Tonight we continued Wes' birthday celebration with dinner at the award-winning Forest Grill in Birmingham. Owner/Chef Polcyn has long championed high quality local ingredients and traditional techniques and this American bistro follows suit.
We started our extraordinary meal with a glass of Prosecco paired with two perfect appetizers: summer crab and melon salad with a crenshaw melon consommé; and an English pea risotto, with arborio rice, mascarpone cheese, black truffles, truffle oil, Parmigianno-Reggiano, fresh herbs gremolata and pancetta.
The crab salad, seasoned with chives and lemon and topped with arugula, frisee, and avocado, was light, zesty and refreshing. The cool melon consommé mingled with the crab to balance and tame the peppery notes. In contrast, the creamy, intensely flavored risotto, speckled with crispy, salty housemade pancetta, offered substance and silky richness.
In short, this is how I want to remember summer during the bleak snowfalls of January.
We followed with veal cheeks, Parisian herb and ricotta gnocchi, wilted spinach, tomato and Parmigianno-Reggiano. The chef braises the meltingly tender veal cheeks in a demi-glace and port for eight hours, then surrounds them with the plump, pillowy dumplings. The dish is rich, hearty, slightly sweet, but never heavy. Heavenly.
We also savored the bouillabaisse with mussels, clams, lobster, scallops, shrimp and crab in a rich, flavorful tomato broth, with crunchy baguette topped with saffron rouille.
Our fine server Joseph presented proper wine pairings for both entrees: 2006 Morgan Winery Double L Vineyard Chardonnay from Santa Lucia Highlands and a 2006 Clos La Coutale Malbac.
The highly talented and credentialed Executive Chef David Gilbert has made the requisite rounds: Thomas Keller's French Laundry in the vaunted Yountville, Calif., as well as various three-star Michelin rated restaurants in Paris and Spain.
Nearly 10 years ago, author Michael Ruhlman featured Polcyn in his excellent book, The Soul of a Chef: The Journey Toward Perfection. The two also collaborated on the James Beard Award-nominated Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing.
While Forest Grill is an exceptional spot for a celebration meal, you can go casual here, too, with soups, clay-oven baked pizzas or the charcuterie de jour. Mindful of the economy, the restaurant now offers prix fixe three-course lunch ($15) and dinner ($30) menus. However you choose to do it, just get there and enjoy.