Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Update: Food & Fermentation Closes The Doors

This is the news I got yesterday through various intelligence sources. Out of a great deal of esteem and affection for Doug and Laurel, I wanted to wait until something appeared in the MSM. The local daily had a story posted today. According to that story, which quoted Laurel, F&F was unable to secure financing for an expansion, and therefore the decision was to close Monday with an eye toward getting out of the restaurant and catering business in favor of a smaller retail botique offering wines, cheeses, and "everyday grocery items."

Whatever the reasons and whatever the future plans may be are rather beside the point. It's clear from Laurel's quoted remarks to the AL reporter that F&F, as we have come to know and love it, is no more. I am sure the speculation is running rampant as to why: the "new" space at Falls Center (opened just about two years ago) must have been too big and expensive; the move away from the so-called epicenter of lunch venues cost them vital noontime business; the wines being offered were too high-end for most folks. Does any of that really matter?

If it is true, that F&F is out of the restaurant and catering business for good, that is a true loss. Laurel Lather is an extremely talented chef and she fully deserves credit for moving the food scene here in Sioux Falls ahead a few steps. In a town where fine dining unfortunately too often means a huge cut of read meat served with a starch, etc. etc. F&F served things that were, well, different. The preparations were creative and thought out. Laurel could take some chances with ingredients that usually paid dividends for her customers.

Back before almost all the wine retailers were sponsoring monthly dinners, F&F held monthly gatherings of the International Food and Wine Society. Because this is South Dakota and you are not going to be buying any wine here anytime soon without the blessing of the few distributors, the wines and the people representing those wines were the same that you would see at the events held by Hy Vee, Taylor's Pantry, JJ's, The Little Wine Cellar, and so on. The difference was Laurel's culinary talents. Laurel would get VERY creative with the courses she paired with the featured wines. Here are a few memorable courses and offerings over the last several years:

  • A salad consisting of tomatoes, watermelon and herbs dressed with a light lemony vinagrette. It was paired with white zinfandel. Yeah, yeah. We're all thinking the same thing: What the hell is this salad and I can't believe I am drinking this sweet pink wine." It was a phemomenal pairing.

  • At a Polish-themed dinner the first course was a huge platter of pickles, breads, pate, hard boiled eggs, mustards and other spreads. The instructions were to pile a bunch of those components on the bread and shovel it in. As goofy as this sounds- another hit.

  • About a year ago, the wine dinner was the sake dinner. Instead of wine, sake was served alone and in various concoctions. Sake bloody mary, sake with ginger, etc. The food was, of course, Asian themed. This was a really good one.

  • Blind tastings. Can you taste 9 or 10 different red wines and separate the shiraz from the merlot? This IS NOT as easy as it sounds, and if you have ever done it once you will understand why the real wine tasting experts expectorate (spit out) the wine after tasting. It's hard enough to make the brain work through the complexities of what makes the stuff in the glass cabarnet as opposed to zinfandel without the asssitance of the alcohol.

  • The last wine dinner at the old venue (where Wild Flour Bakery is now) was a camping theme. Notably, a corn soup was served in a little Green Giant can- campfire style. That menu also featured rattlesnake sausage.

  • South African wine dinners were especially fun, complete with a native South Afrikaaner presenting the wines and a South African inspired menu, including Bobotie.

  • A First Thanksgiving Dinner in 2007 to cleebrate the new venue. Laurel and her staff made a huge quantity of food and served it family style. The tables were pushed together so all the guests were seated at one table. Laurel, Doug, Ben, and the other staffers joined the guests while the food went round the table and the wine flowed.
  • How about the lunch specials- usually an interesting grilled cheese sandwich with some twist- like leeks or wild mushrooms. And the soups were always interesting, like tomato basil chianti- the secret was the huge volume of chianti.
Probably the neatest thing about eating a F&F is that whatever you had was good and you felt like you were among friends. You knew you could put yourself in Laurel's hands and have an interesting and good meal.

I wish Laurel and Doug well and hope we'll see them around town and into a new endeavor.

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