Don’t you love it when something is so marvelous that you can’t wait to go back? Don’t you love it when it’s food? Of course, you do. You wouldn’t be here if you didn’t. That’s what’s great about the foodie section of our paper, the genuine love of food.
Such is triadfoodies Chef’s Table where, for the first time, we went back to one of our favorites due to popular demand. Meridian Restaurant dazzled 15 months ago with a sold-out group of 30 seats. And Chef Mark Grohman stacked the house again with another sold-out night with five courses of surprises.
Meridian Restaurant has been a gleaming light in downtown Winston-Salem for 11 years. Grohman worked with several successful chefs and popular restaurants in what he calls “the school of hard knocks” before opening Meridian, which serves Northern Mediterranean-inspired cuisine using local ingredients. Grohman is one of the local area farmers’ staunchest supporters. And at the same time, this creative chef does almost everything from scratch. As he tells his guests, “If I can make it myself, I will. Every time.”
Of course, the touch of Grohman’s hand was so evident with each course we enjoyed. Some courses were completely for the evening, but some you’ll find on his summer menu and recurring menus, which we definitely recommend you try very soon.
This was a caramelized onion tart with olives de province, chèvre and white marinated anchovies. The first course reminded us of a fresh pizza, but more refined and definitely lighter.
Risotto with Local Shiitakes and Shrimp with a Shrimp Reduction
If you’ve ever wondered what it takes to achieve some of the flavor hands-on chefs get out of their dishes, get this. Grohman poached those Gulf shrimp and then made a shrimp stock that started out as five gallons and was reduced to a mere quart. “The result is super intense, super sweet and all natural flavors.” The risotto was some of the creamiest we’d ever had, but there was not a drop of cream in it. “With the shorter grain, it’s much starchier. The process is standing over a hot stove for 20 to 25 minutes stirring constantly and that’s what gives you the creamiest texture,” Grohman told the group. “At the very end, we add a little butter to bring it all together.”
Bourbon Brown Sugar Pecan Wood Smoked Pork Loin with Sweet Potato Puree and Grilled Oyster Mushroom Relish
There were some delicious courses throughout the evening, but this pork dish was my favorite. The pork was wonderfully smoky, and the grilled oyster mushroom relish really set it all off. Grohman said there’s a version of this dish on the menu, but it has a cannellini bean-heirloom tomato ragout and braised escarole. The amazing mushroom relish is on it too.
New York Strip Steak Au Poivre with Wild Mushroom Cognac Demi
Again, mushrooms are coming in hot. Local farms have them and so does Meridian. This more French-inspired dish is also on the menu, as Grohman tries to incorporate some version of this dish on every new menu. The steak was perfectly prepared. Side note, one of my favorite entrees to order at Meridian is something steak. But if you want a new experience, try his dry- rubbed grilled Antelope. It is not a very common protein in the kitchens of the Triad but it’s well worth the splurge and still less expensive than a ribeye.
Brandied Apple Crêpe with Caramel and Creme Chantilly
Going a little French again, this delicate crêpe was a light end to a colorful but hearty meal.
Grohman said he wanted the guests of the evening to get a good feel of what they might find on the menu on any given night, such as the Steak Au Poivre and the pork loin being staples.
“But you never know, the menu really changes daily,” he said. “Whatever the farmers are pulling out of the field, whatever proteins I can get from around here, that’s what you’ll see on the menu. We try to stay as close to home as possible.”
Thirty-three people attended the evening, many returning to another Chef Table experience and some had never eaten at Meridian. Chris Roth, who lives in Winston-Salem, loves to attend these monthly tastings and especially requested another night at Meridian.
“Chef Mark is such a talented man. The first dinner there was so all over the place, I loved it. However this time he kept it simple and used dishes that are on the regular menu. All the flavors matched perfectly with each other. I brought my family along for this one and they were so happy with every dish. They said they were so amazed that they had not been there to dine until then. We definitely look forward to the next one there.”
On the other hand, Mary Haglund, who owns Mary’s Gourmet Diner, had her first Chef’s Table experience though she’s a huge fan of Grohman’s and Meridian. “It was an amazing night. Mark is so laid back, never pretentious and he tells great stories. I love eating small bites and everything was beautiful and oh so tasty.”
That’s all we ever really need to hear. Enjoy the harvest of the summer, foodies. And support your local chefs and restaurants.
Kristi Maier is a food writer, blogger and cheerleader for all things local who even enjoys cooking in her kitchen, though her kidlets seldom appreciate her efforts.
Meridian is located at 411 S. Marshall St., Winston-Salem. Open for dinner only Tuesday-Sunday, 4:30-10 p.m. www.MeridianWS.com