No matter what the occasion or level of formality it can be found in one of Morrison House's varied dining areas. And that includes a congenial piano/bar in the English tudor Grille.
"People think of us as a hotel. We are also a great restaurant," said Peter Greenberg, owner. "Our menus stay really inventive, but always within the construct of quality."
Insuring that edict is Robert Ulrich. Born and raised in Vienna, Austria, Ulrich has been the executive chef at Morrison House for the past year. "We personalize the meals," he explained.
"We only buy what is unique on the market," he said. That is proven by their top entree listing, "Flown in Wild Game Fish." On any given evening, it can be fish from throughout the world prepared to the particular taste of the guest.
"The part that is really fun is when I come to the table and interview the guests as to what they may like. It is then prepared especially for them," he explained.
The dining room, known as the Elysium Room, seats 24 at intimate tables adorned with elegant deep, sea blue table settings. In addition there is the Louis XVI room, a private room for meetings and special events that seats 40, and the Salon for parties of 16 to 20.
But it is the Grille where hotel guests and local diners can enjoy the excellent cuisine in an informal setting. On Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights the atmosphere is punctuated by the impromptu singing around the piano just off the room's entrance.
WITH ITS RED leather barrel chairs, black leather seated bar stools, hardwood floors and encased pub-style dark walnut bar, the Grille has all the atmosphere needed to enjoy a meal or light snack. And bartender Amad Hamden makes sure guests, either at the bar, tables or around the piano, are not left dry.
The Grille lunch menu ranges from $16 for the Ducktrap Farms smoked salmon platter or crispy Morrison House crab cake to $9 for the french onion soup. There is even a Morrison House cheese- burger for $13.
Liquid libations are complemented by an extensive wine list that can be served either by the bottle or the glass, according to Jill Cox, food and beverage manager. "All of our wines are personally selected from throughout the world," she emphasized.
Bottle prices on the list range from $25 for a Pinot Grigio up to $750 for a 1979 Opus One from Oakville Vineyards in California's Napa Valley. Half bottle selections range from $25 yo $250. As for by the glass, costs run the gamut from $6 to $14.
There is also a wide selection of champagnes and sparkling wines as well as beer and spirits for every taste. It is all designed to enhance the Morrison House dining experience.
WHAT MAKES DINNER at the 116 S. Alfred Street hotel most unusual is a gourmet experience entitled, "A Chef of Your Own." This is where Ulrich creates a meal for each individual diner in the Elysium Room.
Each diner's preference is selected from a list of entrees which include, in addition to the wild game fish, such items as filet mignon au poivre, rack of lamb, and milk fed veal. These are accompanied by a wide array of appetizers, the most expensive of which is "Osetro caviar with buttermilk hazelnut blini and traditional garnishes." It is priced at $95 a serving.
As explained by Ulrich in the special invitation presented to the table, "We invite you to be playful; this approach is intended to engage you so that you might receive exactly what you wish. Hopefully, your participation will enhance your enjoyment."
To complement food items, Ulrich urges diners to pair wines with their selections on an individual basis. He urges guests "to invite our sommelier to play a role. Just a small taste of the perfect wine will make this evening all the more memorable."
There is also a suggestion to engaged in what is termed a "Flight of Wine." This involves a tasting of "some of the world's greatest wines." It carries a price tag of $38 per person.
When desert time arrives, there is a selection ranging from macadamia shortbread and double chocolate cookies to berry swirl and white chocolate cheesecake. These are all priced at $8 each and can be paired with the perfect desert wine, either by the glass or bottle.
AS MIGHT BE expected this is not a dinner for the faint of heart or wallet. Dinner and wine for two, based on the "Chef of Your Own" presentation, prices out to approximately $250 per couple depending on selections of entrees and wine, according to Cox. This is exclusive of taxes and gratuity.
Whether it be an elegant meal in the Elysium or a casual lunch in the Grille or a special event in the Louis XVI, Morrison House dining is best summed up by the quote from Frank Lloyd Wright printed at the bottom of the Chef of Your Own enticement:
"Dining is, and always was, a great artistic opportunity."