Drinking the last of our wine at the table with Chef Ed Nafei hours after the other diners and servers had left the restaurant was the finale to a truly memorable and amusing dining experience at Savour. How did we get to that point? We have our friend and dining companion Liz to thank, as well as Chef Ed’s appreciation for a challenge and his uncanny ability to read people. When we were seated at our table several hours earlier, Chef Ed had warmly greeted us right away and asked if we had any questions about the menu. As he started to describe the three fish specials, Liz – who has a discerning palette and charming tendency to not sugarcoat things – said: “It smelled very fishy when I walked in the door. I definitely don’t want that fish, so which one should I order?” Things could have gone in a lot of different directions from that point on. But Chef Ed stood back, straightened his chef’s coat, and replied that it was now his mission to give her the best meal she had experienced in a long time. After an evening of free wine tastings, complimentary desserts and after-dinner drinks, focused attention, and a late night hang with the chef-boss, it occurred to us that this was one of the rare times in history that the old, “your restaurant smells like sh*t, now give us free booze” strategy was successful.
I like a chef that likes a challenge, and Chef Ed certainly fits that bill. He later told us that he pegged Liz as someone who was going to be difficult to impress the moment we walked in the door and he was determined to wow her. He brought over cuts of the uncooked fish to let her smell each of them to make sure she avoided the one she didn’t want. As we waffled on which wine to order, he brought over five samples – all for her to try. We ordered two desserts, he brought us four and didn’t stop there. When Liz responded with a nonchalant, “It’s nice,” to his favorite Umali brûlée dessert, he immediately brought out another dark chocolate soufflé with roasted marshmallows on top that elicited a more enthusiastic response.
I also like restaurateurs that are entertaining, and we got a front row seat after we invited Chef Ed to join us with his big glass of rum as the place was closing down. While he wouldn’t advise us on what dishes to order early on (“they’re all good and I just get in trouble when I do that”), he was free flowing with other advice (“why would anyone bother with white wine??”). Although he’s been in the restaurant business for over 30 years, he apparently remembers most diners who have come through the door. He poured his heart and soul into remodeling a former Chinese buffet space where every thoughtful detail is apparent, including a double-sided tiled fireplace that he built with his own hands for nearly two months.
While Chef Ed made for a memorable evening, the food more than held its own. We ordered four different appetizers and entrées and rotated plates, but it was interesting and a nice compliment to the restaurant that we each ended up liking our own orders the best. Some places have clear specialties that they do well and everything else on the menu falls short, but Savour delivered across the board with each dish beautifully arranged on the plate. I loved my chorizo corn cakes appetizer with a sweet red bean puree as an appetizer, and the chilled crab and shrimp with papaya and avocado was refreshing and light. For a main course, the duck with a port wine, ginger, and huckleberry compote was the star. Jed thought the scallops served inside whipped purple potatoes with melted parmesan on top were exotically delicious, but he didn’t enjoy his chicken and prawns entrée as much, mainly because the mushy asparagus that dominated the dish – but which weren’t in the dish’s description on the menu – were a confusing addition to the avocado, smoked jalapeño, cilantro, and tequila flavors. The portions are huge and the dishes are rich, so be prepared to feel stuffed.
The Route 29 location is a tough one for a fine dining experience but I hope more people give it a chance. Savour has a devoted lunchtime crowd but overall the location seems to draw in a smaller crowd of more “seasoned” diners. It’s a nice change of pace from the downtown scene next time you’re looking for something different from the usual upscale options.
Jed says: “A charming restaurant in an unfortunate location, Savour and its consumate chef-sommelier-owner deserve a lot more attention than they’ve been getting. Don’t miss the duck or Umali Brûlée.”
Rating: Erin: Jed:
Pros: Beautiful food presentation, classic choices with creative flavor pairings, nicely decorated setting.
Cons: Route 29 location.
Price: $8 appetizers, $20 entrées, or $33 for appetizer, entrée, and dessert.