In the words of Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, the noted and oft-quoted French epicure and gastronome of the late 18th century, “The pleasure of the table belongs to all ages, to all conditions, to all countries, and to all areas; it mingles with all other pleasures, and remains at last to console us for their departure.” Never were truer words spoken, especially as I reminisce about my most recent visit to Gracie’s in Providence (http://graciesprovidence.com).
I was a truly fortunate attendee of Gracie’s latest Star Chef Dinner on April 16th, featuring Evan Mallett of the Black Trumpet Bistro in Portsmouth, NH (http://www.blacktrumpetbistro.com/). From the press release for the event:
A Boston native who has cooked all over the world, Mallett was named in 2011 as a James Beard semi-finalist for Best Chef Northeast. He is well respected in the culinary industry for his dedication to sustainable farming and is active with and sits on the boards of Chef’s Collaborative, Slow Food Seacoast and the Heirloom Harvest Project – an initiative to join farmers, chefs and educators to identify and restore a food system native to the greater N.H. Seacoast.
Chef Mallett is passionate about the use of locally sourced food in his creations, which is the overarching philosophy of Gracie’s Executive Chef, Matthew Varga. As you might imagine, their collaboration was a “fanciful locavore extravagance!”
To start the event, a series of passed canapés were served alongside an interesting sparkling Lambrusco Reggiano, the 2010 Medici Ermente Concerto.
- Kibbeh Crusted Scotch Quail Eggs with Za’Atar Gribiche
A delightful paean to traditional Middle Eastern cuisine, featuring Kibbeh made from Archer Beef in Maine, accompanied with an emulsion of capers, cornichons, sumac, thyme, toasted sesame and oregano.
- Whipped Lardo Artichoke Mostarda on Toasted Bread
A whimsical delight featuring the house made Lardo in a frozen and then spun mousse, whose buttery richness is balanced perfectly by the spicy acidity of house made artichoke mostarda, all perched on sliced baguette.
- Skate & Shad Roe Galantine with Bacon Mayo and Lemon Crackling
An elegant combination of roes inlaid within a lush emulsified mousse and dusted with dehydrated, deep fried lemon zest. In a word: Wow!
- Twice Baked Eggplant Markeb with Micro-Cilantro
Another tribute to Middle Eastern cuisine, this Markeb, or “ferry boat” in Turkish marries a host of ingredients, including roasted peppers, harisa, tomato, ginger, pine nuts, mint, parsley and honey into a lushly complex treat.
The meal itself consisted of five courses, each one the unique result of the culinary collaboration between Chefs Mallett and Varga and served with a special wine pairing provided by The Savory Grape Wine Shop.
Our epicurean adventure began with Peekytoe Crab served with Champagne Mango and an Avocado-Rhubarb Salsa. The dish was perfectly balanced with the briny, salty flavors of the crab playing gracefully against the sweetness of the mango. The salsa was an interesting blend of buttery, earthy, and spicy flavors that while strong, did not detract from the delicacy of the dish. This was helped by the drizzle of pureed Champagne Mango and rice wine vinegar. The course was accompanied by the 2010 Couly-Dutheil Chinon Blanc, a classically French Loire-based Sauvignon Blanc. With lots of grassy, mineral notes and well-balanced by firm acidity, the wine made a perfect pairing to the dish.
Next we were treated to a truly unique soup: New England Baked Bean Soup with Hot Dog Chips and Cheddar Powder and Crème Fraiche. This dish really emphasized local ingredients, starting with the traditional New England heirloom bean, the Jacob’s Cattle bean as the base of the soup. The beans were pureed with molasses, rendered bacon fat, pork stock, mirepoix, garlic and malt vinegar to create a richly complex, earthy “soup.” Garnish this with a sliced, house made hot dog of ground pork and beef, richly seasoned with coriander and paprika; crème fraiche colored by Amarillo; and cheddar powder, made from the poached rinds of farmhouse cheddars and parmesan wheels, and you have one of the most unique courses this reviewer has ever eaten. The course was accompanied by the 2010 Montinore Willamette Valley Pinot Noir from Oregon, a very Burgundian-style, medium-bodied red wine. With vibrant, earthy red berry notes and moderate tannins and acidity, the wine paired well with the base soup. However the pairing went south when one added the crème fraiche: too much sweetness blunted the fruit in the wine and brought forward the unbalanced acidity.
The adventure continued with a Braised Lamb Belly and Yam Agnolotti with a Coconut Chevre and English Pea-Stou. A simple, yet rich preparation using a confit of lamb belly wrapped delicately in a purse of Okinawa sweet potato pasta, producing a cheeky interplay between the ever so fatty and gamey lamb and the natural sweetness of the yam. Marry this with a whipped concoction of coconut milk and locally-made Chevre from Beltane Farms in Lebanon, CT and a brilliantly green pea-stou, which is a Southern French variation of the Italian Pesto and the experience is simply sublime. The course was accompanied by the 2010 Valpane Barbera del Monferrato, a traditionally-styled medium-bodied red from Italy’s Piedmont region. With earthy and peppery red berry notes, the pairing was perhaps the best of the evening, teasing endless complexity from both the wine and food. Worth noting was the bittersweet chocolate aftertaste that resolved on the palate following a bite of the pasta and a sip of the wine. Magnificent!
The intermezzo before the main course was simply magical – Poached Peas in Gin Syrup. The preparation was done by freezing and then pureeing the pea ala Sicilian Granita, with an added essence of mint to liven the spoonful. It was the perfect palate cleanser.
Our main entrée was House Cured Tessa-wrapped Rabbit Tournedoes with Freekeh Risotto, Miner’s Lettuce and Radish Salad. Tessa is considered “lay-flat bacon” cured with fennel, juniper and a host of other savory herbs. Like a Pancetta, the Tessa is shaved and then used to enrobe a combination of the rabbit loin and pounded leg meat. The slow roasting of the meat ensures that the savory elements of the Tessa lovingly marinate the young flesh of the rabbit, which showed incredible depth of flavor. Freekeh, wheat that is harvested and threshed when still green added an earthy element to the creamy Risotto. The course was accompanied by the 2008 Tre Monti Petrigone Sangiovese di Romagna, a classic Tuscan red with earthy, leathery sour cherry notes. With an intense dark core of fruit and cocoa and tar on the finish, the wine paired well with the herbaceous qualities of the rabbit. However, when the rabbit reduction sauce was introduced into the mix, the pairing did not work as well, suffering from the same issue as the soup: too much sweetness blunted the fruit, leaving only sharpness and acidity on the palate.
We concluded our meal with a Turkish Coffee Cake with Maple Buttercream, Fernet Gelato and Candied Anise and Hyssop Leaves. The cake was a génoise-style, brushed with coffee, orange and Raki (Turkish Marc), which was delicate and lightly flavored – a perfect ending to such a lush meal. The Gelato was made with the well-known Italian Amaro, or digestif Fernet Branca, but the flavoring was almost undetectable. The sauce was made with crème anglaise, sevilla oranges and African bush tea, which added vibrancy to the finish. The course was accompanied by the 2008 Tre Monti Casa Lola Albana di Romagna Passito, wonderfully honeyed charmer from Italy’s Emilia Romagna region. With hints of orange blossom and quinine, the wine made the perfect pairing with the subtle sweetness and orange elements of the dessert.
The meal was magnificent and the culinary creativity displayed by Chefs Mallett and Varga was remarkable. The emphasis on local ingredients combined with the subtle influences of Middle Eastern, French and Italian cuisine made for an exotic gastronomic journey. As usual, the service matched the cuisine with smart, professional attention.
The Star Chef Dinners are events not to be missed, so make sure you get onto Gracie’s email list to get early notification of the next sumptuous meal!