Unable to muster our usual roster of friends and family, we skipped Thanksgiving cooking this year and opted for the prix fixe Thanksgiving dinner at Ashley’s in the Capital Hotel. It was $85, including tax and tip, and for $25 more you could match a wine with each of six courses. The six courses didn’t count the pomegranate/champagne opening cocktail — a tart and bubbly take on the kir royale — or the buttery cocoons and coffee served after dessert or the sack of caramel popcorn handed to each guest on departure.
Chef Lee Richardson’s menu was a turkey day tour de force. Familiar stuff: Turkey, green beans, dressing, sweet potatoes, Waldorf salad, squash soup and pumpkin pie, if you only recite the core ingredients. But this flat retellling strips the meal of the careful sourcing of ingredients, the attention to minute detail, inventive twists (the grilled Waldorf salad, with its sauteed candy-like apple slices and carrot confit, was one of the surprise hits of the show) and presentation worthy of a coffee table book.
I was a little skeptical about TWO turkey courses. But they were entirely different dishes. First came delicately smoked slices of breast, so moist and fork tender that they resembled slices of a succulent pork loin more than the familiar crumbly turkey breast on so many Thanksgiving tables. The slices were bedded on what appeared to be creamy grits and sided by slender and near crunchy whole green beans. The “grits” actually were made with ground Arkansas brown rice, another mellow surprise. And don’t you always want a little more turkey after the first serving at Thanksgiving? The second turkey course came from the leg quarter, dark meat braised in stock until it had the rich, moist consistency of pulled pork. It was pressed in a pan, cut in squares and then griddled for a crunchy finish. The sausage/pecan dressing — approximately a gallon bucket of it — would have made a perfect one-course meal (and don’t hold the Beaujolais gravy). This course came, too, with sweet potatoes and, yes!, marshmallows after a fashion. The soufleed potatoes were topped by a cap of cream brulee. I couldn’t wait to spoon into it, so my iPhone photo doesn’t do justice to its original appearance.
We didn’t find a false note, including in the French, U.S. and Italian wines, the final swallow a sweet and smooth French muscat. The accompanying dessert platter included four distinct tastes, counting the smear of cranberry pate (more a thick syrup really), but was small enough not to overwhelm.
It was two hours of perfectly paced dining theater. I left more than full, but still not afflicted by the post-buffet staggers of some Thanksgiving food fests. The Capital was right to leave the holiday buffet behind for the set menu. Expensive, but, when you really get down to it, a great value for what was delivered.