I promised a very promising chef I would honestly describe the menu he chose when I was treated to a mega-dinner by my hostess while doing my judging boondoggle up to the consort’s hometown. So, belatedly, here goes:
I had not been in a hostage situation since the illegal war began, and my stomach shrank when I saw 12 courses listed, each with a booze pairing. But thanks partly to the lively company and largely to the smart cooking/pouring, I had no Mr. Creosote outcome. And even managed to truncate this recollection:
My definition of breakfast radish is a bit different, but that might be because I live in Frenchytown. The “cultured butter pudding, porcini soil” amuse did elevate the ‘ish on the plate, and more power to all of them.
“Grilled oyster, smoked butter, guanciale, menthol,” however, was the early peak, not just because the Belgian Delirium Tremens beer paired so perfectly with the shock of the chemical mint against the salinity of the oysters. My notes show a garlic poundcake was also involved, and how can you go wrong with that? I knew right then not to eat the second oyster, because next came . . .
“Wagyu tartare, truffled yolk, nasturtium” with St. Michael-Eppan gewurtztraminer from Alto Adige. I dipped a tiny fork in only to see how the red meat went with the white wine and loved the pourmaster noting the difficulty of doing tasting menus when guests think they’re springing for big reds but whites are more suited to the food. With the next course, I learned a new word: Lacon, for lamb bacon. I am neither a lamb nor a scallop person but still enjoyed “seared bay scallop, lacon lentils, pickled ground cherries, sumac yoghurt” with Alsatian pinot Auxerrois from Trapet. Judging by the moans around the table, it was the husk tomatoes that stole the dish, though. The same wine went with the striped bass with calamari, finger limes and shiso, and there the finger limes were stars, as good as the rest of the dish tasted.
Speeding up, as my mind soon did: You can’t go wrong with seared foie gras, not least when it’s laid against wild rice popped like popcorn (and served with Elio Perrone Moscato d’Asti). I’m no lamb fan, as you might have read, but I actually could have finished the tender little chops if four more courses were not headed my way. The meat was beautifully cooked and perfectly matched with Roagna nebbiola. “A traditional ratatouille” with it was pretty wild as well, with the traditional pepper converted into almost a pepper roll-up. I’d be impressed if it landed on my plate closer to home, but this was closer to the boyhood home.
Thank allah our room was only an elevator ride away, because next came “meat butter:” Kobe beef strip steak with molti accoutrements that really didn’t matter because the meat really was so buttery (almost disturbingly so). Although I will give extra points for the smoked potato puree, Robuchon alchemy taken in a different direction.
As an intermezzo, we had a lemon sorbet with pine-scented limoncello (the adjective referring to foraged spruce), then a sliver of intense Winnimere cheese with apricot mostarda and Armagnac paired with a cocktail called Grammas Meds: apple-spiced rum, hot cardamom tea and orange-flower honey. And we all happily scooped up the “aerated Gianduja, blueberry, cured yolk” washed down with Malmsey Madeira, a dessert made for a town that knows from what I keep describing as “a party on a plate.”
I saved the one misstep for last here, not to leave a bad taste but to highlight its ambition. Onion soup really is one of the most misguided traditions, and it deserves reinvention. Reconceiving it as a sort of soup dumpling was pretty clever. Unfortunately, the “croquette” casing was too dense, the brodo inside too thick, the Emmentaler espuma too little, too late. But pairing it with amaro rather than wine cut through the overreach. And the dish illustrated why protracted tasting menus are so seductive for chefs if not diners: When else do kitchen geniuses get to experiment on human guinea pigs with trained palates?
WIGB? Absolutely. Buffalo will only get better as hometown boys migrate back from world-class restaurants to build world-class restaurants.