Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Foxy Foxwoods at the James Beard House (Preview Dinner)

James Beard.  Within the food world his name is synonymous with excellence.  He is often regarded as the father of the American food revolution taking his culinary prowess to the television airwaves in 1946.  The landscape of dining in America was never the same.  A cookbook author himself, and then after taking to the airwaves, he opened the James Beard Cooking School and henceforth taught young cooks all over this country, nurturing their minds and helping shape our spot in culinary history.  His legacy has lived on long past his person, and in 1990 the James Beard awards were established awarding excellence in US culinary feats.  These awards look to every corner of our country to recognize and acknowledge chefs, restaurants, writers, wine programs and all other aspects of the industry who are putting their very best foot forward day after day.

Every week, the James Beard House hosts dinners for public guests featuring chefs from all over the country.  These chefs concentrate their meal, their stage at the Beard House, on their best dishes.  This week, a collaborative effort of the chefs from Foxwoods Resort and Casino located in Connecticut will prepare dinner at the James Beard House.  Of course, this wasn't a task that they took
lightly, and so, just a week ago I had the opportunity to travel to Foxwoods and enjoy a preview of the dishes they will be serving.  A practice run, if you will.

Our evening began with a selection of passed Hors d’Oeuvres.  First was a Sepe Farm Lamb Tartare, the delicate meat tossed with a bit of Noritamago, a blend of sesame seed, seaweed, sugar, salt and bonito, as well as a bit of white Harissa.  The blend of these two different cuisines, Japanese and Hindu, created a salty and slightly spice mix on the palate which very pleasantly permeated the rich meat.  This was a wonderful first bite, awakening my senses and preparing them for what followed.  My next bite was a Corn Madeleine, piled high with a fresh vegetable ratatouille and a bit of creme fraiche.  Conceptually I loved this. I loved the rustic feel behind the corn madeleine that was escalated into elegance by its shape.  I loved the addition of the peasant dish ratatouille and how it was cut with the lush, tart creme fraiche.  This dish screamed beauty in opposites to me and seemed perfect to
serve at such space of history and beauty.  The last bite that I tried here was the the Raw Stonington Summer Flounder dredged in a chili and citrus combination and then tossed with green apple and radish.  The apple and the radish together provided a wonderful crispness to the dish, but separately added sweetness and a hint of bitter, where the flounder itself was tender and the dredge brought in brightness and a bit of heat.

We began our seated dinner with a Bomster Fleet Scallop Crudo served with a
drizzle of Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Kabosu (a tart citrus fruit) and Aji Amarillo sauce (a paste made from a hot yellow chili pepper).  Here again the chefs showed off their ability to balance. The Crudo itself had been tossed with thin slivers of red onion and red pepper, as well, I noted a bit of raw sugar which added an incredible pop of crunch and acted as a reversal to the spicy sauce.  The oil provided some richness and together the flavors melded well and allowed each to stand on their own.  This was a great dish.

Our second seated course were Confit Rillettes, shredded duck confit served atop crostini and served with Arethusa Farm Camembert, pickled onions and Mache greens.  Conceptually I loved this dish.  The Camembert, in its soft, salty and a tad smoky way was perfect.  The pickled onions paired well with the duck and the cheese, cutting the richness of both.  However, the duck was bit overdone creating a feel of stringy, rather than the decadence I had been anticipating.  Flavor wise, this was a spot on creation however.

If I was missing decadence in the last course, the next more than made up for it.  We were served a New England Grass Fed Veal Meatball accompanied by veal bacon.  The meatball was incredible.  Moist and succulent, slightly salty and flavored with herbs and spices, the veal flavor was light but perfect.  Every bite packed a flavor punch from its crisp exterior to its tender interior.  I gladly could have had many more of these and stopped the meal right there.  It was absolutely delicious.  Likewise the house cured veal made bacon was delicious.  Crisp and smoky, its flavor varied just enough from its pork based brother and added a feel of comfort and home to what could have been an outlandish dish.

Our final savory course was a Sunomono marinated sliced Wagyu Ribeye, with a Maitake demi glace and served with a Connecticut summer harvest vegetable medley.  Sunomono refers to a Japanese vinegar and soy sauce based marinade, which imparted the beef with a slightly sweet, greatly umami flavor. 
The flavor of the steak was spot on- a little sweetness, a little salt, and full on beef that you want from such a cut. Sadly, my pieces were a bit overdone so I felt as though my experience could have been slightly elevated, but others at my table looked to be spot on.  The vegetables here though were spot on.  Not a forgotten side by any means, this mix of carrots, summer squash, pearl onion and a tomato jam paired well with the steak and showed off the bounty of the summer harvest.

We had a brief interlude of a Lemongrass and Mint Granita that combined
refreshing lemon grass with the perfect palate cleanser of mint in a light and pleasing way.  

Final course was, of course, dessert.  Bringing in a wonderful homage to the end of meal cheese course we were presented with a Goat Cheese Feta Brulee, paired with peach sorbet, a summer couscous and olive oil sponge.  This was a dessert like no
other.  The brulee was truly fantastic.  Its slight tang was wonderfully offset by the caramelized sugar topper and the fresh graham cracker crust.  The peach sorbet was sweet where the brulee was not, and light where the brulee was decadent.  The star here though was the olive oil sponge.  We surmised that it was olive oil, whipped into submission with air and then molded in some way to look like coral.  It was thick and spongy, light in flavor and heavenly to eat.

Chefs Edward Allen, Robb Brunelle, Franck Iglesias, David Brai and Scott Mickelson have created a truly incredible menu for their time at the James Beard House.  They are showcasing their pride in New England the beauty of our harvests here, as well as playing carefully between our rustic history and the elegance of the occasion.  Though my own meal had some concerns with overly done proteins, I have no doubt that they will knock this dinner and their time in the Beard House, out of the park.   



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