Mabel Gray is a medium-sized place. It is long rectangular restaurant with bench seating running the length of one side that is opposite the kitchen and bar areas. Tables are small and set fairly close but with enough room to be able to get out between them. It was packed with people the evening we were there and with rock music playing in the background there was a fair amount of noise to deal with. They offer an a la carte menu as well as a surprise tasting menu. Beverage pairings are available to go with the tasting. We had the tasting and pairings and the friendly servers were able to keep a nice pace to the meal despite the number of people. Portions on the tasting menu are fairly generous and table water is served in old Lillet bottles.
Our tasting started with a summer tomato salad with various varieties of local tomatoes, avocado, Manchego cheese, Marcona almonds and a Bagna càuda sauce (anchovies, garlic, olive oil and butter). Everything in the dish was pretty tasty and the dressing added a real dimension to the ingredients. A good fresh summer combination enhanced with the crunch of the almonds. Some of the tomatoes were a little too soft but overall were quite good.
A flatbread was made from house made Naan bread and covered with black summer truffles, crème fraîche, salmon roe and frisee. The bread was very nice texturally but the dish was mostly bland. While the truffles were beautifully presented they had virtually no taste and just added a cardboard texture. The roe did supply a nice component for taste and texture.
Benton’s smoked and cured Tennessee ham was paired with sweet cantaloupe and honey-dew melons from California and then all covered with a white Balsamic and pea tendrils. The melons were excellent – sweet and nicely soft. The ham was smoky, salty and tender. A perfect pairing of flavors as was the wine pairing (Piedmont white wine). An excellent course.
Spicy Manila clams were mixed with onions, peppers, guanciale, preserved lemon butter and watercress in a white wine sauce and served with a house made sour dough rye bread. The pastry chef brought the 6-7 year old bread starter with her to the restaurant. It was a nice doughy bread but a bit dry and not strongly rye flavored. It was perfect to aid in mopping up the very spicy broth. This dish was packed with flavor and the The Smoking Goose guanciale was particularly tasty. It really packed a punch – very good.
Ricotta gnocchi was mixed with braised rabbit, summer vegetables (tomatoes, zucchini, radicchio) and goat cheese and presented with a sauce of white wine, garlic and potatoes. The gnocchi was extremely tender and the broth just as savory. The vegetables were nicely cooked – not overdone but not overly crisp. A really good dish.
A palate cleanser of Michigan strawberries with lemon in a granita was truly tasty and strongly flavored, with a marvelous color. It worked as intended and was very refreshing.
A 60 day aged NY strip was plated with quinoa, broccoli rabé and a Bordelaise sauce. It was amazingly tender, flavorful and cooked a perfect rare. The broccoli added a salty component to balance the lovely sauce. The beef was as tender as a slice of butter. It was lick the plate good!
Dessert was a chocolate and cherry ganache. The cherries were from Michigan and the chocolate was chewy and intense. A thin, crisp cornmeal cookie rounded out this sweet, luscious fix.