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The Rural Foodies go to the city: experiencing Omaha’s Grey Plume
by Betty Sayers
We Rural Foodies are celebratory types and with a business meeting in Omaha plus an October birthday among us we happily planned a party at the Grey Plume in Omaha.
We chose the Grey Plume Restaurant in part because the chef and owner, Clayton Chapman, serves Blue Valley trout raised in the cold, clean water pumped directly from the Ogallala Aquifer at Sutton, Nebraska. We know about Blue Valley Trout from the other end of the production line, because we visited with them and told their story in an earlier edition of Nebraska Rural Living. Now we’d like to get a taste of Chef Chapman’s signature recipe for the trout, which garners raves from our Omaha friends.
The Grey Plume describes itself as, “Seasonally-driven, contemporary cuisine from locally-grown produce and livestock,” but that’s really only the tip of the experience. The Grey Plume is also the first Green Restaurant Association 4-Star Sustainabuild™ restaurant in the country and has accumulated more points than any other Certified Green Restaurant®. The designation is a certification similar to LEED® certification, and it means that from the 90% recycled content floors to the extensive LED lighting throughout, everything about the Grey Plume is smart, sophisticated, and sustainable.
Our first impression
Our first impression of the building is clean, simple, fresh and spacious. Brilliant white linen tablecloths and small vases of locally-grown garden-variety flowers brighten the reclaimed hickory wood tables. Sunlight from great windows sheds natural light across the recycled barn wood floor in the dining room and bar. Customers at the window tables see the shoppers, bicyclists, joggers, and dog walkers of the Midtown Crossing location and feel part of the ever-changing city scene.
The cutlery, glassware and table appointments impressed us with their quality and design. One among our party is an expert in Feng Shui design and noticed immediately that the table knives were designed so the sharp edge of the blade faces the table — reassuring to the diner who notices.
The maître de, our waiter, and of course, the sommelier generously provided facts about the green aspects of the restaurant, the specific items on the menu, where the ingredients were produced and how they were grown.
A fish story
Menu selections change often if not daily according to the availability of the fresh, local products. We overheard a diner lamenting the fact that the Blue Valley steelhead trout is temporarily unavailable. We, too, were disappointed since Chef Chapman’s rendition of the Blue Valley steelhead trout was highly recommended by a friend who said, “The trout tastes amazing, and I don’t know how the chef does it, but even the skin is delicious and crunchy.”
We later learned from the Blue Valley Trout Company in Sutton that the trout is captured, processed and delivered within 12 hours to guarantee freshness and quality, and that steelhead is in great demand. The Grey Plume chef simply didn’t order enough trout to satisfy their customers over this particular weekend. Oh, well, another reason to return to Omaha!
We make some selections
Don’t expect anything too ordinary at the Grey Plume. Two of our party ordered a grapefruit and a clementine cola that arrived in tall, slim glasses with an old fashioned, recyclable paper straw. We all tried a sip, and the flavor burst in our mouth; every sip is natural and made of fresh ingredients.
Then we contemplated the menu, and following a conversation over the “First Plates” choices, we decided on the Charcuterie Board of cured meats and cheese, and the AuBon Canard Foie Gras Torchon with June apple and pecan brioche. Our two remaining choices were Chilled Cantaloupe Soup with lavender, black truffle and Bearrs lime, or Tomato Buttermilk Gnocchi and Basil. Our sommelier suggested a classic Pinot Noir to accompany our “First Plates”.
To add a little extra delight, the waiter arrived with an array of silver spoons, one for each of us, filled to heaping with a buttermilk mousse, terra cotta green-basil puree, topped with a sour apple gelee. We nibbled the mousse and we exclaimed over the uncommon and wonderful flavor, slightly sour and slightly sweet; flavors at the Grey Plume, we find, are intense and concentrated.
On to the main dish
TD Niche Farm’s pork, Columbia River salmon, Plum Creek Farm’s chicken and Majinola Farm’s Wagyu beef were on the menu for the “Main Plates”. The waiter reminded us that much of the produce and meats were grown within 80 miles of the Grey Plume, and the fish is wild caught in Alaskan waters with a hook and line rather than drift nets, and delivered by air within 12 hours of the catch.
An enticing aroma precedes the plates, and each plate looks like a painting by Monet or Van Gogh with meticulous attention to color, portion and the design of the food on the plate. Dollops of horse radish or kumquat or ground cherry dot the plate. Golden summer squash, tiny baked onions, oyster mushrooms, crème fraiche spätzle, or a nicely-browned potato accompanies the protein selection.
Clayton Chapman may be teaching Nebraskans that the flavors of relatively small servings of protein, augmented by a sauce reduction and a selection of sautéed or baked vegetables that are grown for their flavor rather than long shelf life may be more satisfying than the oversize restaurant portions commonly provided at more standard restaurants. At the Grey Plume, we truly tasted each bite and remarked about the flavor.
Room for dessert
But wait, maybe we do have a taste for dessert too, although then again, it may be that we simply want to linger longer in the gentle ambience of The Grey Plume. Menu choices include local artisan cheeses, an opera cake, panna cotta, house-made ice cream and sorbet; a full range of coffee, including house-roasted French press espresso or Americano, and cappuccino or latte; a pot of organic fair trade teas blended locally; and dessert wines from Australia, Spain, Portugal and Germany.
Some of our party chose the ice creams and others a luscious chocolate and cream cake as the perfect topping to our dinner — especially when accompanied by the exceptional Grey Plume coffee. Actually, every expectation for our meal was matched and then bubbled over-the-top. We can’t wait for a return trip and another glimpse of Chef Chapman’s exploration into the neighborhood of fresh, local foods.
Who to Contact
The Grey Plume
220 S. 31st Ave., Suite 3101
Omaha, NE 68131
Hours: Monday – Saturday, 5 p.m. - 10 p.m.