When Chef Tom Havrish isn't cooking up a storm of savory small plates and entrées at The Grape at Cameron Village in Raleigh, he's working in his home music studio, writing songs and mixing sound. The two artistic endeavors, he says, nourish each other. Each has taught him to know "when it's good or it's not." He's known for this honest, straightforward evaluation of his work: Either it works or it doesn't.
His music interests are reflected in the wine bar and restaurant—every Friday and Saturday night you find crowds listening to local and regional jazz musicians, creating a relaxing atmosphere reminiscent of clubs like London's Ronnie Scott's or New York's Blue Note.
And there's The Grape's approach to wine-tasting, which is decidedly unacademic. Tasters are invited to explore and discover what they like. The motto is "Your taste is all that counts," and there are 120 wines by the glass and 150 by the bottle to choose from.
Wine bars aren't equated with food, a trend, thankfully, that is changing. In collaboration with self-taught sommelier/owner-general manager Thomas Sergio, Havrish cooks up a diverse and affordable wine-friendly menu served mostly in the small plate portions ideal for mixing and matching with your companion and for the light supper that doesn't commit you to a full-scale restaurant evening. (But you can order a three-course dinner if you want.) The Grape's popular multi-course wine dinners sell out well in advance, as do their champagne Sunday brunches, which inspired the following $20 dinner.
Havrish came to cooking in the quiet way of many creatives—by growing up around it and working for a variety of chefs and eateries, starting in a small restaurant kitchen at age 15 doing dishes and prep work. When he says he grew up around cuisine he means around his French-speaking Swiss grands-parents who immigrated to the United States in 1954—both were excellent cooks, and grand-pere was executive chef at New York's Hotel Thayer while grand-mere ruled the roost at the weekly extended family Sunday lunches. Havrish recalls (as one of his earliest childhood memories) the two of them arguing about cooking techniques in French, standing over the stove affectionately disagreeing about what to do with a sauce.
Self-taught in most of his life's work—sound engineering, keyboard and guitar playing, as well as every aspect of cooking and restaurant kitchen management—Havrish likens the creativity in cooking to that in music. Mixing sound and performance take the same hands-on, psychic energy as inventing a dish and presenting it attractively. The two artistic endeavors, he repeats, fuel and influence each other.
Havrish reflects his grandparents' classic European influences. He says he loves the small storage space at The Grape—the reach-in versus walk-in coolers—because it guarantees that only fresh ingredients, delivered daily, will be used in their house-made sauces (mint, black cherry and port reduction for the lamb chop appetizers) and starters such as the crab cakes, red pepper/ roasted-garlic hummus and spinach and applewood-smoked bacon and cheese spread.
When I first asked Havrish what he would fix for a spring brunch, in the spirit of a Sunday lunch-in-the-garden, he looked a little wary. Perhaps it was the default guard on one's kitchen secrets (not to be shared with just anyone) or perhaps it was just the idea of being interviewed, but he came around and offered this fresh, luscious menu that can easily be doubled or tripled (with little extra effort and only a few more ingredients) for a gathering en famille: a starter shrimp carbonara with garlic crostini followed by an entrée of rosemary-roasted lamb chops.
A word here about desserts for this menu. Havrish suggested some sort of take-away confection—'tis the season of chocolate bunnies, after all—or fresh strawberries and cream. Sommelier Thomas Sergio recommends two Italian wines, a red and a white, and although one of these will take you beyond the $20 budget, they will enhance your springtime at-home repast with joie de vivre.
The Grape at Cameron Village, 403 Daniels St., Raleigh, 833-2669, www.yourgrape.com.
For the chops
Prepare grill for use in 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 475 degrees. Mix rosemary, salt and pepper in small mixing bowl. Dust lamb rack with mixture front and back, place on cooking sheet and roast for 10-12 minutes, then remove from oven and cool enough to handle. Slice lamb rack down the bones into chops. Grill chops to desired doneness. 5 minutes a side was nice, juicy and medium-well.
Cabernet whipped potatoes
Melt butter, wine and heavy cream in a separate sauce pot and keep warm. Boil potatoes in salted water on high until tongs easily cut through potatoes (they are done). Remove from water, place on half-sheet pan spread out, and allow steaming for 4-5 minutes. Using an electric mixer, whip potatoes on medium speed and season with salt and pepper. Add cabernet/butter mixture until a mashed potato consistency is achieved, double check seasoning. Keep warm.
Sauté onions and celery in blended oil until onions are translucent. Deglaze with 1 cup of red wine. Reduce by half and add demi glace, simmer for 15 minutes and strain. Set aside and keep warm.
Sauteed baby spinach (three cups fresh)
Place 2 oz. butter in medium sauce pan, heat to the point of fragrance, then add 1 tablespoon minced garlic; sauté for 2 minutes then add fresh baby spinach and sauté for only about 30 seconds, then remove from heat. Any longer will fully cook the greens.
Grill lamb to desired temperature. Place potatoes in center of plates on top of divided sautéed spinach, place chops on top of mashed potatoes, and drizzle sauce on chops, potatoes and around the perimeter of the plate.
In a sauté pan over high heat, add oil, onions, salt and pepper and cook until translucent. Add bacon, heat for 2 more minutes. Deglaze this mixture with white wine and simmer until reduced by two-thirds. Add tomatoes and cook 3-4 minutes; add heavy cream. Simmer to reduce by about half (eyeball it), then add shrimp and Parmesan. Heat on low until shrimp is cooked through (about 3-6 minutes). Do not overcook or shrimp will be rubbery. Place baguette points in small salad bowl, pour over divided sauce, and arrange shrimp upright. Sprinkle with Parmesan and fresh pepper.