Dining at the Belvedere Inn is a truly multi-sensorial experience. The attention to detail is unparalleled. Everything from the decor to even the light sweetness in the butter is evaluated and finely tailored to match the Belvedere Experience. It's casual upscale meets sheer imagination--you'll dream about every bite you eat because the creativity will force you to do so.
First, though, I need to give a shout out to the service. While I am focused on the food first and foremost, service is very important to me. But it's all relative. A hole-in-the-wall dive with food to die for probably has a scary-looking facade in a scary-looking neighborhood with scary-looking utensils--you know what I mean. It's also probably very inexpensive, so when they make me bus my own table and yell at me to "come get your grub before it gets cold," I relish it as part of the overall rustic experience. If I am going to shell out a hefty piece of change, oh say, even the starter salad is more than $10 kind of place, I expect that my water glass will be filled at all times, the wait staff knows what they're doing (see blog entry "Mario Batali for shame"), and that the restaurant is doing all it can to ensure I have a wonderful time while in their hands. At the Belvedere Inn, the service is seamless, so you can focus on what you're there to do--enjoying the company and the very good food that goes with it.
Now, the food. The moment I opened the menu, I was overwhelmed with the choices. It's not that there are so many menu items to choose from, it's that every single ingredient has flair to it. It's not just cherry tomato, it's cherry tomato confit. It's not just polenta, it's pumpkin polenta. The side dishes that go along with the entree often sounded so good that they almost take center stage. I was tempted to take the menu to another level and start mixing and matching everything. Maybe a tapas-style sampler could be in the Belvedere Inn's future???
When I learned that Executive Chef Steve Drake spent some time at the legendary Le Bec Fin, it all made sense. Le Bec Fin is a French restaurant on Walnut Street in Philadelphia, and is one of the finest dining institutions in America. If you want to impress, that's the place to go. Great food, celebrity sightings, it's power-dining at its best. It's also the perfect place to dine when you're on an expense account. The creativity and innovation that Le Bec Fin is known for is represented in Chef Drake's dishes.
We started with their specialty, Grilled Caesar salad. I was surprised that such a simple act of grilling the Romaine lettuce gave it such a deep and distinct flavor. The caesar dressing is wonderful. The only thing that would have put it over the top would have been a few fillets of anchovies sitting on the top. By the time I thought of that, I was staring at an empty plate.
On to the Scallops and Pappardelle Pasta--a Thai fusion dish with all the comforts of a Thai noodle dish, but with all the sophistication of a top restaurant. The spiciness of the red curry was well balanced with the sweetness of the pineapples, and the macadamia nuts gave it a crunchy texture. The scallops were perfectly seared and prepared, and boy was it delicious. Nice rich sauce that combines all the complexity of the flavors coated the thick-cut pasta, and I was in heaven. I chose a German Riesling with the meal, thinking the sweetness of the wine would pair well with the spiciness of the dish, and it did.
The Roasted Baby Chicken with its citrus sauce came on a long plate to give each of the side dishes its own props. I was vaguely disappointed to find the chicken a bit dry, but the flavor was good, and as you made your way across the plate, it just kept getting better and better. Oyster mushrooms were flavorful, the miso-ginger braised cabbage delicious, and the crispy polenta wedges with the black olive paste were incredible!
The beauty about a place like this is that while everything is so creative, it's really a twist on the familiar, so that you can safely experiment. The quality and experience I had with just the few dishes I had gives me the confidence that almost everything on the menu will surely delight. The next time I go, I have my eye on the Spice Crusted Filet or the Braised Bison Short Ribs. I just hope they don't change the menu over before I can get to it all...