Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Dining Alternative & Chef Peter Ungár: Part 2

Now that the preliminaries are out of the way, now that we have finally taken our seats, it is time to begin our actual dinner. I am filled with anticipation, awaiting what culinary treasures I might soon find on my plate.

As a starter, we were presented with an Amuse-Bouche, Chawan Mushi with sea urchin, white truffle oil and white flake sea salt. This is a Japanese custard that was topped with a couple large pieces of sea urchin roe. This had an interesting taste, salty and savory with a dominant fish flavor. It was very smooth with the delicious silky sea urchin. A very nice beginning to the dinner, also indicating the promise of what was to come.

Interestingly, a couple days after the dinner I saw a recipe for Chawan Mushi in the January 2009 issue of Food and Wine magazine. Their recipe has different toppings though it appears you can top the custard with any variety of items.
Our first actual course was Sea Scallop Sashimi in Yuzu with avocado veloute, salmon roe, pomelo, and orange oil. This dish had large slices of Diver Scallop and the veloute sauce was made from avocado, soft tofu and three citrus juices. The scallops were topped by pieces of pomelo, salmon roe and Hawaiian black sea salt. The tender scallops were delicious with the combined flavors of the citrus and salt though I was not as fond of the veloute, mainly because I am not a big avocado fan. But that did not matter much to my enjoyment of the scallops. The black salt was especially intriguing and I will have to seek that out. I love sashimi so this was certainly a dish that appealed to my preferences.

To accompany the scallops, our second wine of the evening was the Non-Vintage Moet & Chandon Nectar Imperial. This is a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. It was a creamier champagne than the Ruinart with a touch of residual sugar that only added a slight hint of sweetness. The dominant flavors were apple and pear and I really enjoyed this Champagne. It had lots of character and paired beautifully with the scallops. I think this is a Champagne that would appeal to a broad range of people as it is not too yeasty or dry. Yet it is not overly sweet either.
Next up was one of my favorite courses of the evening, Fresh Maine Lobster Tortelloni with cepes, honshimeji, veal jus, and lobster essence. The large tortelloni were stuffed plump with lobster and cepes, a type of mushroom. Then the lobster essence was poured into the bowl with the honshimeji, another type of small mushroom. Finally, you received a shot glass of veal jus!

Peter stated this was a version of surf and turf and though you might not think the veal jus would go with this dish, it actually worked perfectly, adding an intriguing meaty flavor to the dish. Everything was so flavorful and the pasta was cooked just right. I even enjoyed the different mushrooms. I am very picky about mushrooms and they must be prepared just right. Any chef that can get me to enjoy mushrooms is definitely doing something very good.

The wine for this course was a 2004 Chateau Beaucastel Blanc, a fascinating white wine from the Chateauneuf-Du-Pape region of the Rhone in France. It is a blend of Viognier, Marsanne, Rousanne and a couple other grapes. It was fermented in 80% stainless steel and mostly old French oak. It had a tawny gold color with a potent, almost musty nose. Yet on the palate it exploded with flavor. It was a rich, full-bodied wine with tastes of apricot, lychi and exotic tropical fruits as well as having floral notes. A very unique wine which is supposed to pair well with pork. I thought it went well with the Tortelloni and was a fascinating wine on its own.

What was next? Halibut, Hedgehog, Foie Gras & Black Truffle that was steamed in Napa cabbage and had red and golden beet glazes. Essentially, the cabbage was wrapped around a long piece of the halibut which had been topped with the hedgehog mushrooms, foie and truffle slices. Another excellent dish with a harmonious blend of flavors and textures. the fish was pure white, tender and flaky while the foie and truffle were hedonistic delights. I even enjoyed the two different beet sauces, although I am not a fan of beets in general. Once again, this chef has gotten me to enjoy items that I usually would not like. With each course, Peter's culinary skills are impressing me more and more.

The wine to accompany this course was a 2007 Meyer Fonne Gentil, an Alsatian wine that is a blend of Muscat, Gewurtztraminer, Riesling and Pinot Blanc. I did not enjoy this wine as much as the others. It had a lemony nose and that lemon flavor was dominant in its taste as well. There was some interesting underlying spice, from the Gewurtz, but the lemon flavor overshadowed the rest of the flavors to me. Others at the table though enjoyed this wine very much. It just was not a favorite of mine.

It was now time for a bit of a breather and Peter had an Intermezzo for us to savor. It was Sujeonggwa, a type of Korean punch with ginger, cinnamon and pine nuts. He got the recipe from his Korean mother-in-law. It was almost like the flavor of spiced apple cider or even cold mulled wine. Yet it had its own individual taste and was a nice palate cleanser at this time. I could see this being an intriguing drink made at home if you were having a multi-course meal.

On to another favorite dish of mine, the Green Cardomon Brined Kurobuta Pork Belly with lentilles du puy, jerusalem artichoke mousseline, roasted romaine hearts, and butternut miso sauce. It basically took two days of cooking and preparation to make the Pork Belly and all that time certainly paid off. It was some of the most tender and flavorufl pork I have ever had, extremely meaty and with little fat. Each piece melted in my mouth and I treasured each savory bite. I think even vegetarians would have had a hard time turning down this pork. All of the accompaniments were delicious too, even the jerusalem artichoke mousseline. Yep, artichokes are not one of my favorites but this was quite good. I also eagerly devoured the lentilles which seemed to me to have an almost bacony taste.

Though I did not think this dish could get any better, it did. This was because of the wine pairing, the 2006 Domaine Tempier Bandol Rouge. I love this wine and it has long been one of my favorites. So, to have such a superb wine with the pork belly just made me ecstatic. This was foodie heaven, a perfect marriage of food and wine. This wine is 100% Mourvedre and is from what I consider the best winery in the Bandol region of France. This wine has everything going for it an it is something I highly recommend.

Dessert was a Pineapple Vanilla Bean Tarte Tatin with a persimmon and mascarpone mousse, sugared tarragon tempura, and tarragon creme anglaise. Even if you felt full, this dessert was sure to tempt you into eating more. An ecelctic combination of flavors that meshed very well together. The mousse was delicious, such a creamy rich taste. And who can complain about fresh pineapple slices? Definitely not me. Even the delicate tarragon tempura was a delightful and tasty touch. Peter admitted to not being much of a baker and that his desserts usually are fruit based. If they taste as good as this, that is fine in my book.

Our final wine of the evening was the amazing 1986 Pocas Colheita Tawny Port. This exemplifies the best of Port, that incredibly smooth taste with caramel, vanilla and even hints of butterscotch. It had no bitterness and such a satisfying and lengthy finish. A perfect ending to such a fantastic dinner.

Yet the food had not ended. We each received a small plate of Mignardise, including a rose water pomegranate gelee, kirschwasser chocolate truffle, and amaretti crisp. These homemade treats were each quite good and I ate them all, though I was not sure I had any room left in my stomach.

Our evening lasted almost five hours, and the time flew. It certainly did not feel that long, and it never does when you are enjoying yourself. This was a superb meal, as good as any that can be found at a high-end Boston restaurant. The quality, quantity and diversity of the dishes as well as the wine was exceptional, especially for only $75. You probably would be hard pressed to find any restaurant that would serve a comparable dinner with wine for that price.

Many of Peter's creations had an Asian flair, which I particularly enjoy. He certainly was creative in his dishes as well as having an excellent presentation. His culinary talent was quite evident and his assistants also well knew what they were doing. Everyone else at the dinner seemed as impressed and happy as I. I also did not hear complaints from anyone, only praise and compliments for the food and wine. I would return to the Chef's Table in a heart beat and I would heartily recommend it to everyone.

Tomorrow I will tell you more on how you can have Peter cook you such a delicious meal at your own home.


Taster B said...

Looks amazing--beautiful pics.

JacquelineC said...

What an amazing meal. I hope to be able to enjoy Chef Ungar's food soon!

Nicely done, the descriptions of the wine pairings and food qualities show a good palate at work!

Richard A. said...

Thanks Taster B! You should come to a future Chef's Table dinner.

Thanks very much Jackie. As I mentioned previously, I will make sure you are on the invite list for a future Chef's Table dinner. I know you will love it.