Friday, November 7, 2008

Aura: Chef Rachel Klein

Me. Twelve women. And plenty of fine food and drink. Certainly sounds like the ingredients for quite a stimulating evening. It is also just another day in the life of a food & wine writer. At least sometimes.

I have walked through the Seaport Hotel numerous times when attending the Boston Wine Expo but I had never eaten at their restaurant, Aura, or even had a drink at their Tamo Bar. I had never really even considered stopping there. It was merely a path to somewhere else.

This spring though, Aura engaged in some major renovations and also brought in a new Executive Chef, the famed Rachel Klein. Chef Klein was last Executive Chef at OM Restaurant in Cambridge, where she was recognized in 2006 by both The Boston Globe and Boston magazine as Boston’s Best New Chef.

I had been to OM under Chef Klein's reign and very much enjoyed her inventive cuisine. Much of her food had an Asian flair and she often used many different, and sometimes exotic spices, in her cooking. So I was intrigued by what she would do at Aura. As Aura is a hotel restaurant, there are certain compromises that must be done to cater to all travelers. So, the menu has some of Chef Klein's innovative dishes, as well as some standard steaks, pork chops and such. When I recently had the opportunity to attend a media dinner at Aura, to try some of Klein's cuisine, I jumped at it.

Thus I joined twelve women, including writers from sources such as the Boston Herald, Boston Magazine and The Improper Bostonian, at Aura for dinner. We began our evening in the Tamo Bar which is located across the hall from Aura. Tamo is a type of Japanese ash, a rare, tightly grained wood that is a dominant feature in the bar. The bar has a full selection of beers, wine and cocktails, including specialty martinis. Though the full Aura menu is available in the bar, they also have their own menu of sandwiches, appetizers and pizza. On the night I was there, a Wednesday, the bar was fairly busy and obviously popular.

We got to try several different appetizers as well as a few different Martinis. My favorite appetizer was the Pizza with Applewood smoked bacon, carmelized Vidalia onion, and Fontina cheese ($15). It had a nice combination of smokiness from the bacon with sweetness from the onion, a nice thin crust and plenty of cheese. The Lychee Martini ($12), made with Stoli Vodka, Soho Lychee Liqueur, Lychee Puree and Cranberry Juice, was delicious, with an exotic fruity flavor that was not overly sweet.

We then moved into a private room for a four course dinner with wine pairings. There were two different menus, every other person having the same menu. Our dinner included all items that were on the regular restaurant menu. We did not have anything special. Plus, all of the items were from the more innovative section of the menu, rather than the more ordinary steaks and chops. Unfortunately, Chef Klein was supposed to have joined us but she had fractured her ankle the day before so was unable to be there. I do wish you well and a quick recovery.

My first course was Tuna Tartare, with cane sugar, chili vinaigrette, currants, and marcona almonds ($12). I love Tuna Tartare so I was very pleased to see this dish, especially as it also was quite delicious. The unique melange of flavors and textures created an intriguing and pleasing dish. The tuna seemed very fresh and the chili vinaigrette was nicely hot. This course was paired with a Dr. Loosen Gewurtztraminer that went well with the dish, especially helping to balance the heat of the chili vinaigrette.

The other first course was Kampachi Crudo, with pineapple-red jalapeno confit, vanilla bean, hazelnuts, basil, and seas salt ($14). I got to try this dish as well. Though I enjoyed the interplay between the sweet and salty, with the vanilla and pineapple flavors prominent, I don't think it did justice to the Kampachi. I felt like the flavor of the Kampachi was masked by the other ingredients. Maybe a stronger fish would have been a better pairing, something better able to stand out.

My second course was an appetizer size of an entree item, the Black Cod with crispy oysters, potato puree, dinosaur kale, green onion, and horseradish remoulade ($32 as entree). The crispy oyster was a delight in of itself and the Black Cod was also quite good. A perfectly cooked piece of fish, tender and moist. This was a dish where the fish truly stood out on its own, complemented by its accompaniements. This course was paired by an Au Bon Climat Chardonnay, a fruit driven wine that was not over-oaked, which paired well with the fish.

Our entree course was Lamb Loin with miso eggplant, dandelion greens, pine nuts, apricot‐ginger vinaigrette, and Korean chili ($34). This was am amazing dish! I love lamb so this was a real treat. Thin sliced lamb, so tender and flavorful that it nearly melted in my mouth. It seemed to be cooked more medium rare which I thought was perfect. And the vinaigrette and chili mixed well together to create a sweet and spicy sauce that was quite delicious on the lamb. This was easily my favorite dish of the evening and something I would highly recommend. This was paired with an excellent Luigi Bosca Malbec, with juicy fruit flavors and a spicy kick.

Dessert was a Banana Bread Pudding with white chocolate ganache and white miso ice cream. The name of this dessert is a bit misleading as it certainly is not like a traditional bread pudding at all. Instead, I received three of what seemed like banana muffins. I enjoyed them, but I would not consider them bread pudding. They had the consistency of a muffin and a very good banana flavor. The white chocolate was a long, rectangular piece that was soft and sweet, going well with the muffins. What really stood was the miso ice cream, with its unique and exotic taste with hints of both salty and sweet. It too complemented the banana flavors. Miso may not be your first choice for an ice cream flavor, but it is quite delicious and highly recommended.

Overall, I am impressed with what Chef Klein is doing at Aura. She has maintained much of her creativity and concocted some intriguing and delicious dishes. Sure, you could just get a traditional steak and potato at Aura, but that would de depriving yourself of the more compelling cuisine. I have read that Chef Klein's philosophy is to "Have fun with food, don’t take it too seriously." That is a sentiment I agree with. Forget pretension and just enjoy!

The next time I visit the Seaport Hotel. I won't just be passing through to go elsewhere. I will be returning to Aura for dinner and I recommend it to my readers as well.

I should also give some credit to Linh of The Improper Bostonian for helping to make this evening enjoyable. We sat next to each other at dinner and had an excellent conversation, touching on topics such as food, wine and travel. She possesses that passion I am always seeking and it was a pleasure to have met her. My sympathies also go out to her as she will be spending a week as a Vegan for an article she is writing. I can empathize with how tough that will be.

One Seaport Lane
Boston, MA
Phone: 617-385-4300

Aura on Urbanspoon

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