In order to celebrate my awesome husband Johnny’s promotion at work, I took him to Stephan Pyles (!!!!!) on Friday for lunch. 
 
The valets were nice, the hostess was nice, and our waiter was very knowledgeable and helpful.
 
Johnny and I both got the Chicken Fried Venison.  I had been trying to decide between the CF Venison, the Pappardelle with figs and fennel and sausage, and the tuna with carnitas.  Then I decided to not get the tuna with carnitas, because fish and pigfat just seemed to be a bit harsh for the day…  I asked the waiter which of the last two he preferred, and he warned me that the fennel in the pappardelle was pretty licorice-y, so I opted for the venison.  (I only eat fennel if it’s roasted, or otherwise made to not be licorice-y.  Because black licorice makes me gag.  Gross.)
 
So, we got the venison.  And boy howdy, I’m glad we did.
 
The gravy, placed under the meat, included chorizo.  The mashed potatoes included sage and sauteed shallots.  The braised swiss chard had a sprinkling of bacon on top. 
 
Everything meshed together wonderfully.  I hadn’t had chicken fried venison in years, the last time being during hunting season in Arkansas, and the CFV was homemade by a funeral director, at a hunting lodge.  The Funeral Director version had a thick white gravy, and tasted like a slightly gamier chicken fried steak.

 
And you know, it’s pretty hard to beat homemade chicken fried ANYTHING, but Stephan Pyles pretty much hit it on the nose.  It was amazing, yet different from what I had before.  The breading was light and crunchy, the gravy went perfectly with the meat (and potatoes), but my only complaint was that it was too salty.  Dangit.
 
We decided to order dessert, in order to get the Full Stephan Pyles Experience.  So after reviewing the dessert menu, I requested the dark chocolate mousse and a glass of port, but the waiter looked confused at my request, scampered off, and returned with the LUNCHTIME dessert menu.  Crap.
 
So, even though I wanted the Lemon Fried Pie with mango salad, we heeded the waiter’s suggestion and got the ubiquitous Heaven and Hell Cake.  I was SO not looking forward to this cake.  I have a cookbook that includes the recipe, and although I haven’t made it yet, I knew what was in it.  And I am SO not a cake person.  I really wanted something gooey.  =-[

(For those of you not aware of what the Heaven and Hell Cake is, it is composed of layers of angel food cake, devil’s food cake, and peanut butter mousse.  Then the whole shebang is coated with chocolate ganache.) 

So we get the cake.  I grab a forkful…  Then I grab another forkful…
 
I was fully expecting cloying, wince-inducing sweetness, and the waxy disappointment of sub-par chocolate.  I ended up being moderately impressed.
 
The cake tasted really familiar.  I mean, really, really familiar.  I was trying to place where I had tasted this before…
 
The Heaven and Hell Cake tasted EXACTLY like a Little Debbie Nutty Bar.
 
Oy vey.
 
But dangit, it was GOOD.
 
It came with a jigger of raspberry puree, a spoonful of raspberry mousse, and a handful of chocolate-ganache-filled raspberries.
 
The puree picked up the flavors beautifully, and helped the cake to be not so cloyingly sweet and rich.  The mousse was a nice addition, but the flavor wasn’t really there.  The ganache in the raspberries was too milk-chocolatey, and a bit muddy in texture.  It would have been better with a darker chocolate, and with a bit of refrigeration (I know, sacrilage…), but the chocolate would have been better if it were harder and less sweet.
 
Oh, and true to form, Chef Pyles made a round of the dining room, stopping at everyone’s table to check on them.  When he got to our table, my Chef Worship got the best of me, and I said something like, “This is really good!”, and completely forgot the witty banter that I was planning on laying on him if he stopped by.  I am such a dork…
 
All in all, I will DEFINITELY return to this restaurant.  Chef Pyles has once again proven himself the God of Upscale Southwest Comfort Food.
 
(Johnny and I were trying to figure out what other (white trash) comfort food he could make Upscale…  I suggested fried bologna sandwiches, but he already has sliders with foie gras…  A Star Crunch knockoff dessert, perhaps?  )

Check it out here:
http://www.stephanpyles.com/index.asp

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