Monday, July 12, 2010

Food Field Trip Outer Banks: Hook, Line, & Supper

We were fortunate enough to escape the summer heat with an extended weekend at the Sanderling Inn, which is in the town of Duck on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. As I have mentioned ad nauseum here, my heart belongs to Cape Cod in the summer, but thanks both to our experience at this hotel (and friends who introduced us to the area beaches last year), as well as to the extensive local food scene, I am slowly adjusting to this closer-to-home coastal experience.

The Sanderling is an understated yet elegant gem of a resort on a sparsely populated stretch of beautiful beach. But as this is a food blog, this post is an homage to the Chef Joshua Holinger of the Lifesaving Station, the Sanderling's casual dining restaurant.

In celebration of the resort's 25th anniversary, the Lifesaving Station offered a "Hook, Line, & Supper" menu, in which each course was built around sustainable ingredients from local farmers and fishermen, coupled with wine pairings from Elizabeth Spencer. And the prices (compared to a similar experience in DC) were an exceptional value. The six course tasting meal paired with endless wine (the headache the next day was thrown in for free) was $75.

The pictures really do speak for themselves, and while this tasting night was a one-off event, I would not hesitate to recommend this restaurant if you find yourselves in the Outer Banks. We did not get to try out its more formal sibling, The Left Bank, though I don't know if we ever will when we return to the the Sanderling, given our experience at the Lifesaving Station--not to mention the fact that when we checked out the Left Bank around 7pm, we were the youngest guests by about 50 years or so!

The pictures below really tell a great story, but the chef also did a phenomenal job describing the sourcing and cooking techniques as each course was served.

This is actually the second course, the first, a heirloom tomato and basil caponata salad, I failed to photograph, as I was engrossed in conversation with our tablemates and too busy sipping my Chenin Blanc. But what is pictured here is the best crabcake I have tasted over charred green tomatoes, sweet corn, and pickled ramps. The crab was moist, sweet, and bountiful. The vegetables balanced the bite's texture and flavor.

Next came fresh-off-the-boat yellowfin tuna over a fennel and saffron potato salad. The fish was beautiful; while the potato salad had a nice tang, I decided to leave most of it on the plate so I could make it through the rest of the courses.

This is a blue soft shell crab--flash frozen earlier this spring--paired with chilled watermelon, arugula salad, and a 25 year old balsamic vinaigrette. The crab was succulent, and the sweetness of the watermelon and the balsamic really tasted like summer. The Chardonnay paired with this course was of the classic Napa Oak barrel style, which stood up to the intense flavors.

The last savory of the evening was a leek wrapped Mahi Mahi and house cured pork belly over a summer bean salad. The two stars of this plate were both cooked perfectly. The pork belly was meaty and so moist. And the firm, but equally as moist Mahi Mahi, a fish ubiquitous in the Outerbanks, was a cut above all the rest.

Dessert, while adorable, frankly, rather sucked. This chef is excellent at the savories, but needs some pastry help in the kitchen. I do give him credit for trying to save a key lime pie pop that failed to gel, but this just did not work.

So the Lifesaving Station, given its five hour driving distance from DC (without traffic!), is a field trip, but really worth both the stay and the dining experience as long as Holinger is still in the kitchen. Do note though, that the restaurant, a converted Coast Guard station from the 1890s, is rather rustic; the smell in the downstairs dining room one morning during breakfast was faintly reminiscent of Girl Scout Camp.

Oh, and for me, the night ended on a high-note when my name was drawn for a magnum of wine. Really, how much better can an evening be?

The Lifesaving Station on Urbanspoon

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