I am not a food critic and, generally, this blog is about architecture and travel. However, I decided this week to write a very personal story about three things near and dear to my heart - great food, great wine and my bride, my muse and my BFF - Karen Sue (aka Susie)! First, you must know that I am married to an amazing cook and, over the years, I have feasted on the bounties prepared by my soul mate since I convinced her to travel through the travails and joys of life thirty eight years ago yesterday. We usually go somewhere for our anniversary, but, this year, we decided there is just too much going on, with our son getting married in May 2012, our daughter finishing her Masters in London and various family trips to the beach, engagement parties, possible trips across the pond and football season right around the corner (A man's gotta do what a man's gotta do!). Bottom line is, well, the bottom line. So, in lieu of a quick trip to Seattle or New York to search for the next best bed for a discerning Nomad, we decided to stay close to home and celebrate our nuptials by eating out at one of my hometown's finer restaurants. You know - Puttin' on the Ritz - Wine, my woman and song, even if only for an evening. After looking at the top eateries in Tallahassee, we decided on Cypress, a small, intimate, award winning restaurant in a rather nondescript, ivy covered building right on US 90/Tennessee Street near downtown. We both had eaten there years ago and remembered it being very, very good. Read on.
I am a bonafide foodie. I love to eat and, to put it bluntly, it shows! That's why, about ten months ago, I embarked on a new plan of eating and exercise that has reduced my carbon footprint by 82.4 pounds as of this morning! When you are an expert at losing weight, which I am, you develop different mental attitudes about your behavior to deal with the temptations that lurk in every bowl of ice cream, piece of chocolate cake or pot roast. Since I have been on my new eating regimen, I have determined that all those delicious things that make one fat are really just a form of culinary sin and must be avoided at all cost or else I will forever by consigned to fat purgatory, unable to find my true handsome self ever again. I know a shrink (pardon the pun) would probably have a field day with that approach, but, so far it's working.
What, you may ask, does all this talk about diets and exercise have to do with fine dining? Isn't fine dining the antithesis of a lean and mean lifestyle? Well, of course if is. That's the point. Sometimes, you have to go off the reservation. Sometimes you have to listen to that little devil on your shoulder. Sometimes you just can't help it. Sometimes - Sin Is A Good Thing!!! Enough preaching - you get the point.
We arrived at a packed parking lot around six, dropped off the car with the valet and walked into a small, minimalist designed interior space with a snappily dressed greeter ready to usher us into the inner sanctum. After being seated, we studied the menu with the intensity of a couple of astronauts observing a moon rock. After several minutes of reading this artful road map to culinary ecstasy, I looked right at my sweet bride and said, without so much as a hint of guilt - God Forgive Me for What I Am About To Do. Today, it is back to five fruits and vegetables, lots of lettuce and low fat entrees, not to mention the five miles of biking. But last night I enjoyed every single morsel of sinful indulgence laid before me.
As I said, I am not a food critic. However, to paraphrase - I may not know anything about art, but I know what I like. And few restaurants combine art and food quite like Cypress. From the simple, stained concrete floors to the minimalist interiors of unadorned brick and art adorned walls, Cypress presents a well designed, understated series of spaces perfect for intimate dining. Throw in some elegant lighting, simple white tablecloths on tables meant for sharing and you have the perfect setting for newlyweds to enjoy an elegant Pinot Noir and some of the best food this side of New Orleans.
Fine restaurants are like fine hotels. What separates a merely good restaurant from a truly exceptional one is service. Our server was not just professional and knowledgeable, but knew specific details about every item on the menu. And unlike many five star restaurants, there was not a hint of snobbery or condescension. In addition, other servers were quick to fill water glasses, bring more coffee and remove used dishes, without being asked, creating a seamless dining experience.
On to the food from which no twelve step program can save you. Architects love to say the devil is in the details. If you can read the next few lines without shedding a gastronomic tear, well, trust me, you will cry.
My Salad - Seasonal Salad - Watermelon, Arugula, Asher Blue Cheese, Crispy Prosciutto, Candied Pecans, Champagne Vinaigrette
Susie's Salad - Local Tomato & Fried Okra Salad - Goat Cheese and Preserved Lemon Vinaigrette
My Entree - Florida Shrimp & Grits - Country Ham, Tomatoes, Carrots, Shiitakes,
Orange-Thyme-Bourbon Jus, Anson Mills Heirloom Grits
Susie's Entree - Pan Seared Gulf Flounder - Alligator Harbor Clam Chowder with Bacon, Corn, Leek & Potato
Wine - Willakenzie Pinot Noir 2008 - Light, organic Pinot from Willakenzie Estate Winery,
And proof positive that we, indeed, had gone over to the other side:
Our dessert - Southern Pecan Pie Turnover - Crispy Phyllo
Topped off with organic coffee and hot tea.
Go ahead, dry your eyes, pick up the phone and call Cypress for your next clandestine meeting with your special one and the culinary gods. You will thank me later.
One last piece of evidence that Cypress deserves a top spot on the Nomad Architect's List of Well Designed Road Food. During the course of ordering, we mentioned to our server that it was our anniversary. As we were admiring the Southern Pecan Pie Turnover, we noticed that the presentation had an unexpected surprise. There, in elegant chocolate font, were the words "Happy Anniversary". As we thanked her for this unexpected gesture, it made the enjoyment of one of the most tantalizing finishes to a great meal truly complete.
Travel Quote of The Week - "Nothing would be more tiresome than eating and drinking if God had not made them a pleasure as well as necessity" - Voltaire
Video Artist of The Week - Norah Jones - This chanteuse has been featured before with Bonnie Raitt in a previous post. This week, she gets her own spotlight. Next time you want to set the mood for great food, wine and conversation put Norah on the system. The daughter of Ravi Shankar brings a unique blend of jazz-pop vocals and some pretty cool keyboards to tickle your inner self.