Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Mason's Opens the Jar on a New Summer Menu

Posted By on Tue, Jul 8, 2014 at 6:41 AM

Scallops from Mason's
  • Photo: Ron Manville
  • Scallops from Mason's
Mason's at Loews Vanderbilt celebrated its first birthday on May 7. Well, actually they didn't take any time to celebrate since they were so busy cooking three meals a day for hotel guests and locals and planning a new menu for the restaurant. I did attend a small tasting of some of the new menu items that chef Brandon Frohne has come up with, and it's good to know that he's found his groove after a year running the kitchen. With the benefit of a year's worth of different seasonal ingredients having cycled through the larder, Frohne has a better grasp on which specific foodstuffs work on the dishes as opposed to just adding exotic ingredients because they are deemed as trendy.

Supported by the resources of a large hotel chain and kitchen, while at the same time limited by the corporate purchasing procedures, Mason's probably has to work harder at menu planning than many autonomous restaurants where the chef/owner can pick whatever produce he or she likes off of the back of a farmer's truck. The choices Frohne and the staff at Mason's have made for the summer seem pretty clever to me.

A bowl of Cantaloupe Gazpacho garnished with yogurt, chilies and mint oil is a wise choice for a cool soup during hot days, especially in these last few weeks before the tomatoes really start to kick butt. Another nice cooling dish is a Cavolo Nero Kale & Squash Crudo with Walnuts, Fiore Sardo, Blueberry, Pea Tendrils and Beet Yogurt. Really more of a salad than a crudo, it was quite satisfying nonetheless.

Not light or cooling, but definitely satisfying was an appetizer of Crispy Chicken Skin "Chicharitos" seasoned with a spice blend that Frohne developed to mimic the flavor profile of popular trademark-protected snack product that rhymes with "Fro-Ritos."

Hearty new main courses include Espresso Rubbed Beef Tenderloin served with Tarragon and Truffle Creamed Corn over a Scallion Puree and Strawberry Ramp Salsa, and a dish of Grilled Florida Cobia which pays homage to Frohne's German heritage with the addition of a Chive Spetzl. A dish I didn't try, but which tempted me for a future visit, is Scallops with Lemon Asparagus Risotto, Golden Raisin Gremolata, a Country Ham Crisp and more of those delicious Carter Creek Pea Tendrils.

Ashley Jent is the new pastry chef at Mason's, but she also seems to be finding her way quickly. Her new desserts demonstrated a flair for the dramatic that was unexpected for a young chef of her experience, but that sort of fits in with Frohne's reputation as an enfant terrible/prodigy of a chef with a definite love of attention and attention to detail and flair in his food. Polarizing to some, the kitchen team at Mason's serves a lot of masters, from corporate bosses to business travelers to hungry tourists to discriminating locals wondering why they should visit a hotel instead of an independent eatery for a $30 dinner.

Personally, I'd say the new menu aims more at the locals than a hotel guest, but a lodger who chooses to eat in-house after a busy day should have the opportunity to find something interesting to eat at Mason's. If any Bitesters get a chance to try more of the menu than I did, I'd be interested to hear your opinions.

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