Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Virginia Eastern Shore Guide: Part III

by Samantha Grieder
Photos by Corey Then

When we last left the Virginia Eastern Shore guide, a select group of media members had arrived to the Virginia Eastern Shore and met up with Chef Johnny Mo. After learning about the town of Onancock and the day-to-day practices of local crab farmers, it was time for everyone our group to have a taste of what is much considered something of a holiday in ESVA: The Chincoteague Seafood Festival!

Held in Tom's Cove Park, the annual Chincoteague Seafood Festival is an opportunity to eat all the local seafood. One ticket provides guests with an all-you-care-to-eat experience. From little neck clams to fish and oysters, steamed, fried or found in fritter or chowder form, it was at the festival. The Chincoteague raw oysters had obtained the natural saline from area waters, so they needed no accompaniments. Nets of steamed clams were large enough to be shared, but each person seemed to have their own. Clam fritters and a variety of fish filets were freshly fried and served hot.

Guests grabbed trays and loaded up, sitting down with a cup of beer at a picnic bench, and dived in. Even the mayor showed up to make the rounds and celebrate with the town on his birthday. With most of the town there, great seafood and live music, it was quite the party. If at any point rest was needed before going back for more, just sit and watch groups gather to dance The Electric Slide. It's a four hour long festival, after all. There's plenty of time for eating and relaxing with friends.

After the group got our seafood fill, we headed to The Refuge Inn for some rest before dinner. The inn featured all the amenities of what one would expect at a larger hotel: internet access, a pool and jacuzzi, a gym, bike rentals, and even its own herd of Chincoteague ponies that guests can help feed! Not far from the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, it's a convenient location to stay during a visit.

But of course, no trip to the Eastern Shore is complete without more seafood. No search was needed to find dinner. Directly across the street was Sea Shell Cafe, where Chef Jonithan Stone had prepared a wonderful five course meal for us. Mary Ann McDevitt of The Country Vintner joined in as the fine wine consultant, pairing each course with a glass or two.

The first was already set at the table upon arrival: martini glasses filled with lump crab, two shrimp intertwined delicately placed on top. Paired with a bubbly glass of Jacquesson Cuvee Champagne 735, it was the perfect light start to the meal.

Next, we were served three Chincoteague oysters. The first was baked with spinach with crumbles of smoked bacon and a hollandaise and Parmesan topping and paired with Jack Kent Cook's 2011 Boxwood Rose. The second oyster was fried and topped with arugula, pancetta, shallot and champagne cream. And the last let the natural flavor of the oyster shine through. It was served raw with a little lemon, spring onion, mignonette and with a glass of Branger Terroir Gras Moutons Muscadet 2009.

The third course was a Caesar salad, but with a twist. Instead of croutons, the chef placed small scallops on top, each with a crispy brown exterior that still managed to retain the delicate natural state of the shellfish. To compliment it, McDevitt poured glasses of a refreshing, Austrian 2010 Pratsch Gruner Veltliner. It was light enough not to outdo the dish; notes of white pepper complimented the savory, salty aspects of the seafood.

Stone prepared tender petite lamb filets that could convert any beef fan. Grilled to perfection, the lamb was served with a dark rum glaze and over top a sweet potato hash and asparagus. The wine pairing for this course was a bold, fruity red, a 2008 Peter Lehmann Syrah originating from the Barossa Valley in Australia.

The meal ended with a mango cheesecake, served with a slice of grilled pineapple dipped in white chocolate, lightly touched with kiwi lime sauce. Sweet, tart, and exceptionally light, the mango was a surprising departure and created a pleasant finish to the evening. Guests had the options of two wines with this dessert: a 2011 Viognier from White Hall winery or a Linden Vidal Late Harvest. Both fruity with a bit of acid and both wines produced in Virginia, it was a winner no matter what the guest had selected.

The dinner was not only a great meal, but it was a lovely time to chat and enjoy the company of the group as a whole. The staff at the Sea Shell Cafe were wonderful hosts and provided fantastic experience for our group. Huge thanks to Chef Jonithan Stone for creating a welcoming, and quintessentially local meal for us, and to Mary Ann McDevitt for preparing each thoughtful wine paring.
Stay tuned for the last leg of the tour, where the group heads back to Onancock for one last afternoon with Johnny Mo!

The Sea Shell Cafe on Urbanspoon

No comments: