Earlier this month, I was invited along with other local food bloggers and writers to AGAINN–pronounced ‘aguinn’ [a-g-uin]–to sample their Spring Menu. As I am a blogger and this is more or less going to be a review, let me make some things clear up front:
- I have been to AGAINN before, for happy hour with friends and a food blogger happy hour, so I am familiar with their food and drink. The promise of new menu items was the main draw.
- So that there are no misunderstandings, this lunch was free. There has been a lot of buzz about full disclosure on the part of bloggers to allay any suspicions of bias. As I said, I have been to AGAINN before and paid for food and drink, just not this time.
That said, it was a wonderful time. They took us on a menu tour, for lack of a better term. Beverage Director Caterina Abbruzzetti allowed us to sample amazing cocktails and some unique and hard-to-find libations–wine, beer and scotch–unless you visit AGAINN, of course.
Head Bartender Rachel Sergi served up one of my favorite cocktails from their bar, the Lady MacBeth. Made with vodka or gin, it has lemon, elderflower liqueur, rosewater and egg white. The latter ingredient giving it an amazing cloud-like quality on the tongue while the former conspire to give it an intense floral bouquet, pun intended. It’s a foamy, flowery delight that is as much a joy to watch being made as it is to drink. If you’re a one-drink limit sort of person, consider this one for happy hour or as an apéritif.
My only amendment to that recommendation is if it’s near a holiday or other special event as their bartenders love to experiment. We also got a taste of a cocktail called The Saint created after the Superbowl in honor of the New Orleans Saints. Containing dark lager, gin and sweet vermouth, it was layered perfectly to appear black and gold, naturally. During my previous visits, I’ve been offered a taste of something that the bartenders were working on. Not everything was to my liking, but that’s the fun of playing around with cocktails and they’re willing to work at it to zero in on worthy drink menu additions.
Following the warm-up cocktail, our lunch started with a chilled Vichyssoise accompanied by goat cheese on toast. Aside from the occasional Gazpacho, I don’t normally enjoy cold soups, but this one was very yummy. It had a drizzle of just barely fragrant olive oil on top and with the toast made for a great starter. Though I’ll say that they could just offer the goat cheese on toast as an option on its own and I’d love it.
Next up was Pan-Seared Scottish Salmon atop a mix of peas, bacon and lemon. Executive Chef Wes Morton was on-hand to walk us through the dishes and answer our questions including being able to tell us about the salmon farm where AGAINN buys their fish.
The salmon entrée was delicious, but there isn’t anything mysterious about the method of preparation. Simple is always good, but as someone that cooks, you don’t always want to go out to eat for something you could easily prepare at home. The peas tasted very fresh, like shelling them yourself after harvest fresh and mixed well with the house made bacon but they were firm. Some of my dining companions thought they could have used a little more cooking to achieve a more tender texture.
After the salmon, they brought out trays with radishes and what looked like cheese sprinkled with chives. This was a palette cleanser and the “cheese” was actually butter, unsalted and very thick. I was dubious, but not only did the two go very well together, it really did completely wipe out the taste of the salmon and we were quite ready to enjoy dessert.
Pastry Chef Genevieve So walked us through the dessert, a Rhubarb Syllabub specifically designed to counteract the usual concept of overly-sweet British desserts. The bitterness of the rhubarb seemed enhanced by Campari and made an interesting contrast to the creamy-pillowy base.
Did I mention the Black Pepper Shortbread Cookies? Amazing, and while the Syllabub wasn’t really to my taste, I would swiped the cookies from the plates of those seated next to me had they not already vanished. If you’re a rhubarb purist, however, you’ll love this dessert as it doesn’t try to overpower the plant’s less-sweet taste as most recipes do.
It was a great lunch and their other lunch and dinner offerings should not disappoint. I enjoyed how knowledgeable the chefs and bartenders were about their wares and if you’re a diner that needs to know exactly where your food came from, this is the place to go. Based on their menu, our 3-course lunch would have cost around $30 or so not including drinks. Depending on your job, a leisurely lunch isn’t always an option, so most are more likely to spend less for lunch on food, at least.
Strawberry Rhubarb Preserve
- 2 lbs. (fresh local) strawberries, quartered
- 2 lbs. rhubarb
- 6 cups sugar
- 1 vanilla bean
- 1 packet natural pectin
- Cut rhubarb into half-inch pieces and combine with 3 cups sugar. Let marinate for 1-2 hours.
- Mix remaining sugar with pectin and vanilla bean, and reserve.
- Cook marinated rhubarb over stove until pieces are soft and broken, about 15 minutes.
- Add strawberries and sugar/pectin/vanilla mix into pot and continue to cook down and reduce, constantly stirring for about 15 minutes.
- Deposit hot jam into sterilized hot jars, seal and turn upside down to cool.
I’m not much of a jam maker, but even I could be convinced with a tasty result like this one! AGAINN does right by the term Gastropub with a warm atmosphere, accessible menu and great food!