The Fab Fifteen – Chef’s Choice at Iris

Back during the summer my mom decided to turn a normal weekend into a Memphis staycation. Since she wasn’t going out of town, she decided to treat Memphis like she would treat another city while on vacation. That meant going out to dinner with K and I. So, imagine you’re from somewhere other than Memphis (I know, horrible, right???), and you look up restaurants in Memphis. One of the first things that you’ll probably find out is that Kelly English and Restaurant Iris seemingly win every award that is out there. Seriously, they might have to buy up an extra building on Monroe to house their trophy case.

As an out-of-towner, you’d probably get on Open Table and set up a reservation. So that’s what we did. Since everything I’ve ever tried at Iris has been good awesome, I’m always interested in trying as much as possible. Fortunately, they make that easy with their 5 course meal option, where they’ll hook you up with small portions of three starters and of an entree plus a dessert. Since, we’re all family, and sharing plates is how it works, we asked if we could get as many different plates as possible. We only had one overlap during the entire meal, so if you decide to include the amuse, then you can call this dinner the Fab Fifteen.

Amusing

Sometimes you go to a place that has a great combination of skills and confidence, like an MC in his prime or a ninja. Places like that will often give you a hint of their greatness early on through an amuse, a little bite of something that shows exactly how much they can do in one bite. Iris showed up early with this.

This little batch of tempura fried tomatoes with a sweet jelly was an awesome treat. The best and worst of a good amuse is that after you finish the bite, all you want is to eat more and more. I’d consider this a gateway bite, aka a bit that leads to bigger and more intense bites.

In the Beginning

I’m going to break these down into groups of three to follow along the progression of courses. I’ll start with a little story. All three of us went in with totally open minds about what we would get during the course of dinner. My mom, however, made one request. She asked that at some point, out of her five courses, could she please get some of the fried oysters. They came early.

I could tell you the long version about these oysters, using words like amazing, delicious, heritage, etc. Instead, I’ll share the short version. My mom almost cried because they were so good.

The good places know, don’t they? Somehow they know that K’s favorite thing is this lobster knuckle sandwich, and then it shows up on her plate. I’ve described this in detail before, but I’ll remind you that this luscious lobster sandwich on buttery bread is simplistic excellence at its best. Everything on the dish is there to make the lobster more delicious.

This is the Iris foie gras, and I’ll be honest, I didn’t tear up, but it wouldn’t have been out of the question. This was rich. Really rich.

Richie Rich.

But really, it was amazingly flavorful. I’ve recommended it to every one of my friends that was going to Iris after this dinner (sidenote, I also really recommend that they get the 5 courser, just sayin’).

You Two Can Fly

After round 1, we all knew that we were in for an amazing meal over the course of the next couple hours.

This slow roasted Tamworth cochon de lait is so full of flavor. One good sign of a great meal is that even when you know you shouldn’t, you end up dipping your french bread into the sauce to wipe the plate clean. That happened with this.

This scallop was beautiful. The vegetables and the Benton’s bacon took it to the next level. That is all.

I didn’t get the best photo of this one, but this is a salad that includes pickled watermelon (you read that correctly, I assure you), fried sweetbreads, and some peppery arugula. Yum! I’m noticing a trend here. If you make a great batter, use it to cover up delicious ingredients like oysters or sweetbreads, then fry it to perfection, you end up with something amazing. Just sayin’.

Let’s See What Three Can Be

Third course was a pure salad course, which was excellent. I started us out with this awesome shrimp salad. Greens, cheese, roumalade sauce, olives, and shrimp.

Pretty awesome. For the ladies, we had the one plate that was doubled up, and with good reason.

The heirloom tomato and crab salad is probably the best choice on the menu for something light and delicious when it is available. I imagine that we’re past time for this, but if you ever see it, you can be sure that it will be a great treat. Few things are as good by themselves as a perfect heirloom tomato, so when you add in the little extras with this, it just puts them over the edge and into greatness.

More? Here Comes Number Four.

I was psyched when my fourth course came out. I don’t know if it was that the sauce came out in a french press and was slowly poured over my fish at the table or if it was the knowledge that it had recently been on the 100 things to eat in Memphis before you die list in the Commercial Appeal. The yellowjack and gulf shrimp with the harissa cafe au lait was pretty awesome!

Well deserved place on the list, I’d say.

Here’s another delicious piece of fish. Here’s how well the meal was going. I forgot to write this one down. I’ll holler at someone from Iris to get the description and fill it in. I remember this, it was good.

Here was the kobe beef that was on the menu for a while this summer. Super meat prepared superbly. For all of these final savory courses, it was almost like we were totally crunk on the food and the experience. I was so wrapped up in the moment of taste and pass, taste and pass, that I couldn’t keep very many notes at this point. Like I said earlier, even as we kept getting fuller, you could tell how good these were by looking at the plates we sent back to the kitchen. Nothing but a little sauce, streaked across the plate by our last attempts to soak it all up with the french bread.

Fiver – The Sweet Surrender

First out was a lemon cake with lemon ice cream. It was awesome. It tasted fresh and tart, and it was a great cool down after such a rich meal.

Here’s a little hello dolly cake with coconut and chocolate and some homemade graham cracker (!!!) ice cream. Look, can I just say that I love homemade, good ice cream, especially in unique flavors like graham cracker. Dense, rich, packed with flavor. The goal of this was to continue the push towards full on food coma.

Last but definitely not least. This is my new top dog for dessert. This is a peach shortcake with buttermilk ice cream. Not only is buttermilk ice cream my current favorite, but the peaches were so delicious and it was an amazing combination. Loved it.

15 Down – 1 to go

There we were with fifteen different plates down. So good that I could barely walk or talk. So good that I lost track of what was happening at some point during course four. But, here we go for the final one to go.

I said earlier that Restaurant Iris and Kelly English win a ton of awards. Well, they are much deserved. Restaurant Iris hits this amazing balance. As a “fancy” restaurant, they have a beautiful but comfortable interior, the staff is highly trained and knowledgeable but welcoming and friendly, and the food is extremely well executed but never flashy or trendy. I think some places out there (not really much in Memphis) win diners over with a flashy, trendy experience but Iris wins us all over with pure, old-school excellence. If someone asked me to tell them why I like it so much in short, I’d say that Iris is the place that I could take a friend, a foodie, a visitor, my mom, my brother, or my grandmother, and I know that any of them would love it. It is so good that I have been known to go by myself every now and then…

If you haven’t been yet, figure out a special occasion and take someone that you want to have a great time with. This place is a treasure and Memphis is lucky to have it. See you there!

-Thomas

You want to go to there:

Restaurant Iris
2146 Monroe Avenue
Memphis, TN 38104
901.590.2828

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