Dinner at Olo

August 26, 2017 · 1 comment

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Sometimes my reputation as a foodie precedes me. As a member of the committee that produced Worldcon 75, I had the opportunity to travel to Helsinki on three separate occasions. During each of my visits, my hosts made an effort to expose me to all facets of Finnish cuisine, from the ten-euro lunch buffet through reindeer-topped pizza to restaurants offering modern takes of traditional dishes.

But it wasn’t until the actual convention that I had my best Helsinki meal, thanks to my international restaurant fixer Scott Edelman. He found Olo, one of the city’s Michelin starred restaurants (one star), and reserved a table for six. We all agreed to select the Journey tasting menu, settling in for nearly four hours of food and conversation.

Fenkolta/Fennel

None other than Robert Silverberg advised me “If they serve you fennel, eat it.” They did, and I did. The lightly glazed stalks of baby fennel were a perfect way to start the meal: light, refreshing, and a palate reset to prepare us for what was to come.

Osterilehteä ja osteria/Oyster leaf and oyster

Lohta ja krassinkukkaa/Salmon and nasturtium

This garden in a bowl held oyster leaves (they do taste like oysters) filled with oyster cream, and nasturtium flowers filled with salmon cream.

Porkkanaa ja merilevää/Carrot and seaweed

Roasted carrots rolled in panko and nori.

Kananmaksaa, kanannahkaa ja kanalientä/Chicken liver, chicken skin, and poultry stock

Spheres of chicken liver mousse, chicken skin crackers, and chicken stock. I was having the wine pairing, so the tiny vial was included, which I was advised to drink as I ate the mousse. Perfect advice, as the bottle was a sip of Chateau d’Yquem, a sauterne traditionally served with foie gras.

Sienipiiras/Mushroom pie

Mushroom-filled pastry shells topped with chanterelle mushrooms and parmesan. This concluded the finger food portion of the menu.

Emmer-mannaa ja poron sydäntä/Emmer semolina and reindeer heart

Emmer wheat porridge with shaved dried reindeer heart and quinoa, with wild mushroom sauce underneath. I’ve concluded that it’s not possible to eat a multi-course Finnish meal and not be served reindeer.

Kurkkua ja sinisimpukkaa/Cucumber and mussel

Mussels, cucumbers, nasturtium leaves, and the first of many sauces with dill as a component.

Olon leipää ja karitsaa/Olo’s bread and baby lamb

The plating for this course began with a sheet of paper and a smear of house-churned butter, followed by a bowl of baby lamb tartare and a loaf of sourdough. The various dips were garlic, avocado, cucumber, and rapeseed oil. It’s unusual to be served a bread course in the middle of a tasting menu, but I ate it all, despite my concern that it would make me too full to enjoy the rest of the meal. Somehow I managed to soldier on.

Tomaattia ja vouhenjuustoa/Tomato and goat cheese

A play on the classic caprese salad: baby tomatoes with cucumber, basil gelée, and frozen powdered goat cheese.

Merianturaa ja kesäperunaa/Sole with summer potatoes

Poached sole, baby potato, fresh peas, kale, dill sauce.

Kuhaa ja kaviaaria/Pike perch with caviar

This was the first dish where I could see the work that went into its preparation. Pike filet had been “glued” together with transglutaminase, thinly sliced, and set over a disc of horseradish cream. A turned turnip cup held the caviar and sour cream.

Kateenkorvaa ja sipuleita/Sweetbreads of veal with onions

Sweetbreads are typically dredged in flour and lightly fried, but for this dish it was seared like foie gras. It was served with a roasted onion and oxtail stock.

Jogurttia ja tilliä/Yogurt and dill

Frozen yogurt foam with dill gelée and cucumber granita. A perfect palate cleanser.

Kesän marjoja, maitoa ja sitruunaverbena/Sumer berries, milk, and lemon verbena

Baby strawberries, strawberry sorbet, frozen mint spheres, and lemon verbena powder. And the mandatory salmiakki: salty black licorice.

Vadelmaa ja rusua/Raspberry and rose

Mustaherukka/Blackcurrant

Mignardises to conclude our meal: pastry puffs filed with raspberry and rose cream, and blackcurrant jellies.

Many restaurants pay lip service to “fresh and local,” but Olo didn’t just talk the talk, they walked the walk. Every dish highlighted an aspect of what Finland had to offer. I’d be interested in revisiting in the winter when the variety of fruits and vegetables would be more limited, but I suspect they’d be no less creative.

There was no technique on display for the sake of clever presentation, but there was clearly a lot of thought and skill put into each plate. It was refreshing to enjoy a fine meal where everything was in service to the food.

I’m not sure when I’ll return to Helsinki, but if I do, another dinner at Olo will be on my list.

(A confession: I ate everything on every plate with one exception – the salmiakki. That stuff is just nasty.)

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Post image for Twelfth Annual Birthday Dinner

Trying to shoehorn an extended essay into 140-character tweets is a pain, the threading is a nightmare and it’s impermanent. If only there was some other medium better suited to the purpose…

Oh, what’s this? *blows dust of WordPress*

How is it possible that I haven’t posted anything here for a little over a year? It’s not that I haven’t been cooking  – I’ve made a lot of new dishes. It’s a copout, but life got incredibly busy and interesting (in the Chinese proverb sense), leaving me with little time to devote to this blog. So it’s time to start up again, and what better occasion that the annual birthday dinner for She Who Must Be Obeyed?

I knew it was coming – it happens at the same time every year – but I was still surprised when two weeks before the dinner I still had no idea of what to cook. She Who tried to be helpful: “Don’t cook anything complicated.” (As if I would ever follow that advice.) Rather than struggle with a unifying theme for the menu progression, I chose a series of dishes that I knew she had enjoyed in other settings. I was able to do a lot of advance prep and minimized the a la minute cooking to make the timing work better. Here’s what I came up with:

Negroni

We started with an update of the classic Negroni: equal parts gin, Campari, and sweet vermouth. I infused the mix with lemon and orange peel, raspberries, and slice of grapefruit.

Egg

Our guests were served a small sealed mason jar, which, when opened revealed this:

From the bottom up: pommes purée (Joel Robuchon recipe, 33% butter by weight), crispy maiitake mushrooms, sous vide poached egg, and crispy duck skin. Served with a 2012 Peter Lauer Riesling. (This was the signature dish at West Bridge restaurant in Cambridge, where She Who made repeated attempts to steal bites of my serving after she finished hers.)

Asparagus

Grilled brined asparagus with preserved lemon aioli and toasted almonds. Served with a 2016 grüner veltliner.

Beef

Truth in advertising: This photo is of a version of the dish I prepared previously. My plating for this dinner was so embarrassingly amateurish that I won’t let anyone see it. I served the same sous vide and seared ribeye with shiitake mushroom marmalade and beef jus, but swapped out the squash and bone marrow for sautéed fiddleheads (which had just come into season). Served with a 2008 Ravenswood Dickerson Zinfandel.

Sgroppino

No photo of this palate cleansing cocktail, but it was a mix of citron vodka and prosecco topped with a scoop of lemon coconut saffron sorbet – a boozy ice cream float.

Chocolate

When I brought this to the table I received nods of recognition from three of our guests, who had seen this dessert when I first made it 33 years earlier. It’s bombe au trois chocolats, a Julia Child recipe for a chocolate brownie shell filled with chocolate mousse and glazed with chocolate ganache. My updated version added blood orange reduction to the mousse and blood orange zest as a garnish. I served it with a side of cardamom-scented whipped cream.

She Who had only heard stories about this dessert, so I wasn’t sure it would live up to it’s near-legendary hype. I’m happy to report it did.

I hope another year won’t pass before I update this blog. I already have a few ideas for future posts. Stay tuned.

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