Text © 2010
“If it’s not fresh, it’s not on our menu,” says Jaco Smith, head chef at the acclaimed Georgia’s Bistro in the lavish Ritz Carlton Plantation Resort.
Such is not an idle claim from Smith, who for the past few years has partnered with a local farmer in order to bring the freshest, most dependable produce and vegetables to his award winning menu.
“I’ll call the farm each week and base my menu entirely on what they say is fresh,” Smith says, who turned the restaurant into a bistro shortly after he arrived several years ago in order to serve moderately priced, simple classic dishes.
To punctuate the freshness factor, Smith planted his own herb garden directly outside the Bistro’s doors. Each day chefs can be seen selecting such herbs as basil for the cured salmon or rosemary for shrimp skewers. “We never buy herbs,” he explains proudly.
“We are not an organic restaurant, per se,” explains Smith, “but as chefs we have a responsibility for the way people eat. It is important that we use produce that are humanely raised and organically grown, with no hormones, steroids, or chemicals. When we buy locally, it’s much easier to keep an eye on those practices.”
Smith only deals with regional farmers, suppliers and artisans who share the same food philosophy and high standards. “What’s really great about artisans is that you have people who take pride in what they do, and their main concern is the exceptional quality and the attributes they are providing,” he says.
Nestled on the shore of Lake Oconee, 75 miles from Atlanta, the 251-room Ritz-Carlton Lodge Reynolds Plantation is not your everyday luxurious Ritz. Draped in ivy and edged by pines, the resort exudes a tranquility that stems from its placid setting at one of the most picturesque lakes in the south. Georgia’s second largest lake, Oconee has more fish per square acre than any lake in the state, including large mouth bass, catfish, and crappie. For those who would rather see fish on their plate than on a hook, Georgia’s Bistro offers a distinctive culinary experience which has earned the coveted AAA Four Diamond Dining Award.
Savory options include “A Taste of the South,” the Bistro’s signature charcuterie plate featuring Chef Smith’s hand-made mozzarella cheese paired with a selection of salami. Served with an assortment of preserves and cheddar onion bread prepared in-house, the appetizer is the perfect way to begin your delectable tour of regional southern food.
You might try the Bistro Warm Spinach Salad, with regional baby spinach and vine-ripe tomatoes. One bite and there’s no mistaking that these juicy tomatoes came from the fields only a day or two before … perhaps even hours ago.
Cream of Vidalia Onion Soup bursts with fresh flavors, while Georgia’s Shrimp and Grits, lightly accented by Creole Spiced Peppers and Parmesan Cheese, serves as the perfect second course. Other seafood offerings include Pan Roasted Scallops, which literally can be cut with a fork, with buttered autumn squash and a corn lobster sauce that would be delicious over cardboard. Chocolate-covered strawberries and assorted truffles are ideal finishing touches.
Should they choose a more intimate setting, couples are pampered at a Chiminea bonfire, consisting of a specially prepared gourmet meal served lakefront by a personal waiter. Rose petals on the sandy shore near the bonfire spell out a personal message for the love bugs. This experience is $250 plus tax and gratuity, and includes one bottle of house red or white wine and a champagne toast.
Gaby’s by the Lake, located poolside and offering some of the most inspiring views of Lake Oconee, provides a relaxed dining experience for the entire family, whether you arrive by boat or by car to pick up your order, or to relax and enjoy the stunning view. Featuring a casual menu of pizzas, salads, sandwiches and grilled favorites, many guests head to Gaby’s for their signature chilled cocktails on a hot Georgia summer afternoon.
After loosening their belts a notch, diners head to what always turns out to be one of the nicest parts of the stay. Each night the resort hosts a s’mores party as guests of all ages roast marshmallows over an open fire, then top each one with chocolate and graham crackers.
Wine enthusiasts at the Plantation can choose from over 200 wines that are represented by all the major wine producing countries, along with wineries from California, Washington, Oregon, New York, and Georgia. Prices by the glass range from $6 to $21 and from $27 to over $1000 if you prefer a bottle. Guests also have the opportunity to sample the Ritz’s own special custom blend, developed in part by Stephen Clark, wine sommelier at the resort who was part of a corporate team that successfully completed a custom blending project in partnership with the Steven Kent Winery that produced a pair of delicate wines; a Chardonnay and a Cabernet.
“With so many diverse culinary experiences within our hotel and resorts around the globe, we wanted to give the wines a structure that would complement most dishes and also offer a memorable experience when consumed by themselves,” Clark says. “The thought was to approach these wines from the point of view of our guests. We know what our guests like and dislike and therefore have an advantage to blend around their preferences instead of a winery guessing what that should be.”
For the Cabernet, Clark and the team added small percentages of Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc for floral, palate structure and balance, giving the wine a well-rounded palate that appeals to both the wine connoisseur and novice. The Chardonnay was structured to produce a full body but with more mineral than oak flavors. According to Clark, today’s Chardonnay drinkers have steered away from lots of oak and butter and more to an old-world style.
No matter your wine preference or penchant for fine dining, the varied offerings at the Plantation will assuredly please even the most discerning of tastes. Smith and Clark wouldn’t have it any other way.
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