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Monday, August 28, 2006

Liberty Tavern - Omaha, NE

posted by snekse
I'm ready to crown a new favorite Omaha restaurant. In case you couldn't figure it out from the title, the crown goes to Liberty Tavern.

To be honest, I was completely unaware the restaurant even existed until it was recommended to me by an instructor from Metro's Culinary Arts school. My interest was peaked, but we just never found a chance to go as it faded in and out of memory. Luckily I bookmarked their website and as we were deciding where to go for my wife's birthday, our interest was renewed as we studied their menu.

Compared to what's on an average menu in this town, even for fine dining establishments, this menu was impressive. Quality ingredients sourced from some best local and national producers, creative and delicious sounding food pairings, and reasonable prices sealed the deal for our dining choice.

The restaurant is located in the Downtown Hilton next to the Qwest Center. This is probably part of the reason for it's relative obscurity. Dining at a restaurant located in tucked away places is something this town just isn't used to. The restaurant itself is pretty nice. High ceilings with a very open feeling and nice wood and cloth interiors that are modern, but still has a bit of warmth.

There were the occasional odd things that I noticed that detracted from the fine dining aura. The first thing I noticed was the seat coverings. While they were covered with a cool fabric on the backs, the bottoms were basically vinyl and not all that interesting to look at. The other item (that always bugs me) was the stem wear. How do you offer a $600 bottle of wine on your wine list and serve it in a wine glass that cost you $0.99 from your wholesaler? The glasses were far too small, leaving little room to swirl, and the rims....unlike the sex symbols of today, thin lips are in for wine glasses. The final item that might make me hesitant of having a special occasion dinner here is the lack of a dress code. Do you want to be cracking open a $600 bottle of wine across from a table wearing shorts? Actually, I don't really care, but some people might.

Now on to the food.

To put it bluntly, probably the best meal I've ever had in Omaha. Granted I'm easy to buy. Just put some expensive ingredients in front of me and you're half way there. But honestly, execution is everything. Creativity gets you bonus points, but if you can't follow through on that idea, then you fall flat. Liberty Tavern executes well.

A good example of this Good Creativity/Bad Execution, for me at least, has become Taste. I love the menu at Taste. At least in concept. The last few times I've been there though, I've just felt the food was completely average. Their taste combinations aren't quite right and only about half of the items come out of the kitchen cooked to perfection.

So Liberty Tavern has the execution thing going for it, but what about the creativity aspect? Well, it's not the most creative menu I've seen, but it works. It's kind of a restrained creativity. Or maybe contained, I'm not quite sure yet. While I wouldn't call their dishes tried and true, I wouldn't call them cutting edge either. They're mostly variations on classics or future classics while occasionally strolling on the edge of the edge.

To give you an idea of what I'm talking about, here are the items we had.

THYME AND HONEY ROASTED BEET SALAD
SERVED WITH MICRO GREENS, PISTACHIO ENCRUSTED GOAT CHEESE TRUFFLES AND DRIZZLED WITH AGED BALSAMIC VINEGAR

SEARED MAINE SEA SCALLOPS
SERVED ATOP TRUFFLED LOBSTER RAVIOLI, SWEET CORN AND CHARRED ASPARAGUS. FINISHED WITH A CITRUS BUTTER SAUCE

NORTHWEST WILD KING SALMON
DIJON-RYE CRUST, SAUTEED NAPA CABBAGE, NIMAN RANCH APPLEWOOD SMOKED BACON, FINGERLING POTATOES, FINISHED WITH A HORSERADISH CITRUS AIOLI

WILD MUSHROOM RISOTTO
SEASONAL MUSHROOMS, CREAMY ARBORIO RICE, FINISHED WITH A TOUCH OF TRUFFLE OIL AND SHAVED UPLANDS PLEASANT RIDGE RESERVE CHEESE. ACCOMPANIED WITH SEASONAL VEGETABLES

Granted there isn't much cutting edge on this list, but there are some items on the menu that might qualify. Though some may argue that for Omaha, this menu is cutting edge.

As for the standouts, I think the favorite item was the risotto. The scallops were tasty and well prepared, though just ever so slightly overcooked. The goat cheese truffles were fun and interesting, but slightly overpowered the salad due to the small size of the greens compared with the size of the not quite golf ball sized "truffles". I enjoyed the Dijon-rye crust on the salmon; it added an interesting flavor component and complemented the fish well.

The only let downs were the lobster ravioli, the gratin and the dessert menu as a whole. The ravioli weren't bad, just completely average. The gratin on the other hand was awful. This side, which accompanied the risotto, was comprised of squash and I'm sure several other vegetables that I don't care to recall. All I remember is taking a small bite, immediately asking for bread and being annoyed that it took too long for someone to pass me some bread - any bread - because the water I drank wasn't getting rid of the taste. So what did it taste like? Well let's just say it's a flavor profile I associate with my 21st birthday and I wish to never have pass my taste buds again.

So anyway, the desserts. One word - Boring. Despite the fact that we had an ice cream cake waiting at home for us, I really doubt we would have ordered a dessert off their menu. Seriously guys, call La Charlotte or something to outsource your desserts if that's the best you can come up with.

Overall, my thoughts were very positive towards the restaurant. Chef Glenn Wheeler has come up with a great menu and a great team. Hopefully some other restaurants will pick up the gauntlet and try to challenge Liberty Tavern in the fine dining area. It would be good for Omaha and great for us gastronomic warriors looking for the best of the best.

Rating: 92

Liberty Tavern - Make a Reservation
Omaha, NE (Downtown)

1001 Cass Street (map)
Omaha, NE 68102
(402) 998-4321

Hours of Operation
Sunday through Thursday:
  Breakfast 6:00AM - 10:00AM
  Lunch 11:00 AM - 2:00 PM
  Dinner 5:00 PM - 10:00 PM
Friday - Saturday:
  Breakfast 6:00AM - 10:00AM
  Lunch 11:00 AM - 2:00 PM
  Dinner 5:00 PM - 11:00 PM

Liberty Tavern on Urbanspoon

RELATED LINKS:
The Omaha World-Herald
Liberty Tavern wavers between innovative and convenient

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