Tasting Counter

Deciding where to have dinner on my birthday is a process that can begin months before the actual meal. After all the planning that went into last year’s wd~50 dinner, I wanted to limit this year’s choice to the Boston area. After reading this review in The Boston Globe, She Who Must Be Obeyed and I decided to try Tasting Counter. A few days later, the latest issue of Boston magazine arrived, with a gorgeous photo of plated dishes on the cover. They had named Tasting Counter their number one pick of the 25 best new restaurants. She managed to get tickets before the system was overwhelmed by people who had read the review.

The restaurant couldn’t be in a more hip place: It’s sectioned off from the Aeronaut brewery and pub, down the hall from a local chocolatier, adjacent to the Brooklyn Boulders climbing center, and on the same block as Artisan’s Asylum, the largest maker space in the northeast. Step through their door, however, and you are met with this quiet oasis:

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The counter seats up to twenty guests and surrounds a central kitchen area:

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There is more support staff in the back, but for the next two hours we would watch and be served by four chefs, two servers, and the general manager who handled the drink pairings. Once all the guests arrived, the meal began.

Welcoming Bites

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From left to right: Cured hake, orange sesame crisp, lime juice; almond macaron with foie gras and black olive filling; sea bream wrapped in sake gel, rice cracker. Served with  a 2014 Domaine de la Bregeonnette Gros Plant.

Sea Urchin

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Egg shell filed with bonito custard, truffle sauce, uni, and crispy nori. Served with a 2013 Sicilia Grillo.

Sea Scallop

I was so excited by this dish that I failed to take a photo. We were served a scallop shell filled with avocado oil cream, topped with sliced diver scallop, black olive, cured roe, and crispy preserved lemon. Served with a 2013 Biano di Baal.

Parsnip & Pear

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Roasted parsnip and fresh pear soup served over blackcurrant purée wth pine mushrooms and sweetbreads. Served with a 2013 Sergio Mottura Civitella Rosso.

Ocean Trout

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Ocean trout with shallot sauce, fermented soybeans with basil, and orange blossom gel. Served with a 2013 Philippe Badea la Foulee des Zinzins.

Monkfish

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Roasted monkfish on the bone, fennel frond sauce, cucumber in brown butter, and milk-braised fennel. Served with a 2013 Rocco di Carpeneto Róo.

Schisandra Berry

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A palate cleanser made from “five flavor berry,” this drink was simultaneously salty, sweet, sour, spicy, and bitter. It was accompanied by a pine nut biscuit.

Miso Cured Duck

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Miso-cured duck breast with apple and daikon gelée, soy sauce, and celery foam. Served with a 2013 Tripod Project Deep Probe pinot noir.

Dry Aged Beef Sirloin Cap

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Beef, pomegranate marinated beets, and madcarpone horseradish cream. Served with a 2011 Chateau Lestignac L’Ancestral.

Lime Curd

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Lime curd over molasses cake, topped with ginger meringue, garnished with passionfruit sauce and torched lime. Served with a 2014 Caseler Dominikanerberg Spätlese Riesling.

Chocolate & Yuzu

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Chocolate and yuzu mousse made with chocolate from neighboring Somerville Chocolates, accompanied with persimmon ice cream and lime leaf custard. Served with a 2012 Les Pins Monbazillac.

Parting Morsels

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Lavender chocolate truffle, strawberry almond cake, and plum vanilla chew. The card was a copy of the evening’s menu.

I loved everything about this meal. The progression of dishes was flawless, each a perfect composition of flavor combinations I hadn’t tasted before. There was the extra thrill of watching the quiet choreography as each dish was assembled in front of us, followed by an explanation as it was presented by the chef. The wine course was an education in pairings with bottles that were completely unfamiliar to me. And the relaxed atmosphere drove home the idea that this meal was being cooked for us.

Rather than gush any more about how much I enjoyed the meal, I’ll end with this: As soon as we walked out, I looked at She Who and said “We have to eat here again.”

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Dinner At Damon Baehrel

November 16, 2015 · 0 comments

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I have a lot of foodie friends. We cook for each other, share recipes, trade restaurant info, and sometimes arrange to eat at some of the country’s (or world’s) best restaurants. One friend in particular, Scott Edelman, has a knack for wrangling “impossible” reservations, which has resulted in amazing meals at Alinea, The Fat Duck, and Next. When he travels, he tries to find the best food at each destination, which can occasionally pose a challenge. When he informed me that he would be attending the World Fantasy Convention in Saratoga Springs, NY, I wished him luck with finding a retaurant that would meet his exacting standards. Little did I know he had already been working on a plan: He would get us a table at Damon Baehrel.

I had never heard of the place, but quickly learned that it was one of the world’s toughest reservations, with a ten-year waiting list. There wasn’t much more to be learned online, but this video was intriguing:

Then, to my surprise, Scott informed us that we had a table. After a year and a half of correspondence, he had managed to convince the chef to open on a Monday afternoon for six of us. And so, last Monday, we drove to Earlton, NY to have a meal that I’m still thinking about a week later. She Who Must Be Obeyed and I were joined by Scott, his wife Irene, wrier Cecilia Tan, and her partner Corwin. Rather than repeat what has been said much better by two professional writers and foodies, I encourage you to read Scott’s and Cecilia’s posts about the meal.

Damon allowed us to take one photo of the interior, the table filled with examples of some of the ingredients he uses in his dishes:

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Seeing acorns, cattails, and staghorn sumac reminded me of my Boy Scouts experience on a “survival weekend,” when we had to forage for our food. The acorn flour we made was inedible: How were we to know that it takes more than a year of soaking to make it palatable? Despite my youthful skepticism, Euell Gibbons had it right – you can eat a pine tree.

The video gives you an idea of the seasonings and techniques the chef employs, but this description (provided by the publicist) of one of the 25 dishes we enjoyed should give you an idea of his obsession:

Wild foraged Honey Mushroom that was layered with a native Day Lily Tuber (both hand shaved very thin). It was drizzled with fresh hand pressed grape seed oil and dusted with wild fennel powder before being roasted on a hardwood cherry wood plank. The accompaniments were a sauce made from wild milkweed cooked in birch sap and thickened with rutabaga starch/stock and a “burnt sweet corn paste” where he took his fresh heirloom sweet corn and plunged it into hot charcoal embers (about 1200 degrees with husks still on) to essentially melt, burn & liquefy the kernels before pulverizing them smooth on a stone with another stone. The dusting was a wild day lily shoot powder.

Almost every dish was served with a vegetable, but not in any recognizable form. They had been transformed into sauces and purees thickened with starches and stocks. Absent a bit of salt used to garnish the bread, the seasonings were drawn from a countless array of powders and fresh herbs. I remember very few, but recognized the citrus tang of sumac powder and was surprised at the peppery taste of dried lichen powder.

On the three-hour drive back to Boston we commenced a brain dump of what we remembered eating. We were able to remember the progression of dishes and most of the vegetable accompaniments, but got mired down trying to remember what powders appeared on what plates. Here’s the meal that took us seven hours to enjoy:

  • Three breads (two during main meal – one seeded, one flat/foccaccia-like, one during cheese course), two butters (one sheep one cow) and herbed grapeseed oil
  • Hickory flour crisp with blue foot chicken salami
  • Cured salmon topped with shaved burdock chip
  • Pine flour cracker with wild mushrooms in butternut oil
  • Honey mushroom with day lily tuber (see description above)
  • Queen Anne’s Lace (wild carrot) slush (all slushes sweetened with stevia)
  • Charcuterie plate: four cheeses and six meats (tamworth ham, goose, guinea hen, duck, goat, venison) with partridge berry puree, peach preserved in vinegar, and mulberry puree
  • Mahogany clams in pine needle oil & green [sauce]
  • Peekytoe crab on barberry
  • Lobster with goldenrod & rutabega broth
  • Prawn on cherry sap
  • Sumac & lemon verbena slush
  • Pine needle cured pork
  • Goat sausage in witch hazel smoke, with purple potato and sweet potato purees with a ball of three preserved and fermented potatoes
  • Teal duck with homemade saffron
  • Turkey leg nugget with a pine bark crunch
  • Glass-cooked sirloin angus beef with green wild onion garnish, cabbage and turnip purees, and nettles
  • Clover and violet slush
  • Acorn flour cornet with nightshade bean filling and hickory nuts topping
  • Faux creme brulee with duck egg “custard,” maple sap sugar brulee, and wild cranberry
  • Evaporated acorn and hickory nut “coffee” made into “chocolate” with preserved peach, dried apricot, and pine nuts
  • Cheese course : 12 cheeses, 2 grapes (champagne and cayuga), raspberries, apples, pears, sorrel leaves, chard, and kale
  • Elderberry slush with maple seed crunch

There were some thoughtful wine pairings to accompany sections of the meal, but Damon had a surprise for the dessert courses: a bottle of 1998 Château D’Yquem sauternes – “on the house.” (!!!)

How happy were we with that meal? You be the judge:

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I’m frequently asked to name the best restaurant meal I’ve ever eaten. I usually hedge by listing my top five. After last week, Damon Baehrel is now in my top three.

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Introducing Reading While Cooking

August 2, 2015
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Two weeks ago I saw this post from Rose Fox in my Twitter feed: Intrigued, I replied: Rose answered: Rose and I have worked together before, so after a few email exchanges we divided up the tasks. We grabbed a domain name, set up a WordPress blog, launched a Patreon campaign, and within 24 hours Reading While […]

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Meet Meat

July 9, 2015
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During last summer’s London trip, we ate at two of Heston Blumenthal’s restaurants. The first, The Fat Duck, was reported here. The second, dinner at Dinner, was an evening that I preferred not to document. The restaurant bases its menu on updated recreations of historical recipes researched by Blumenthal and recorded for his Heston’s Feasts series. […]

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Tenth Annual Birthday Dinner

May 4, 2015
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  It’s hard to believe I’ve been cooking a birthday dinner for She Who Must Be Obeyed for ten years. This year I decided the menu would include some new dishes she had enjoyed over the past year, which would present some interesting technical challenges for me. Charcuterie I changed up the traditional charcuterie starter by […]

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Carrying a Torch

March 23, 2015

I have devoted a lot of time and effort into arriving at a consistent perfectly cooked steak. A combination of sous vide cooking and a high-heat final sear works every time to produce a medium rare result with a good crust. But there’s always room for improvement, which I found in the form of a new […]

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Birthday Dinner at wd~50

December 14, 2014
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When chef Wylie Dufresne opened his restaurant wd~50 in 2003 he unwittingly sowed the seeds of his eventual demise. Choosing Clinton Street in Manhattan’s lower east side was a clever move, in that the rent was cheap due to the sketchy neighborhood, but the restaurant was so good that the area improved due to the […]

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Pasta My Prime

September 28, 2014
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I‘m something of a Kickstarter junkie. I’ve backed projects as diverse as interacive fiction games, immersion circulators, titanium collar stays, graphic novels, music, and more. When I saw the campaign for Pasta Flyer, I practically screamed SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY! How could I not contribute? I would get a chance to work with chef […]

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Lunch at The Fat Duck

September 21, 2014
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Our August trip to attend Loncon 3 was a thinly veiled excuse to get together with overseas friends, visit three countries, and, of course, eat. Thanks to the efforts of gourmand extraordinaire Scott Edelman, one of our eating destinations would be The Fat Duck. To say that I was excited about the meal would be […]

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Can’t Talk, Eating

September 16, 2014
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At the end of this post, I concluded: I hope this doesn’t escalate into a food war. Who am I kidding? I hope this does escalate into a food war. I was right, it did escalate into a food war. That dinner became the inaugural entry for Can’t Talk, Eating, our dining club. Four couples convene at […]

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