leave your inhibitions at the door
When I heard that Vellum was “contemporary and seasonal” American fare, alarms went off in my head. I had thought that it would be just another new entry in this ubiquitous farm-to-table/rustic trend. You know, where locally-sourced food is used in simple preparations in order to highlight the quality and seasonality of the ingredients. I think a big part of the rise in popularity of these places is due to the economy being in the tank for the past few years. The message of simplicity resonated with diners who have actively scaled back in other parts of their lives. It was time for America to tighten up, get rid of excess, and go back to what made this country great. (Feel free to add your own Clint Eastwood-esque clichés.)
I’m totally down with being as much of a locavore as possible. It supports local farmers, it’s better for the environment, the food is fresher, more nutritious, and downright tastes better. What I have a problem with is the “rustic” or “simple preparation” part. I’ve seen a lot of these restaurants charging $25-30 range for roasted chicken or salmon with vegetables.
I’m sorry. I think I missed something. These are things I make at home when I’m out of ideas on what else to cook. Why would I want to order those (or one of the other “simple” items on the menu) in a restaurant? And why would I pay crazy prices for them? As sole grocery shopper in our household, I realize that quality, local ingredients can be expensive, but they don’t cost THAT much more.
So maybe the high prices have to do with labor which, to me, is even harder to justify. If you’re a chef and you’re going to charge me $25 for a coupla pieces of chicken, you better work for it. Don’t just throw it on a plate and pour a pan sauce over it with a sprig of parsley. Give me something labor-intensive. Give me something I can’t make or don’t have the patience to do at home. Give me something special.
Enter Vellum, which is trying to bring back elegance, artistry, and service to the restaurant scene. Peter Roumanis is the owner/chef who, although very young, has already had some terrific experiences worldwide. His vision for Vellum is to take familiar food but apply new techniques, surprising flavor combinations, and innovative presentations. The goal is to not only nourish, but to excite. Now THIS is worth paying for. I really hope this catches on.
The two-story first floor is a beautiful space that is at once traditional and contemporary. The century-old floor is mixed with rich, dark woods and leather and there’s a beautiful staircase leading to the second floor. But it’s also pretty sparse to give it that modern minimalist feel. We were seated in second floor dining room which had just opened that night. Compared to the first floor, this was a little disappointing. Not only were the ceilings lower, but there was cheesy wallpaper and ugly carpet. I’m not sure if there was something they were trying to achieve with the look, but it just didn’t have that elegance of the first floor. We did notice, however, there was a small table sitting in the wine room that looked pretty sweet.
They have a great selection of cocktails, beers, and wine here. While other restaurants in town might have wider selections, none of them has as intriguing a selection as Vellum. For example, with beers there’s about a dozen different ones available. In terms of volume, that’s on par with a lot of restaurants. However, some of the beers here – like Kuhnenn’s Crème Brulee Stout and Flemish ale Duchesse de Bourgougne – are usually available in dedicated beer bars that have five times more beers. Same goes with the wine selection as well. We opted for the suggested wine pairings, so more on those later.
There were several things we wanted to try, so the tasting menu seemed like an obvious choice. There are two versions – a 5-course for $50 and a 7-course for $70. We chose the 7-course and opted for the wine pairings for a reasonable $30 extra. Upon the recommendation of our server, we ordered two additional starters so we had enough to eat.
Starter 1: Smoked walleye with apples and jalapeno emulsion. This was just ok. I thought the walleye tasted great but perhaps a little too thick, thus overpowering the apples.
Starter 2: Bone marrow mousse, braised short rib, and glazed root vegetables. This was fantastic. I’d order that again in a heartbeat.
Now on to the tasting menu…
First course: Poached egg, with celery root puree, dates, and cider vinegar. Wine pairing: Delamotte Brut Champagne, NV
Second course: Charred Vegetables. Wine pairing: 2011 Chateau de la Greiffere, Macon, White Burgundy (Chardonnay)
Third course: Agnolotti, sweet potato, dried plums, chestnuts, amaretti crumbs. Wine pairing: NV Alvear Amontillado (dry Spanish Sherry) – Sorry, no picture.
Fourth course: Pan-fried walleye, hand-pressed onion broth, shallot, brandade, apples. Wine pairing: 2010 Domaine Charles Audoin, Marsannay, Red Burgundy (Pinot Noir)
Fifth course: Pork shoulder, belly, loin, pear, lightly-braised mustard greens. Wine pairing: 2009 Numanthia Termes, Torro, Spain (Tempranillo)
Sixth course: Rose Ice, mint, white chocolate. Wine pairing: NV Renardet-Fache, Cergon Bugey (France), demi-sec rose
Seventh course: “Madeleine & tea” – Earl Grey foam, crushed madeleines and honey jellies. Wine pairing: NV Campbells Muscat, Rutherglen (Australia).
At a couple points during the night, we were given complimentary amuse bouches:
Apple mousse, apple crisp, and walnut vinegar reduction (no picture)
Iberico Jamon topped with dehydrated olive oil and game consommé.
Honestly, I can’t think of another local restaurant that would give an amouse bouche as well thought-out as these. Hell, I can’t recall any other local places that hand out ANY amouse bouche at all. Unless you count the breadsticks at Olive Garden.
A week later, we went there for a couple cocktails with a bunch of friends. The waitress brought out these “chocolate explosions”.
One other extra that we partook in was the tobacco service. Yes, you read that right. If you want to have a smoke, you still have to go outside. However, upon request, the bar will hand-roll a cigarette (with filter) for you using heir own special tobacco blend. I’m not even what you would call a social smoker, but I had to try it.
You can see that there was a lot of detail and care in all of the dishes. Everything was delicious, bursting with flavor, highly innovative, and beautiful to look at, too.
In addition to atmosphere and the food, a crucial part of elegance is service. In general, we found the service was very attentive and informative. There were some issues that night with pacing, but I think that’s reasonable since the place is still new. Also, with us splitting the tasting menu we ate things twice as fast, so I think we threw them off a little.
Was it expensive? It’s certainly more than Applebee’s. But when you consider that the price point is on par with other fine dining choices in town – many of which stretch the definition of “fine” – it’s pretty damn reasonable. Highly recommended.
209 S. Main Street