Chef's Table: The Dining Alternative
I've been putting this off. The task of reviewing such a spectacular experience feels like an impossible task. Superlatives are not enough. This is a holistic experience. It is the museum, the theatre, the restaurant, the church, and the bedroom all at once.
Shall I talk about the lighting? The silverware? Being able to watch Chef Peter Ungar and his team work in seemingly perfect harmony-- the silent dance that occurs in his well organized little corner of a kitchen? Shall I talk about the fine company at my table? Where DOES one begin on an experience that lingers (months later) like a glowing dream?
Well... do you know about Chef Ungar? http://www.thediningalternative.com/
The "About" bio on the Dining Alternative website can fill you on the details. But let me sum it up by saying he's well-experienced, formerly worked at Aujourd'hui (Four Seasons Boston,) and now operates a private chef business in which he offers fine dining and 'a la minute' cooking in your own home-- better than a private chef, miles away from catering. And to promote this, Chef Ungar holds monthly Chef's Table events in his own comfortable home in Somerville, MA.
A table of 12-or-so guests. Thoughtful and educated wine pairings. And a warm ambiance which carried my excitement and bliss through the hours (which flew by.) But then, there's the food....
Two HORS D'OEUVRES:
Puffy gruyere cheese gougeres as well as;
Avocado mouse and caviar on homemade pizzelles.
Wine: Mont Marcal Brut Reserva Cava (Penedes 2006
Then, an AMUSE BOUCHE:
Yuzu & orange cured pacific halibut with flavors of szechuan peppercorns and fennel seed. Wrapped around jonah crab and plated simply with watercress puree and oro blanco coulis.
Oro blanco is a pomelo-grapefruit hybrid and the bitter/tart qualities of the coulis and the watercress puree not only contrasted the sweetness of the halibut and crab well, but the bitterness is a great way to get the digestion going for the gustatory feast to follow.
Okay, FIRST COURSE:
Olive oil confit breast of pork (pork belly) with maron glaces, quince with vanilla bean & thyme, and kumquat glaxed foie gras. Yes, imagine sweet, silky, unctious pork fat layered with moist confit pork meat, brightened by piquant kumquat and grounded by creamy, earthy-sweet chestnut puree, foie, and tender quince. Yes, you can die and go to heaven now.
Wine: Dominio de Tares "Baltos" Menecia (Bierzo 2006)
But wait! The SECOND COURSE! ...of five...
Nova Scotia lobster and maitake tortelloni in lobster cognac essence, garnished with paprika oil, honshimeji, and sea urchin fumet. I fell in LOVE with the pungent, sultry flavors of this dish. It was a orgy of ocean and earth, with homemade pasta just toothsome enough to not get lost in the tryst. Uni fumet teasing you (though not tenderly.) This is a memorable dish-- a dish you haven't had before, with unforgettable flavor. Leave the sissy palates at home because it deserves full appreciation.
Wine: Adegas Morgadio Albarino (Riax Baixas 2007)
Okay, how about a new direction? Something a little more suave. Less forward, more courteous. A black & white affair. COURSE THREE:
White miso Loup de Mer (branzino) steamed in sake. Plate garnished with squid ink and macomber turnip coulis. Bright and tender choy sum and house quatre epices. Everything more subtle and delicate here. Miso, sake, spices, squid. You have to reach for each of the flavors, but they're all there, and they all work. Perfectly.
Wine: Telmo Rodriguez LZ (Rioja 2008)
Fine, take a break-- INTERMEZZO!!
Hachiya persimmon and lychee sorbet garnished with mint leaf tempura and mint syrup. This is what you want! I tried to make persimmon sorbet just weeks before this surprise and, of course, my version showed my lack of experience and patience. But not Ungar's version. While I soaked in the luscious tropical flavors, other diners could not recover from the fireworks they felt tasting a real mint syrup. Refreshing is the only word for a perfect intermezzo.
Calabrian fig molasses and ancho chile sous-vide bavette. Cut just right and served with braised belgian endive, lentilles du puy, radish sprout salad, and... pistachio vinaigrette. The vinaigrette reminiscent of the sweet richness of marzipan. I didn't start feeling full until now.
Wine: Bodegas Numanthia Termes (Toro 2007)
Good, because its DESSERT time. Get this:
Kuri kabocha squash and chevre tarlet on ginger pain perdu with ginger ice cream and garnished with shungiku (chrysanthemum) and pomegranate glaze. A spicy, rich, creamy dessert brightened by the fresh chrysanthemum leaves and fresh pomegranate arils. Did I mention it was Le Gariotin d'Alvignac? Yes please!
Wine: Bodegas Toro Albala Cream PX (Montilla-Moriles NV)
Finally, MIGNARDISES and the check.
Okay, maybe you're not the cheese-for-dessert type?
How about a lavender chocolate truffle?
A little rose water meringue?
How about a little black cherry crisp?
Okay, NOW, I'm done. $125 and worth every penny. No hesitation, and certainly no regrets. We'll do it again soon. We might just do it every month if I can shift some dollars around in our budget. The Dining Alternative Chef's Table events currently occur on the last Saturday of every month. Make a reservation before this opportunity goes away. Things this good don't last forever.
Sorry, no time (will) to proof-read or spell-check. I'm going to lie down and mentally digest this meal all over again... please excuse me...
View a youtube slideshow of the dinner here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TlZbeM...
View the other youtube videos to drool some more. Also, follow Chef Ungar at thediningaltern on Twitter if that's your thing. He's on facebook too.
You know, its funny you mention this because, my particular experience was that, after reserving online, I asked if it'd be possible to skip the wine pairing for a partially refunded cost because I can't really drink either (I have that 'asian flush' enzyme issue that makes drinking uncomfortable and possibly unhealthy.) Chef Ungar offered me a $25 discount off a future reservation which I gratefully accepted and I asked them just to pour very small amounts so I could taste the pairing without drinking enough to trigger an uncomfortable reaction. I passed what I could not drink off to my partner. I think, from the perspective of the chef and sommelier, who work so well together, it must be almost like someone ordering your signature dish and then asking for substitutions, or sauce on the side. The wine and food compliment eachother so well, they are certainly not chosen with a lack of thought, it is a shame to not be able to appreciate it but, at the same time, if you don't drink... that's all you need to say. I do suggest contacting Chef Ungar before reserving if this is your case. I can't speak for him, but perhaps exceptions can be allowed in certain cases. Its worth asking.
Regarding feeling full after 5 dishes. I didn't eat much that day and planned ahead by leaving approx. 6 hours of digestion time between lunch and dinner. It is worth noting that I have a HUGE appetite. I'm a 5'2" female that eats more than most men. I did feel perfectly satiated after the whole meal. I felt the portions were quite generous for the quality, but not overwhelming for the course-- appropriate is the word. Portioning was entirely appropriate. My partner's appetite is quite small and he felt on the verge of too full. We both scraped every plate clean. I don't think you could leave hungry.