For the leadership at Oaks on the River, Darien’s recently opened luxury boutique resort, becoming a fixture in the community is important. And what better way than opening the doors for Thanksgiving dinner?
Thursday will mark the resort’s first reservation-only Thanksgiving feast this Thursday at the Oaks Club Restaurant and Cedar Bar.
A time for friends and family to get together and enjoy the company, in the restaurant business Thanksgiving is also an opportunity to try something both new and old, says Donna Hougentogler, food and beverage director at Oaks on the River. Trying out new ingredients and food combinations is sometimes, paradoxically, old hat for a lot of chefs.
“But when Thanksgiving rolls around, we get to take something that has been passed down for generations and perfect it for new generations,” Hougentogler said. “Classic cooking techniques like those used in the traditional Thanksgiving style are still popular because they produce such good food. That will never change.”
For the inaugural feast, turkey with lemon-sage stuffing will be the star of the meal, Hougentogler said, with co-stars including prime rib with beef au-jus and applewood-smoked ham with honey mustard and pineapple glaze.
“Because we are on the beautiful historic downtown Darien riverfront, we will also serve a coastal favorite, peel-and-eat shrimp,” she added.
Sharing the stage are salads made with fresh produce along with other sides like roasted butternut squash with sage and apples, grilled fresh asparagus with balsamic and dried cranberries, green bean and wild mushroom casserole, roasted carrots and parsnips along with Thanksgiving staples — mashed gold potatoes and sweet potato soufflé.
“This truly is going to be a feast for the ages,” said Hougentogler.
Unfortunately, it’s also sold out for this year. Keep an eye on the resort’s website and social media for information on next year’s event.
Barring that, the general public is invited to the inaugural Christmas tree lighting at the resort the day after, Friday, from 6-7 p.m. The hotel will be decked out for the season and open to any and all.
“We will have complimentary cookies and spiced cider and will debut our gallery decorated for the season,” Hougentogler said. “Stop by and sit by the fireplace and enjoy the beauty with a naughty — or nice — beverage from Oaks Club. A chocolate cocktail special will be offered for adults and hot cocoa for the kids.”
While it’s important from a marketing perspective that the hotel engages with the community — word of mouth can be a powerful force — being integrated with a part of the community is important for the long term survival of any business.
“Oaks on the River is not just a destination for travelers, this is a local destination serving up the best coastal fare and we welcome our local community to come and join us,” Hougentogler said.
The hotel is located at 205 Fort King George Drive in Darien.
For those missing out on the resort’s Thanksgiving feast but still want to try something from the resort’s offerings, Hougentogler offered a dessert recipe that will fit in with any Thanksgiving spread.
Oaks Club’s pumpkin and white chocolate pie
¼ cup macadamia nuts
10 whole graham crackers, broken into smaller pieces
7 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
¼ cup light brown sugar
1 tbsp cornmeal
¾ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp kosher salt
1 tbsp unflavored powdered gelatin
½ cup white chocolate chips
2 large egg yolks
¼ cup granulated sugar
1 cup heavy whipping cream, divided
1 bay leaf
1 cinnamon stick
⅛ tsp ground allspice
⅛ tsp ground nutmeg
½ tsp vanilla extract
1 ½ cups pumpkin puree
½ tsp kosher salt
Crust: Preheat an oven to 325 degrees. Spray a 9-inch pie plate with non-stick cooking spray. In a food processor, pulse graham crackers until finely ground then pour into a bowl. Next, add the macadamia nuts to the food processor and pulse until finely ground and then add it to the bowl with graham crackers. Add the melted butter, brown sugar, cornmeal, cinnamon and salt to the graham cracker mixture. Press the crust into the bottom and up the side of the pie plate. Bake for about 20 minutes until set and then remove to cool before adding filling.
Filling: In a medium bowl add 1/3 cup water. Sprinkle the gelatin over the water and let stand for five minutes. Set aside. In a medium bowl add the white chocolate chips. Set aside. In a large bowl whisk together the egg yolks with the granulated sugar. Set aside. In a small saucepan simmer 3/4 cup cream with the bay leaf, cinnamon stick, allspice, nutmeg and vanilla. Simmer for about a minute and then discard the cinnamon stick and bay leaf.
While whisking, add the cream mixture to the egg mixture. Next, add in the gelatin mixture and keep whisking. Pour the entire mixture over the bowl with white chocolate chips. Let it stand for 1 minute until all the chocolate melts. Continue whisking. If you need to microwave the chocolate for 30 seconds to help it melt, that’s ok.
Next, stir in the pumpkin puree and salt. Place the filling into the fridge to set for about 1 hour. In a small bowl whisk the remaining 1/4 cup heavy cream until peaks form. Take the pumpkin filling and fold in the cream. Pour the filling into the prepared crust and spread into an even layer. Place in the fridge to set for about 1 hour. Served cold.