasville, GA) was the star of the dish. Similar to brie, this Camembert-style cheese had a soft and silky texture. The sweet, buttery flavor was enhanced by the pile of white chocolate dusted around it. Hints of the boldly spiced oil and date chutney were the perfect counterpoints to the cheese.
Before we made it to the seventh and final course, it was time for another intermezzo. This time around, we cleansed our pallets with a bay leaf ganache and toasted marshmallow, over a bed of red velvet crumbles.
The dessert course should have been an apple pâté, but I strategically up-traded Chad for his sweet potato éclair from the chef’s tasting menu. The mini éclair sat atop a bed of spiced pecans and was paired with a chocolate eggnog sorbet. The éclair was freshly baked with a sugary glaze on top and decadent creaminess in the middle. I loved the éclair-pecan combination, but was not quite as fond of the chocolate eggnog, which was a bit too strong for my liking.
To end the evening, our server brought out a birthday crème-brule and a plate of mini macaroons from the chef. This extra touch was the perfect ending to a perfect meal.
Not only were each of the seven courses delicious on their own, they flowed together seamlessly. In addition to the food (which by now I hope I’ve sufficiently given credit where credit is due), the service was absolutely flawless, from the moment we walked in the door. Our server didn’t miss a beat throughout the entire evening. He was attentive, knowledgeable about the menu, and even witty at times. The sommelier provided excellent wine service and arranged a nice progression of pairings throughout the meal. I left the meal with only one question remaining: how soon can I return?