V. Mertz

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Mrs Nom and I were looking for nice romantic place to go as our first real date night after having our second child.   We hadn’t been out to eat at a restaurant that didn’t have a toy included in the kids menu, and were looking for a place that could be a bit romantic, while still having a top quality meal. Being out of practice in going on a date, we missed the chance for making reservations at the very popular Grey Plume and the Boiler Room, so we decided to try V. Mertz, one of the old guards in the Omaha dining scene.   V Mertz has long been on our “try” list, but foolishly we had neglected to actually try it before this time.

Open since 1977, V Mertz occupies prime real estate on the lower level of the Old Market Passageway.  The Old Market Passageway is a hidden spot between two old brick buildings that has been converted into an indoor garden spot, with beautiful flowers and fountains, surrounded by art galleries and small boutique shops.  Walking down to V Mertz  feels like you are entering a beautiful old wine cellar combined with an old European street cafe.   Housed in an old warehouse, the weathered brick archways gives a glimpse into the interior, where the exposed wood beams and tables bathed in puddles of dim light create an intimate atmosphere.  Candles and orchid blooms grace the white clad tables, and the formal set of utensils and intricately folded linens hint at the coming fine dining experience.  Cases and bottles of wine stored on shelves and alcoves completes the wine cellar feel.  We were there in early summer, so the light from the glass roof of the Passageway poured in thru the arched doorways that lead to the “patio” tables (really are just out in the Passageway, but harken to the European street cafe) making the tables near the archways slightly brighter than some of the tables deeper in the interior.   Special menus and wine offerings are written out on chalk menu boards, and old black and white photos showing the Passageway and the Old Market are scattered about the restaurant.  Its easy to see how V Mertz is considered one of the most romantic restaurants in Omaha.

Mrs. Nom and I were lead to our table by the host where we were presented with the menu and the wine and drink list.   Our waiter was quickly at table side, pouring water and helpfully detailing the various sections of the menu.  We had already discussed getting the tasting menu, but did not see any mention of the tasting menu.   We asked our server, who informed us the chef was still finalizing what would be on the tasting menu, but would try to get us the first copy off of the printer once it had been completed.  There are two separate tasting menus, the five course Chef’s Tasting Menu and the eight course Chef’s Grand Tasting Menu.  Being adventurous eaters and looking forward to a nice child free evening, we just said that we would be happy to just put our fates (and palates) in Chef Jon Seymour’s hands and ordered the Chef’s Tasting Menu sight unseen.

We decided to start our evening with a drink,  Mrs. Nom choosing a 2009 Dr Loosen Blue Slate Riesling while I chose a Well Traveled Tom Collins.

Soon after our drinks arrived, our sever brought out an amuse-bouche featuring a pickled beet with apricot foam and pickled cauliflower and fennel. Served on a large silver spoon, the beet was earthy and tangy while the sweet apricot foam balanced out the bitter of the fennel.  The fresh flavors blended well and started the meal off right.

 

The first course soon followed, a New England scallop served with preserved lemon,  diced turnips and crispy fried radish chips accompanied by a turnip greens and a parsley puree.  The vibrant puree and greens provided a bright summery splash to the plate while providing a bitter spicy bite.  The scallop was well cooked, buttery with hints of the sea and citrus from the preserved lemon.   The fried radish chips had a caramelized salty sweetness that paired well with the earthy crisp and crunchy turnips.

 

After the first plate was cleared, we were presented a beautiful house baked molasses rye roll with house made butter.   The roll, served warm, was satisfyingly crusty on the outside with a dark sweetness from the molasses. The house made butter was rich and creamy, similar to a high quality European butter.  I know I would have loved to have more of these rolls with dinner, but would have hated to fill up on bread!

The second course served was a Wild Nettle Soup made of locally harvested wild nettles. The soup course provided an opportunity for the service to shine, as the soup was to be served with some final server preparation.   Our server brought out bowls and a large white tea pot.   In the bottom of the bowls were chunks of brioche, white garlic, beets and blueberries in the bottom.  The server then poured a beautiful vibrant deep green soup from the white teapot into the bowls.  After the bowls were filled, our server placed a small scoop of a frozen mango puree into the soup.  At this point, we were surprised to find out that the soup was served chilled, on a warm late spring evening was delightful.  The grassy notes of the nettles picked up a tangy sweetness from the mango puree and the blueberries.  The garlic provided a spicy almost mustard like flavor while the brioche provided a nutty grain flavor.  The flavors and aroma painted a scene reminiscent of walking into a grassy meadow in the spring.  The molasses rye roll was extremely complementary to the soup, and made a perfect sopping tool for the remaining soup.

 At this point there was a slight delay, which we discovered was to accommodate Chef Jon Seymour visiting our table to present the next course.   This course was the aptly named Vegetable Garden, an homage to the local gardens and farms that V.Mertz uses to source their produce.   The dish was served both hot and cold, with a hot paste of solder beans serving as the ‘dirt’ of the garden. Atop the beans, a harvest of kale greens,garlic shoots, pigweed and tarragon provided a bed for the bounty of vegetables that were artfully arranged atop the greens.   Sweet baby turnips, 3 varieties of tender radishes, carrots and beets all locally grown and sourced from the Omaha Farmer’s Market celebrated the rich harvest of the local providers.  I was interested in finding out that pigweed is delicious, tangy and herbaceous, as I have always considered it a plant worthy of a lot of Roundup!    This dish may have been my favorite of the night, as the contrasting temperatures, interplay of textures and the crisp freshness of the root vegetables all combined to make a very rich and complex dish.

 Mrs. Nom and I refreshed our drinks, opting for a red to better fit the upcoming beef dish.   We were recommended an Argentinian Malbec, the 2010 Achaval Fererr Mendoza.  The Malbec was a rich dark and fruity wine, with some hints of wild berries.  The wine was bold and had a little smoky oak flavor that paired well with the “Majinola Ranch” Waygu Beef plate.   Chef Jon Seymour again came out to the table to explain the dish, a presentation of three cuts of Waygu beef, a fillet, a bit of beef belly and a bit of short rib paired with chickpea gnocchi with apricot reduction dressing the mizuna greens.  Fresh young (unripe) mulberries and a delicious fresh mulberry jam finished the plate with a beautiful deep purple.   Each cut of of beef was prepared in a unique style, the fillet seared to a perfect medium rare, the short rib slowly cooked in a beef confit, and the beef belly tenderized in milk for a week before being finished over low heat to allow the connective tissue to break down.   The fillet was juicy and tender with a rich marbling and a deep red color in the center.  The short rib was tender, the confit technique infusing the short rib with a deep intense flavor.   The beef belly was tender but a bit chewy but very rich tasting.   The chickpea gnocchi was nutty and dense, and paired well with the apricot reduction.  Mrs. Nom did not like the chickpea gnocchi, as she felt it was slightly to firm, almost a bit undercooked.   I thought the gnocchi was good (I ate the rest of Mrs. Nom’s,), but not  on par with the beef.  The young mulberries were very tart and when combined with the mulberry jam helped cut the richness of the beef.  Like the rest of the meal’s produce, the mulberries were picked locally by the V. Mertz kitchen staff.   Majinola Ranch is another fine local vendor from Iowa, again celebrating the local suppliers who provide high quality produce and meat to Omaha’s restaurants.

 

 Our server brought by a large tray full of beautiful cheeses.   We selected a wonderful Gorgonzola and a Morbier cheese.   The Gorgonzola from Oregon was richly funky, with a strong aroma.   The Morbier cheese has a layer of ash pressed into it bisecting the entire piece.  The aroma of the cheese is strong, but the flavor is rich and creamy with a slightly bitter bite.   The cheese was served with a tart rhubarb compote and a buttery nutty crumb top and a spicy tangy mustard.

Our final course was a delectable sampling of Pasty Chef Greg Pearsall’s talents.   The Chocolate Pave’ was a chilled dark chocolate bar, firm but still soft enough to cut with a fork.   Accompanying the chocolate was the crumble top from the cheese plate, tasting like a crushed graham cracker with candied nuts and thyme.   A brown butter infused whipped cream complimented the chocolate, providing a lighter sweet cream to offset the semisweet dark chocolate.   A port wine ice cream was slightly sweet yet savory, with a little alcohol bite like you would get with a spirit, but with the creaminess of ice cream.   The texture of the ice cream was smooth and similar in consistency to soft serve due to the difficulty in freezing products with high alcohol levels.  The plate was satisfyingly rich and sweet, but not overly the overly sweet that can commonly happen with desserts.

Overall, Mrs. Nom and I feel that V. Mertz is one of the best dining experiences we have ever had, not only in Omaha, but in our various travels.   Chef Seymour’s skills and passion for food is evident in the dishes we tasted and the attention to detail he asks of his staff.  Service was excellent, with knowledgeable servers who were quick and efficient.  The atmosphere of the restaurant is suburb, romantic and intimate.   My only complaint would be that once the restaurant gets busy, the tables can be a bit close, with your neighbors conversations clearly.  Perhaps in other deeper parts of the restaurant the tables are more private, but that really was the only negative we had with our dining experience.

Mrs Nom and I would highly recommend V. Mertz and hope you too will go and enjoy some serious gastronomy!

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