Serving Sensational, Seasonal Cuisine
By Debra Cornwell
Nearing the tenth anniversary as the proprietor of One Block West, in Winchester (VA), Chef Ed Matthews has an archival repertoire of cooking techniques and epicurean creations that always surprise and delight diners. Long before farm-to-table became de rigueur, Chef Ed was buying local, fresh food. Although his trademark is sensational, seasonal cuisine, it could also be described as eclectic fine dining.
Matthews declares, "My crew and I are passionate about food and wine and about supporting our local farmers and wineries. We get as excited about beautiful baby radishes as we do about a lobe of foie gras—as excited by a twenty-eight-dollar bottle of local Claret as we do about a twohundred- and-fifty-dollar Burgundy.
I hope that people will sense the passion in both the menu and the wine list, as well as the cooking and plating of the food. We don't just put food on a plate. We put our hearts and souls on the plate." I agree with the chef that fine dining is one of those rare luxuries in our increasingly busy lives. The dining experience should be about more than just eating and drinking. He says, "I want customers to have a wonderful time with their friends and family, and to leave thinking they had great food, great service, and most importantly, a great time."
Matthews is good enough to hold his own against any of the Food Network's Iron Chefs. In fact, he has been trying to get on those programs for years. Alas, Winchester is a small media market that wouldn't draw a large, new audience to the programs. The six-course Chef's Table menu that I tasted emphasized root vegetables, because that's what is available at farmers' markets from now until spring. Matthews expresses, "We are always seasonal, but customers can call us to request dishes for a night when they plan to dine with us. If we can accommodate the request, we will." I also noted throughout the meal that the chef is a master of the thin, delicate, crispy crust—be it on fish, seafood, or meat.
The first course was Baby Beet and Mâche Salad served with Wolfberger Pinot Blanc Alsace, 2009. The pale, fruity wine had notes of peach, and pairs nicely with salads, or anything with fruit in it. Matthews riffs the classic beet and goat cheese salad with candied walnuts, dried cranberries, and a cranberry-balsamic vinaigrette. The hit of the salad was the lemon-cranberry goat cheese truffle. The zingy lemon zest and the sweetened, dried cranberries were the perfect sweet/tart pairing. The course was chewy, crunchy, creamy, and filled with brightness. Course two was an exquisite Napoleon of sea scallop and parsnip latkes, with Linden Chardonnay Virginia, 2009. The wine hinted of pear and honeysuckle. With leekparsnip cream, roasted butternut squash, and puffed wild rice, the dish is a course in texture—the melt-in-the mouth scallops, the crunch of latkes, the slip of sweet cream, and the surprise pop of puffed wild rice, which reminds me of a grilled Rice Krispy.
Golden Tile Fish Basque Style was course three—inspired by the Basque region of France and Spain. Matthews described it as an exuberant use of the very last peppers of 2011, with piperade—a sauté of peppers— roasted red pepper coulis, crispy chorizo, and saffron aioli. The tile fish is a moist, large-flaked white fish.
The chef emphasizes that he only serves sustainable species; therefore, a diner will never find sea bass or grouper on the menu, nor will there ever be frozen or farmed fish in his kitchen. The crisp lemon notes of the Feffiñanes Albariño, 2010, pairs well with fish.
Course four was no ordinary pork and grits. Juicy, tender, not too salty, and a delicate crust, the house cured pork belly was served with local hickory bark syrup, grits, and red grape olivada. Grapes and olives? It's a sweet and salty take on tapenade that works well with the pork. The dark plum and spice of the Cono Sur Pinot Noir Colchagua Valley, 2010, is an appropriate companion to the hearty sweet and salty of this course.
Although Matthews calls the fifth course a celebration of root vegetables, this course is simply a celebration. The fragrance of the red wine and cinnamon reduction was heady. The Moulard was an exquisite red-meat fowl—rare, juicy, tender, flavorful. Sweet potato cream, root vegetable hash, wild rice, and sweet potato pilaf rounded out the course. What a great way to get one's root vegetables! The Ballast Stone Merlot McLaren Vale, 2008, hinted of dark, blue fruits.
The final course, local quince and dried cherry strudel, was not all that sweet, but Matthews knows the proper endnote to such a meal. The surprising, delightful touch was the pimentón (smoked paprika), dusted and sea salted, pumpkin seed brittle—a perfect crunchy foil for the creme anglaise—maple syrup, and gianduia—a chocolate hazelnut fudge. I was expertly served by Brittany Roberts, a student who has worked at One Block West for two years. Roberts reflects, "One of the benefits of working here is wine and food knowledge. My friends may want to drink wine, and I can guide them through it. I look forward to the day when I travel and can apply this food and wine knowledge."
In the meantime, One Block West is available to all who seek the finest ingredients. Chef Ed Matthews continues to change the menu daily, as he has done for the last ten years. "It's one way we stay fresh in all senses of the word—fresh ingredients and fresh presentations for our guests.
For more information, visit www.OneBlockWest.com or call 540-662- 1455.