the state

– of pea shoots. by vastate
Thursday, 7 May 2009, 14:14
Filed under: - of restaurant review, -of eats, -of green, -of jhumphrey, -of localism

i’m now entranced by pea shoots.


other people are also very happy about this little spring treat:

Pea shoots are simply the leaves of the pea plant. But that description doesn’t do them justice. The leaves are bright green and succulent, with accompanying tendrils that curl up like wavy Mohawks and have a subtle sugary flavor that is delicious both raw and cooked. Like peas, pea shoots have a sweet crispness that goes beautifully with just about anything. They have a pleasant sweet pea flavor that works well on its own, or as an accent with meats, pastas, or beans.

the brits have even dedicated an entire, polished little webpage to the leaves.


my new obsession comes from the first course of a recent meal at staunton grocery.


i was served the perfect winter/spring-ushering-in-the summer-we-all-know-is-coming dish:  a pulled rabbit salad, with olive puree, marcona almonds, and.  pea shoots.   the website menu states that this combo sometimes features mache as the green, but i my convinced that pea shoots were the right seasonal choice.  well played, chef.

you see, fresh & seasonal is the entire point of this place.

The Staunton Grocery offers a gracious dining experience, featuring the freshest local products and produce from more than two dozen small area farms in and around the Shenandoah Valley. With his commitment to sustainable agriculture, Owner/Chef Ian Boden allows the seasonal flavors to inspire the dynamic menu, which is reviewed, refined and changed regularly, sometimes daily.

a large blackboard at the front of the restaurant holds not the specials or dessert choices, but the names of  local producers providing the meal ingredients patrons spoon into their mouths at nearby tables.

although my rabbit was something special, i am tempted to say that one of the best bites i had that evening belonged to johan.

in order to taste as much possible (and maybe because we are too lazy to make difficult choices), we decided to go with the chef’s four-course tasting menu with wine parings.  instead of having parallel meals, we were each served a different progression of food.  mine began with the rabbit (after the amuse bouche, a little pulled pork bite), and johan’s began with the house cured tuna.

the house cured tuna.

with sunchokes, caper vinagrette, and meyer lemon bits.


the house cured tuna.  and just to be cliche – and accurate – i will say that it melted in my mouth.  just melted.  and i’m not a big cured flesh kind of girl.  but i am completely devoted to this tuna.

my next dish also demanded that i put away old seafood bias.  my plate contained a grit cake, topped with carolina shrimp, bacon, and the delicate baby leaves of red-veined kale.  i’m not that person who gets all teary-eyed at the sight of a big bowl of steamed shrimp sitting on a newspaper clad table at the beach.  but this shrimp had not a hint of old bay, dangling missed legs, or salty fishiness.

just pop and sweetness.  a marriage of al dente grits and bacon.  and a deep bow to southern class.


johan’s plate followed a similar thought process.  a black bean cake, with duck ham bits, bright green rapini, red grapefruit, and fig vinagrette.  another fresh take on a classic cheap home dish.


our main courses continued the ocean food focus.  i will warn you that i offer a rather low-brow assessment on what made my roasted white tuna so neat.  first of all, the fish was uncannily white.  gleaming, in fact, but with the lovely, firm texture of tuna.  and the crisp outside reminded me – unmistakably – of that certain something that make french fries so addictive.  it was like fish and chips rolled into one simple, light bite.

my one actual critique – if you can call it that – comes with this dish as well.  the mustard/aioli splash on the side was a bit crusty.  as if the heating lamps had gotten the best of it.  but such faults are easily forgotten and forgiven in my book.

johan had the seared monkfish on a bed of farro, dressed with breakfash radish (adorable), and popcorn shoots (again, the shoots…).  a well-matched richness carried through both.  the wine choice, a white, was a bit surprising, but worked so very well.


a word about the wine parings.  i was so wrapped up in the experience that i failed to take time to write down which wines went with which dish.  so, not wanting to risk horrifying staunton grocery’s wine guy , kyle boatright, with an inaccurate memory, i will include the complete wine list at the end of this review.  i think that it is actually a very good thing, and, i hope, a grand compliment,  that i didn’t once think to separate the wine from the dish and take detailed notes.  the wines flowed as another ingredient in the night’s meal procession.


for most of the meal, we stuck to our own individual food progression as determined by the chef.  we each had a bite or two of the other’s dish, but didn’t switch off or anything funny like that.  but due irresitable personal preference, we completely switched desserts.

i took a bite of my carrot cake and looked longingly at johan’s custard-like tart and earl grey semifreddo.  and the lemon thyme brittle glittered at me enticingly.  more enticing than the crisp almond cookie and honey semifreddo on my plate.  but that was just a personal taste thing.  johan adores carrot cake.  the carrot-ier and nuttier, the better.  and anything creamy and custard-y has me smitten.  so, without too much worry, we switched.  and were happy.


and then we ordered espresso shots.  dunked in rough cubes of raw sugar.  drank.


took a long walk out in the cool heavy night.

talking about the food that first made us really think about food.  and ingredients.  we were 19.  in brooklyn together.  johan’s aunt made us fudge.  with really great, dark chocolate.   and mango yogurt shakes.  we still talk about that combo.  and how we couldn’t not think of what parts went into making those dishes.  and how different fresh was.

today, i went outside to check on my peas.  hoping to see some pea shoots.  willing those little tendrils to appear.  they are almost ready.


(wine and local producer lists to follow.)


5 Comments so far
Leave a comment

really really nice writing….

Comment by Barbra

What a great piece, State. Even though I’m a philistine, to read your description of that Staunton Grocery experience makes me feel so good and helps me hope for a world of good foods. I’m even printing out the essay– you know, against the day when cyberreality flies into a black hole. Kathleen

Comment by Ted Grimsrud

awww. thanks, people…

Comment by vastate

now, i hope i’ve convinced you to go for the first time, or try again, this lovely place…

Comment by vastate

[…] Filed under: – of restaurant review, -of eats, -of green, -of jhumphrey, -of localism, -of vino as promised, here are […]

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