Colette Farris has found a winning blueprint: an upscale American, seasonally changing menu with dishes for both the conservative and the brancher-outer; the friendly feel of a neighborhood place that many regulars call home; but a level of service, décor and taste that also makes Fiddleheads a fine destination for a special occasion.
Farris and I part company on the question of comfortable prices, though. She says Fiddleheads is "not so expensive that people who eat out a lot can't come a couple of times a week." My partner and I paid $95 for dinner, and that included just one glass of wine. Vegetarian entrées and chicken are in the teens, but meat, duck and fish are $20-$26.
If we were coming twice a week, maybe we'd skip dessert.
But, as I said, Fiddleheads is lovely for those with some money to spend, whether twice a week or once a year. Since December 2006, the chef has been Tim Voss, formerly of Forté in Birmingham, where he served fantastic food in a less relaxed atmosphere. Fiddleheads gives Voss the chance to play with standards like Caesar salad, fried calamari, roast chicken and pork chops — even spaghetti and meatballs — and the opportunity to dress the Caesar with an anchovy-caper tapenade, marinate tofu in maple syrup, and make his own Jägerwurst sausage.
Dinner begins with marvelous bread from Eccepanis, a New Jersey company. A square of butter is decorated with a charming sprig of rosemary. The meal can continue with a Bibb lettuce salad dressed with lots of bacon, crunchy green beans, red onion, blue cheese and a perfect little trimmed poached egg, still whole and trembling. If you order the Caesar, you'll find the tapenade very redolent of anchovy, but it's off to the side so that you can use as little or as much as you like.
Although the portions were small, I liked my appetizer of smoked salmon, prosciutto-wrapped asparagus and Jägerwurst. What makes these quotidian starters special are the accompaniments: a fantastic, fruity, grainy mustard that includes pumpkin seeds; a tiny salad with pickled red onion and a great pungent dressing.
Soups are smooth as silk. Black bean, for example, seems at first to be just rarefied essence of pure black bean, until you notice the cumin finish. It was served alongside split pea, in the same bowl — a dish bifurcated only by the pourer's skill and the server's dexterity in carrying it to the table undisturbed.
A braised lamb shank is super-tender, caramelized and served with artichokes, sweet whole onions and white flageolets in a heart-stopping sauce. This is certainly a dish I could eat once a week, if not twice. Salmon is cooked crusty on the outside and served with a corn fritter and a roasted portobello; say no more.
Marinating tofu in maple syrup, it turns out, helps to produce a nice crust. Beef tenderloin is dressed with a black currant sauce that has a pleasant burnt-sweet taste. The natural slight sweetness of scallops is offset by some pungent kalamata olives in a tomato-fennel purée. Clearly, Voss loves his sauces, and as a result, so do the patrons.
He makes a mean blackberry Cabernet sorbet for dessert — so refreshing — or if you prefer feeling stuffed at the end of the meal, try the pine nut tart with a strong caramel sauce and delectable cinnamon-pear sorbet. (Time out for a Jack Handey "Deep Thought": "When you die, if you get a choice between going to regular heaven or pie heaven, choose pie heaven. It might be a trick, but if not ... mmmmm, boy!")
The signature dessert is "Moon Pie" — two chocolate tortes with butterscotch mousse as a filling and a chocolate ganache on top.
At lunchtime, I take back what I said about frequenting Fiddleheads frequently. You can get a Reuben made of house-cured corned beef, with sauerkraut, jack cheese, Russian dressing and shoestring potatoes, for just $8, or, even better, a roasted lamb sandwich with garlic aioli and sweet potato bacon hash for $9. The lamb sandwich is also available for Sunday brunch, as are the usual egg dishes and two different curried cauliflower samosas.
Fiddleheads' menu changes every three or four months, with tweaks in between. Keep up with changes at fiddleheadsroyaloak.com. Dinner is served Tuesday-Saturday; closed on Monday and open for Sunday brunch and lunch on weekdays.
Jane Slaughter dines for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].