On the Count of Three

This intriguing menu elevates the flight concept to new heights.

Deciding what to eat at any given meal can be a difficult endeavor. After a server hands me a menu, I find myself chatting away with my companions, oblivious to time – basically acting as though I am anywhere but sitting at a restaurant table with some immediate choices to make. Like anyone, I seek to avoid having any regrets, even if it's over something as basic as my entrée. So of course I was interested in the innovative concept of food served in three part "flights" — a method of sampling and comparing dishes and wines — that's in place at Flight Restaurant and Wine Bar. The eatery opened in April and is owned by Russ Graham and Tom Powers; it's located downtown in the corner spot that previously housed Stella. . >>>

During dinner at Flight recently, we decided that we wanted to order everything from start to finish in sets of three. This eye-opening, conversation-starting experience was unlike any I have had before when dining out in Memphis. For those who would rather have a traditional meal, it's no problem. Flight's menu clearly delineates the options and corresponding prices of single entrées as well as those grouped in flights.

For our appetizers, I chose the salad flight, and my companion opted for the soup flight. I absolutely loved the salads: the trendy watermelon and feta plus mint; the classic spinach, bacon, and egg with a white balsamic vinaigrette; and the strange-but-great one, a citrusy orange and avocado salad with toasted almonds. The presentation was impressive with attention paid to the artful arrangement of all the components on three square white plates in a row. The next flight featured lobster bisque, seafood gumbo, and French onion soups in tiny cups, but the rich heartiness of each packed a concentrated punch of flavor. At this point, we liked comparing notes about the individual dishes and debating which one was our favorite out of the three.

For my entrée, I selected the seafood flight because the preparation of each dish sounded so creative. Seared sea scallops were dotted with a black-bean-ginger beurre blanc, an unexpected combination. Next, large chunks of Maine lobster were nestled in with tender roasted artichokes, red peppers, and fingerling potatoes. The shrimp dish was paired with tomato and saffron fondue and a Parmesan polenta. The variety of the flavors was amazing, and it was easy for total focus to be on the food since it was exciting for us to share and compare notes. My steak-obsessed companion went straight for the beef flight, and it was amusing to see three different little steaks and their different starches all in a row on white plates atop a wooden palette. The filet of beef was matched with fondant potatoes and grilled shiitake mushrooms. The flat iron of beef was complemented by a wild mushroom risotto studded with paper-thin fried carrots and drizzled with cabernet syrup. The rib eye offered an interesting side: a bacon and onion mash. Of course, any steak lover would find this heavenly. Overall, though, vegetarians should be aware that the focus at Flight is definitely on meat no veggie entrées were available on the menu.

Dessert was a tough call. I mean, when there are flights of crème brulee, sorbet, cheesecake, and chocolate desserts on offer, everything sounds like a must. We opted for the chocolate flight and were curious to try it since the server told us that Flight's pastry chef is a 20-year-old wunderkind. A toffee theme was apparent: dark chocolate and peanut butter terrine with peanut brittle, toffee-chip tiramisu in a martini glass, and a white chocolate torte with raspberry sorbet sprinkled with toffee and toasted walnuts. We found that one dessert flight would be enough for three people to share.

At Flight, wine and spirits may be ordered individually or grouped in particular flights. The presentation of flights of red and white wine includes a succinct printed card with a focused take on palate, aroma, acidity, and finish. Sassy, accessible descriptions on the menu offer an easy guide of what's what.

Throughout dinner, we found that service was attentive but leisurely, yet that was okay. I suppose we expected it due to the surprising number of people dining at Flight on a plain old Tuesday night. The complimentary valet service ran smoothly since our server called ahead for our car before dessert arrived. We enjoyed the lively atmosphere and classic décor, of which diamondback-snake patterned floors, burnished dark wood, and intimate candlelit seating were standouts.

We talked about the meal before we left, and as we went over the five different flights we sampled, we started doing the math. We quickly realized that together, we'd tried 15 different dishes! It's good to be aware that portions at Flight are not large, but the variety available at dinner makes for a different sort of satisfaction.

Lunch presented a bit more decision-making drama because there is a completely different menu of sandwiches, soups, entrées, and salads on weekdays. The kicky, well-designed lunch menu, reminiscent of a culinary boarding pass, links American cities with the dishes that represent the best of what they offer. I chose what I felt was the most unusual salad, the Santa Fe, which included grilled chicken, black beans, corn, cubes of jicama, mango, and avocado, and warm tortilla strips. The sweet tinge of the chipotle-lime vinaigrette was wonderful. We also tried a lump crab cake sandwich and house-cut fries, and while my companion complained that there needed to be more crab included in the cakes, I liked the colored peppers in them. I selected the New York City dish, wild mushroom ravioli, and wished there was more of the perfect, savory, earthy ravioli and less garlic cream sauce and topping, which consisted of grilled chicken, bacon, and crimini mushrooms. Our dessert selection was three tiny dishes of Grand Marnier, Godiva chocolate, and vanilla bean-flavored crème brulee, and each was rich, velvety, and balanced. The only flights available at lunch were desserts, so if sampling different small plates is your goal, opting for dinner is a better bet. We did find that service was as quick as could be; we had eaten and paid the check even before an hour's time had clicked by on our parking meter.

Flight's menu is beguiling and experimental, and its fresh take on dining works quite well because getting to try everything without having to make tough decisions turns out to be pretty liberating. It was such an invigorating change from the typical restaurant, and because of this, I believe Flight's menu will win over even the most jaded diners among us. 

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