14 Feb 2011
Expensive ($26 and up)
Downtown Huntsville
5 out of 5

Melanie’s Take

There is a relatively new place in town in a familiar location on Fountain Row called Watercress. It’s where Chef Green’s and Phoenix Bistro were formerly located. Although Shane and I had heard of the former restaurants housed here, we’d never tried them. In lieu of fighting the crowds on Valentine’s night, we decided to try Watercress the Friday before. We got dressed up and went, and we were not disappointed. Watercress claims to serve southern cuisine with classically French preparation. Although grits and bread pudding appear on the menu, it did not reflect enough southern cuisine for this to be its calling card. Whatever sort of label you apply to the type of cuisine prepared here, it wouldn’t be fair to call it anything short of exquisite. From beginning to end, we were impressed with the preparation, presentation, and complex flavors of each dish. As an appetizer, we decided to order the sea scallop. It was a large scallop served atop thin slices of prosciutto on a bed of winter squash grits and topped with two grilled black tiger shrimp. The scallop was divine, so divine that I was unsure if I had ever had a properly prepared one before. Its texture was buttery and smooth and had a great flavor when combined with the other elements of the dish. I actually felt sorry for the shrimp because although tasty, they couldn’t hold a candle to the scallop.

Sea Scallop

For my entree, I chose the Grilled Black Angus Strip Loin. It was cooked to medium doneness and served with a mushroom ragout and horseradish mashed potatoes. The final element of the dish was a red wine reduction sauce that was made from the beef stock. Once again, there was an obvious star on the plate, and for me it was the reduction sauce. The richness of the sauce not only enhanced every other item on the plate, but it also stood alone as the tastiest and most well developed flavor on the plate. The strip loin was a bit chewier that I would have liked, but the mashed potatoes and mushroom ragout were both excellent.

Grilled Black Angus Strip Loin

As our meal came to a close, we ended with their Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Bread Pudding served with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream. I can only remember one other occasion in my dining past when I have eaten something that literally sent me reeling from its tastiness, and that was a dessert I had at Emeril’s Delmonico in New Orleans. As I tasted the bread pudding, it rendered me weak-kneed. I literally said to Shane “How did he do this?” The chef had just visited our table minutes before to thank us for coming (as he did all other guests), and I wanted to call him back over to rethank him for the meal and to steal his secrets for this bread pudding. This dessert is not something to be described, but is something to be experienced. It is warm and comforting as all good bread pudding is, but its gooey chocolatey peanut-butteryness is complemented by the caramelized sugar bits scattered throughout. Spare me the shame of this description and try it. It will be the best $8 you’ve ever spent. Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Bread PuddingAlthough our dining budget will not permit us to return to Watercress for dinner as often as we’d like, I feel certain we will be visiting again at lunch so we can sample some more of Chef Adam’s creations. This is one of the best meals I have ever had: Huntsville or otherwise.

Shane’s Take

Rarely can normal people eat at a place like Watercress. Melanie and I being mostly normal, this was one of those rare times, and even then it likely would’ve never happened without some coupon magic. So, armed with our coupon, our camera, and our Sunday best, we drove over to Fountain Drive and tried out one of Huntsville’s youngest restaurants. Located in an old house, Watercress looks like a fine restaurant from outside to in. The outside of the house is stately, pleasant, and pretty. The red door, the sign, and the spotlights say two things: “I’m a nice restaurant” and “I will cost you a lot of money”. Inside, the antiquey yellow walls are sparsely accented by nondescript prints that look like something from Home Interiors (not exactly a beacon of excellence, I understand, but they did the job). The incandescent lighting from above is dim, soft, and relaxing, reminding me of my living room, but darker. A single votive candle on each table introduces a few highlights on the table, silverware, and you and your guest. I found the atmosphere to be pleasant and relaxing. Sure, in such a nice atmosphere I felt a need to hide my accent and to sit a little straighter, but I wasn’t intimidated or nervous. Instead, I found myself enjoying the quiet surroundings void of the trinkets of so many restaurants that at every turn remind you where you are eating.

Duck Leg Confit Flageolet Bean Cassoulet, Fried Watercress

For my meal, I chose the duck breast. The menu describes it as this: “Duck Leg Confit Flageolet Bean Cassoulet, Fried Watercress”. That all translates to this: A duck breast topped with fried watercress that sat atop some ham-infused great northern beans. It was delicious. As expected with duck, it was fatty and oily in a good way (not in the double cheeseburger way). The meat, cooked medium, was a tad tough but flavorful. The well-cooked beans tasted awesome, much like the dried beans your grandma would cook forever before serving. The ham, in particular, tasted great, comforting, and woodsy. The fried watercress added a nice flavor and an unusual, almost potato chip-like texture. Initially, I thought they were fried in old oil, but I’m not sure. Either way, I liked them. The combination was unique and interesting and thoroughly enjoyable. Plus—and this is where fine dining restaurants earn their stars—it, like a good book, took my imagination to a place far far away. “Where?”, you ask. Well, with each bite, I imagined myself as an English fox hunter who’d come in after a long day of galloping heroically through the wooded hills of the truly Great Britain while following the lead of my finest beagles’ noses, raising and firing my bayonetted rifle only at the choicest of times. (Yes, this is why wealthy people spend $100 for a meal, and it is why genuine fine dining must be experienced to be understood.) Wrapping up, I must mention the complimentary FredBread—yes, FredBread!—knots accompanied by a molasses butter spread. The bread tasted fresh and excellent, with each knot serving as a tasty little loaf. The accompanying molasses butter spread was elegantly sweet, being neither bland or overpowering. Also, Melanie exhausted her superlative supply on the bread pudding, and it deserves it. No doubt, it’s the best dessert in town, but, despite its superior flavor, I won’t allow it to unseat the beloved chocolate cake at Ol’ Heidelberg. At least not yet. Bread and Molasses Butter SpreadOur experience at Watercress was great. The food was excellent, the atmosphere was refined and pleasant, and the service was superb. Yes, the meal was quite expensive, the duck a bit tough, the oil a bit old, and a touch of smugness ever-present, but it was a great dining experience. It also took my imagination to an unexpected place, something that coarse dining restaurants just can’t do. Watercress gets my full endorsement. Closing remarks:

  • The scallop deserves a mention. I’ve never had a scallop like it.
  • I hated to see a gas fireplace in the room in which we dined. Safety concerns aside, a wood fireplace would’ve really added to the atmosphere.
  • One other gripe: One customer walked in with tennis shoes! I have no objection to tennis shoes, but, come on Huntsville, we can do better than this!
  • Our server was attentive and kind. He obviously understood that he was working at a fine restaurant, but he wasn’t smarmy or condescending to our questions…or to my request for sweet tea.
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One Response

  1. Chelsea Green

    Fun fact: My dad owned Chef Green’s… ha. I was always embarrassed to tell people about it because I thought the name was corny. This place looks and sounds amazing. I’m glad I got to experience it vicariously through your review because I don’t think my college student budget would have room for fine dining.

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