Vidalia, Downtown

(See the January 23, 2011 Review here).

Five of us got together at the bar of Vidalia, sequestering the table nearest the kitchen, and drinking and noshing on a mish-mash of bar snacks and share plates.

There was so much plate passing and cork popping (we brought a couple bottles) that it would be fruitless to write about each dish.

Two things, however, stand out about this meal, other than the company: from Ed Jenks’ excellent wine list, I found a good bottle for only $30: the 2006 Domaine Gournon Chinon. Ed is proud of this light-to-medium bodied Cabernet Franc, and surprisingly added that “nobody orders it.” Well, why the heck not?

And, of course, there was the Shenandoah Angus Burger ($14.75) – the finest-looking hamburger I have ever seen. If you took the hamburger of your dreams, and visualized it, this might be what you’d see. Served on a homemade brioche bun, it has everything you want: crispy bacon, caramelized onions, cheddar cheese, a judicious application of (thick, coarse) homemade ketchup, and to top it all off – literally – a fried egg.

When this hamburger was placed in front of me, I simply could not believe my eyes. It was a thing of beauty, it was a thing of perfection. And it was cooked to a perfect medium-rare, just as I had ordered it.

Which I why I was crestfallen when it turned out to be somewhat bland! I know that sounds impossible, but it’s true. This monster of a sandwich, served with a side of housemade potato chips, actually lacked flavor. I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t want to believe it. I refused to believe it (*)

And when the check arrived, for the second straight time we’ve been out together, our hyper-generous friend (or should I say, our hyper, generous friend) intercepted it, and put the entire meal on his credit card, leaving us all feeling guilty and dumbstruck (Hat Tip – Mike Allen).

(*) I refused to believe it, I really did. So I came back the next week to prove myself wrong.

I was going to get that same bottle of Chinon, but Ed talked me into a bottle of 2008 Valdivieso Reserva Carmenere ($40) from Chile. I was skeptical, as I’m not the biggest Chilean wine fan in the world, but I trust Ed’s palate.

When the wine arrived, it was in one of “those” bottles – you know, fairly heavy, with the top part wider than the bottom part. I was cursing underneath my breath because this always screams over-extraction and abusive use of new oak, and sure enough, it poured into my glass a deep, dark, denture-staining purple.

But when I smelled the wine? Wow, what a nose – complex, full of finesse and very light on its feet. The palate was slightly less compelling than the bouquet, but still, this wine was a great change of pace for me, and I ended up extremely happy to pay the $10 additional cost. It was also surprisingly reasonable in terms of ABV level, although I can’t remember the exact percentage. Good pull, Mr. Jenks, good pull.

And now, the burger. It looked exactly the same as before. Great! But the true test was going to be on the palate, not the eye. This time around? It was seasoned wonderfully (and I didn’t say anything before, either, so the kitchen did this on their own).

So was this the “burger of my life?” Sigh … no, because it was overcooked. My medium-rare thing of beauty came out cooked fully medium-well, with absolutely no pink remaining to the meat.

Perfection. It’s an elusive thing. Vidalia is flirting with it here, but we have yet to reach the promised land. I still give the nod to Peter Smith’s Chef’s Choice PS7’s Burger - the greatest burger I’ve ever eaten. For now.

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