Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Row House - Guest Chef Nikki Fiedler

Tonight, the husband and I ventured out to the Row House. Ryan knows the guest chef, Nikki Fiedler from his childhood and he heard she would be designing the menu this week. Nikki is the director of the culinary program at Washburn Tech and started out in the kitchen at the Row House. I was excited to try her dishes after checking out the website.

Mixed Berry Fizz
The Row House is exactly that: A house, situated near Topeka's downtown on Van Buren in a small row of houses. It's tucked in the middle with a beautiful flower garden on the front porch. Behind the restaurant, there is also a food garden where the chefs get a lot of their menu fare. Nikki said she wanted to serve a lot of the food she likes to eat herself while utilizing fresh garden ingredients at the same time. I have to say, she did well.

The menu at the Row House is different than any other in Topeka. I've found many like it in other cities around the United States, but Topeka is Topeka and there aren't many (if any) fine dining options. The Row House has a $43 tasting menu where you get a taste of every item on the menu. The portions are smaller but there are so many of them, and they are so spaced out, you will be full by the end of the meal. This particular menu had one salad, one soup, three entrees and three desserts.

To start, I ordered a cocktail. The Mixed Berry Fizz was fruity and fizzy and garnished with a fruit puree "ice cube" and made with house-infused triple berry vodka, Creme de Cassis, lemon juice and lemon-lime soda. The drink wasn't strong but at the end I could definitely taste the vodka. I liked how the fruit puree slowly thawed out and dispersed within the drink because it helped the drink from watering down. I would order this drink again, and I'm not much of a drinker. This was the perfect summer cocktail.

Our first course was an amuse bouche: Baguette with whipped butter, dill, radish and cucumber. The butter was soft and the dill fresh from the garden. I liked the crunch of the radish and the fresh cucumber all paired well. I was ready for more.

The soup came next. In the summer the menu usually features a cold soup and this one was no exception. A honeydew melon puree with mint and clementines. The mint was robust but not overpowering like mint can be, but the honeydew actually paired well with it. The bits of clementines broke up the texture for me a bit and I kind of wish there were more of those. I didn't personally like the texture but the flavors all complimented each other well.

The vegetarian entree was probably my favorite part of the entire meal. Beet and carrot "noodles", goat cheese, spiced pecans, Swiss chard tossed in a thyme vinaigrette. The "noodles" were shaved pieces of beets and carrots and they were crunchy and sweet yet earthy paired with the Swiss chard that was wilted and soft. The goat
The vegetarian entree
cheese added a sharp, creamy flavor. This was texture heaven for me but the flavors were part of it, too. It had a little bit of everything.

The sliced beef tenderloin with port and plum sauce was my next favorite. The meat was cooked medium, atop a summer squash and corn succotash. The plum sauce was sweet and smoky. I would love to eat a bowl of it like soup. The succotash was cooked to perfection: Edamame, corn, yams, zucchini and yellow squash. I don't usually like yams but these were sweet and tender and I didn't mind them at all. That plum sauce, though.

The salmon was good, but the other two entrees were by far my preference. That does not mean, however that it's not good, it's quite the contrary. The salmon was seared and topped with a lemon dill aioli and served with a golden raisin quinoa and sauteed grapes. The sweet grapes and chewy raisins had most of the flavor in this
dish, and I hardly noticed the quinoa. The salmon wasn't dry, which most salmon usually is and the aioli gave it that lemon zest that goes so well with fish.

Dessert was decadent. The plus side of a tasting menu is you get three desserts, which makes the decision pretty easy. The chocolate zucchini cupcake with ganache was soft and moist and rich because of the ganache. The cupcake was fluffy and rich at the same time and that's usually what I look for in a chocolate cupcake and who doesn't love ganache? The most interesting of the three desserts would have to be the peach and basil crumble with whipped buttercream. The basil was a little overpowering at first, but I think that was because I bit right into a basil leaf, but after a few more bites, the peach flavor came through and I found the basil was more of an undertone. Nice and refreshing, the blue and black berry sorbet with lemon shortbread cookies we the perfect finishing touch to the meal. Cold, fruity and fresh, the sorbet was full of berry flavor and the little lemon cookie was crispy and zesty.

The menu changes weekly at the Row House, so if you want this particular menu you'd have to go Check their website for their weekly menus and special messages from the chef.
Friday or Saturday night. Make sure you call and make reservations, though, or else you may not be served. I know on holidays they are always packed and for days such as Valentine's Day, you have to call weeks in advance for a reservation.

If you haven't checked out the Row House, I recommend it for any special occasion or just dinner on a Thursday night. This was my type of place and I wish there were more here in Topeka. What's cool to me is that the menu changes all the time so you get seasonal items as well as something new every time. The chef, Greg Fox and other kitchen workers all serve the food alongside the front of the house staff and I love how they all work together. Everyone is accommodating and if there is something you can't have on the menu, the chefs will use their culinary abilities to whip up something special just for you. A girl at the table next to us was allergic to melons of all types, including cucumbers. I noticed how she still got every course, but was served something different than the rest of the table.

So, check it out. I highly recommend it.