August 22, 2012 § 2 Comments
Gustatory: Of or pertaining to tastes or tasting.
Last week, Danny and I had the pleasure of dining at Connor’s Grillroom in the Back Mountain. Danny’s friend Paul was recently made the head chef there and he invited us up along with some other friends for a private tasting menu. This was only my second experience with a tasting menu (the first was at a sushi restaurant in Brooklyn a few years ago) but I liked the way you receive smaller portions but more courses. I get full very fast, so a small portion of more items is the best way to eat, in my opinion. I didn’t know anything about the menu that was being planned, but I’ve always liked trying new foods, and so I went to Connor’s with an open mind and a growling stomach. We met up with five of our friends and were seated at a long table in the back. The hostess also gave us each a copy of our menu for the evening. As I read, I glanced over at Danny and saw that he was looking as excited as I was. Here’s what Paul had in store for us:
Truffle Custard (sadly, I dug in with gusto before I remembered to take a picture of this course):
The cream-colored truffle custard was placed in front of us in little white porcelain ramekins. A spoonful of reddish-orange boar ragu rested on top and then placed delicately atop that was a small gaufrette (which is basically a miniature waffle fry but crispier and more delicious). The custard was smooth and rich. The boar ragu provided just enough of a sharp taste and texture to balance out the softness of custard. I ate this in about five spoonfuls and I think Danny finished in four. It was the perfect amount to open a meal.
This dish was easily one of my favorites. Don’t get me wrong, everything was amazing, but if I had to pick, this one stands out. I don’t normally order tuna when I go out to eat so this was just as much a departure from the ordinary as boar ragu and truffle custard. The orange streak is sriracha, the green spread is avocado, the brown liquid is soy, the green gelatin is cucumber, and the little pieces are cucumber bits. The white ribbon underneath is radish. Danny had the great idea to make a little ‘sandwich’ with the wonton crisp, some tuna belly, and a bit of whatever topping you wanted. I liked the way the sriracha gave the soft tuna a little bite, and the crunchy cracker offset it perfectly.
This was another one of my top favorites. I’ve had rabbit before and this dish reaffirmed my love for eating those sneaky little animals that like to seem so cute and cuddly until they hop into my garden and EAT ALL MY PRODUCE!!!! (Sorry. I have anger issues with rabbits.) The rabbit chop is the piece on the top left side of the carrot puree and it was tender and juicy. The three pieces of rabbit ‘Canadian bacon’ were a great contrast with their blackened corners that provided a sharp, grilled taste. And the brown piece on the right is rabbit cheek, which was sweet and contained an amazing amount of flavor for such a small chunk of bunny. (I don’t care how callous that sounds. I hate rabbits.)
Here is where the quality of my pictures drops a little bit, because the sun set and I was just using my cell phone camera. The flash was too bright, but the room wasn’t bright enough to forego the flash… You’ve all been there. The baby octopus combined with chorizo was something of a surprise to me. I really liked it, and I never would have thought of that pairing. This dish was very tasty, but I’m not an olive fan (ugh ugh ugh olives) and so I just left them to the side. Sorry, Paul. The simplicity of the white bean puree and the sherry were a great backdrop to the octopus and spicy sausage, though. A perfect mixture of sweet and savory, bland and spicy.
Sorry that this picture is so bright, but like I said, it’s that or the too-dark one. This was, in my opinion, one of the less ‘exotic’ dishes on the menu. But simple doesn’t mean not as good. I love duck. And when a sweet duck mousse is combined with porcini mushroom pieces, tucked neatly inside a big and light ravioli, and then has steamy hot, golden-brown consomme (clear stock soup) poured over it, with crispy fried leeks… I could’ve had about four more of these. Paul’s presentation was great too. The ravioli were in the bowl, placed in front of us, and then he came around with the aromatic consomme in a little tureen and poured it over the ravioli right at the table. This kept the ravioli from getting any hint of sogginess.
This dish was the only one I regarded with a little uncertainty. I’ve tried sweetbreads before and was not a fan. In fact, veal’s not really my favorite thing in general. So to be handed a plate with sweetbreads and veal tongue was a little bit intimidating. The thing about tasting menus though, is that they don’t overwhelm me. The little pieces of sweetbreads were small enough that I could try it and not be worried about wasting an entire plateful if I didn’t like them. I popped one in my mouth and realized that they weren’t so bad. I can’t lie, they still weren’t my favorite thing, being a leeeettle too chewy for me and I just don’t like the taste that much. But you can’t win them all. The veal tongue was more to my liking: a little salty and with an interesting texture. The corn spread underneath with peach pieces was phenomenal. I wanted to scrape at it with my fork, like Scarlett O’Hara in that scene in Gone With The Wind where Rhett takes her out to eat at a fancy restaurant, after she’s gone through a year of war-induced poverty.
Sorry this pic is grainy. Click it to enlarge it and you can make out the details better. The pork ‘sundae’ had a lot of different parts to it and it was definitely one of the dishes I was looking forward to the most. I love pork. The two slabs of pork belly on the bottom of the plate were like bacon, only not crispy. They were thick and chewy but not to the point where it gets annoying. The saltiness of the pork belly was complemented by the light creme fraiche underneath and the tangy cherries. That rounded ‘disc’ of pork was the tete de cochon (basically, ‘pig’s head’ in French) and I was eager to try it. (The best definition I found online for tete de cochon was “basically taking everything out of a pig’s head and braising the hell out of it”.) It was tender and juicy and sweet. I was surprised by the sweetness. The bananas were on top and they added another burst of sweet flavor. One of the guys said that the dish was a little too sweet for him, but it was perfect for me. The only problem was that I was getting full by this point! I couldn’t quite finish the tete de cochon.
After a slightly longer break, we were served dessert. I can’t say enough about this dish. Wow. A light and fluffy cinnamon brioche eaten in between spoonfuls of smooth coffee ice cream? Yes PLEASE. I would order Paul’s coffee flavored ice cream by the gallon.
There really isn’t any reason to make a closing statement, is there? You can tell just by the pictures and my descriptions how amazing everything was. Paul is a very talented chef and we were so incredibly grateful that he put something like this together for us. This meal was just as good as any I’ve had in NYC or Philadelphia or elsewhere in my travels; and to enjoy it with Danny and our friends right here in NEPA made it even more special. What a night of gustatory delight!
August 17, 2012 § 2 Comments
“Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”
– G.K. Chesterton, in Orthodoxy
This quote makes me think of going to Mass. It’s the same actions over and over and yet I am never bored. Gosh, I love Chesterton!