Sunday, October 7, 2012

A Moveable Feast [Four all Seasons]

While Hemingway coined the term "moveable feast" to describe Paris, I discovered a moveable feast here in DC this weekend. With my uncle visiting, we decided to go for a big brunch and try out the Four Seasons' all-you-can-eat gastronomical celebration. When I first think of buffet, the image that comes to mind isn't necessarily the classiest, so before I begin the explanation of my experience at Seasons, throw out every image in your head of some greasy food sitting under heat lamps for hours with  flies buzzing around and other customers looking like they eat exclusively at buffets. The restaurant is located through the elegant Four Seasons Georgetown lobby, down a set of plush stairs and into a warm, open seating area. The restaurant itself is essentially a large banquet room full of spread out tables with simple white tableclothes. The room is big and has different stations spaced throughout the room, which keeps a crowd from gathering at any one area and giving the whole room a calm and elegant feel. I was lucky enough to visit the Seasons on a gorgeous fall day and sit outside on the intimate and sunny patio, which holds only about 5 tables. After entering the restaurant, we were greeted and taken to our table,  where out waiter came over, explained how the restaurant worked, and began to fill our champagne flutes with the bottomless mimosas. He explained we were free to visit the tables or order belgian waffles or eggs benedict from him at any time. The atmosphere truly added to the leisurely nature of the meal and the attentive service just furthered me feeling like a VIP.

A Seafood Feast
To start, we began at the seafood table where we had so many delicious choices to make. At the beginning of the table, I grabbed a smoked fish dish, crab cocktail, three different kinds of smoked salmon and some items from the fresh seafood bar. I took several raw oysters on the half shell and jumbo shrimp, which really were huge! I skipped over an olive oil poached tuna served on a bean salad, a curried scallop with coconut chutney, bagels, and huge King Crab legs. The smoked fish salad was deliciously salty, full of smokey flavor and served atop horseradish and beet bavarois. The beet mixture was airy and light, almost like a cross between a spread and a mousse. It was also sweet from the beets, which paired perfectly with the fish's smoky notes. This was probably my favorite dish from the seafood section. I also enjoyed a crab cocktail with pickled ginger and grapefruit. The fresh, lump crabmeat was tossed in a classic, creamy seafood salad sauce, that the ginger and grapefruit cut with their acidity. However, the ginger added a tart bite to the mayonnaise while the grapefruit added a subtle sweetness. Both added texture to the dish but somehow instead of overpowering the crab, just gave more flavor to it. I tried a piece of pastrami smoked salmon: a little too salty for me. The dill marinated salmon which was great, the plain smoked salmon was fresh and flavorful, and the jumbo shrimp were huge and fresh. The raw oysters were fresh, not too briny or salty, and subtly sweet in the way only oysters can be. To go with the seafood, there were about 8 sauces and condiments displayed including a wasabi sauce, horseradish sauce and plain cocktail sauce.

Quinoa, Cauliflower Romesco and Foraged Mushroom Salad
After finishing off my seafood plate, I visited the cheese and salad stations. At the cheese station, each cheese was displayed with a Stonewall Kitchen spread as suggested accompaniment. To try each cheese as objectively as I could, I took two pieces of each cheese: one plain and one with the suggested sauce. The first cheese I tried was not my favorite. It was a dark yellow/orange colored Porter cheese with dark marbelization because of the porter beer in it. It was a very strong cheese with malty, chocolate flavors and was a little too weird for my taste, even with the simple mustard it was served with. Next, I tried the Humboldt Fog. To be fair, this is my favorite kind of cheese but this was probably the best Humboldt Fog I've ever tried! For those that don't know, Humboldt Fog is a goat cheese with essentially three different types in one. The outside is spreadable and runny with a texture more like brie, the inside is a traditionally crumbly, smooth and delicious goat cheese and the middle is a strong ash which tastes almost like a blue cheese. The Humboldt Fog was served with a really light and scrumptious honey which countered some of the cheese's tartness and highlighted its sweet notes. I also tried a cheese that tasted like a milder Brie. If Brie cheese had a slightly milder and harder cousin that would be even better than Brie on sandwiches - that was this cheese. Think Muenster consistency meets Brie flavor. Delic. I also had an orange cheese which had a nutty flavor like white cheese but the color of cheddar and was softer than most cheddars, I'm not sure what kind of cheese it was. Lastly, I tried a piece of manchego that was being served with fig and ginger jam. I always like nutty-flavored, hard manchego cheese but the fig and ginger jam was a great accompaniment. I also enjoyed a few pieces of prosciutto, salami and coppa with the cheeses. The salad table featured eight visually-appealing salads and vegetables including an Asian slaw with sesame-ginger dressing, a celery root slaw, roasted acorn squash with pumpkin, and a pear salad. I chose to try the cauliflower romesco which was nutty and warm and a sweet and savory quinoa with butternut squash, toasted hazelnuts. The two perfectly embodied this first fall weekend as I sat outside watching some leaves that had already begun to change in Rock Creek Park. My favorite salad was a foraged mushroom, artichoke, preserved tomatoes, and ricotta salad. The mushrooms were earthy and delicious and the other ingredients freshness was not overpowered by the light and simple oil and vinegar dressing. Also, the mix of mushrooms with the summery tomatoes was an ideal fall salad!

Next, it was time for the main course. For my veggies, I had brussels sprouts (my favorite veggie) with hazelnuts, brown sugar and sage carrots, and sweet potato puree with a pecan crust. I always love sprouts, the carrots were perfectly soft on the outside but still crunchy and the sweet potatoes were creamy, sweet and more like dessert. I also had cheesey grits that were literally 75% melty, oozy cheese and very few grits - in a good way. For protein, I had a buffalo-style quail with homemade blue cheese dressing. It was my first time having quail but I found the dark, rich meat delicious and the buffalo sauce surprisingly good, and it packed a kick! I also had a charcoal-grilled lamb chop with a tiny bit of mint tomato sauce. The meat was so tender and instead of needing a heavy sauce, the tomato mint had flavored the lamb while it cooked, giving it a deeper flavor.

Each season, the buffet offers a specialty themed food table and this fall it was "Mexico City" theme. There were several options there but I chose to try a beef enchilada. This was no usual beef enchilada though! The beef was a texture almost like pulled pork, wrapped in a corn tortilla that was being warmed while I waited. Just the beef was delicately wrapped in the tortilla, then smothered in a red enchilada sauce and queso fresco. The red sauce was authentic, I presume, spicy and rich without being gloppy or heavy. The corn tortilla had an authentic crunch, the smoked beef was delic and the cheese, well, I love cheese.

Then I entered the room of heaven: dessert. Dessert occupies its own whole room full of boundless possibilities  temptations, and pleasures both optical and edible. There were nearly 20 cakes, pastries and sweets to choose from and everything I tried was delicious. I started with the pecan pie in a jar. It was basically caramelized pecans mixed with brown sugar and melted butter that was still runny, followed by a layer of chocolate chips, homemade whipped cream, a thick chocolate mousse that had a consistency almost of ganache, and a crunchy cookie stuck in the top. Not only was it absolutely adorable, it was the best "pecan pie" I've ever had! Next, I tried the super moist chocolate cake. It was beautifully garnished with a piece of milk chocolate with white chocolate details and a white chocolate decoration on top of a chocolate cream icing, on top of three layers of moist chocolate cake. As the name suggests the cake was beyond moist and each layer was separated by layers of light chocolate icing almost like mouse. If you're going to name a cake so ambitiously, it better live up to it, and this cake definitely did! Next, I tried the deconstructed pumpkin pie. This consisted of homemade pumpkin filling with nutmeg and cinnamon, homemade whip cream, pumpkin seeds, flaky, cinnamon-sugary crust pieces, and topped with a mini pumpkin meringue. It was amazing! Finally, I tried a carrot cake made of layers of carrot cake, separated by thick cream cheese icing, and topped with  candied fruit.

Super Moist Chocolate Cake
Carrot Cake
Pecan Pie in a Jar
Although the buffet was way out of my budget so I'm not sure I'll make it there again, it was a culinary and visual journey not soon to be forgotten. If you're looking for a treat, I would highly, highly, highly recommend Seasons' brunch at the Four Seasons!
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