Tuesday, August 4, 2015

80 Thoreau: A Striper Special

Have you ever enjoyed Pimpfish?

You probably have tasted Pmpfish, but you likely know it by a different name, Striped Bass. It is also known by a number of other names, including Greenhead, Linesider, Rockfish, Squid-Hound, and Striper, It's been a popular fish since colonial days and is even the official state fish of Maryland, Rhode Island and South Carolina. I haven't been able to learn why it is allegedly referred to as Pimpfish, though there are tons of sources that mention it as an alternate name for striped bass.

Last week, 80 Thoreau in Concord offered a special Striped Bass menu, a four-course dinner for only $55. Unfortunately, that special menu is no longer available though you likely can still get Striped Bass dishes at the restaurant. I was invited as a media guest to experience the Striped Bass dinner. I first experienced the cuisine of Chef Carolyn Johnson back in 2012, and was impressed. Based on my most recent experience, Chef Johnson is still presenting some amazing food.

I dined there on a Wednesday evening and the restaurant was nearly full, a great sign especially during the summer when many restaurants have difficulty filling seats. I overheard a couple mention that they had only been able to get a 5:30pm reservation, showing the popularity of 80 Thoreau even during the middle of the week.

I began the evening with a cocktail, the Naked & Famous ($11), which is made with Mezcal, Aperol, Chartreuse, & Lime. I love smoky Mezcal and not enough restaurants offer Mezcal cocktails. I enjoyed this drink, which was nicely balanced between sweet and bitter, with smoky accents. I'd later have a couple glasses of wine with dinner, including a Sicilian Grillo and French Rosé.

Chef Johnson works with a number of local purveyors to source ingredients, from vegetables to mushrooms. The Striped Bass was sourced from Red's Best, which offers sustainable seafood and has an excellent traceability system. Striped Bass is generally a sustainable choice so it makes for a good addition on restaurant menus. Best of all, it's a tasty fish, which is versatile in the kitchen, and Chef Johnson emphasized that versatility in her Striper menu. With the three different Striper preparations, she succeeded in presenting three very different experiences of the fish.

The first course was a Striper Crudo, with summer truffle, hakurei (a type of turnip), and pickled chanterelles. This was my favorite dish of the night, a fresh delight of textures and flavors. The striper flesh was delicate and firm, clean and fresh, like a fine sashimi. It was enhanced by the subtle earthiness of the truffles and the pickled chanterelles added a tasty acidity. A perfect summer dish which showcased the fish in the best of lights. If you see this dish on the menu, definitely order it!

Next up was a Striper Minestrone with lobster, haricot, & basil. A hot soup during the summer is sometimes out of place, but this dish worked, especially as the broth was lighter and it contained seafood. With a strong, savory taste, the minestrone was delicious, spiced just right. It was also an interesting new preparation for the striper, very different from the crudo.

As a more traditional presentation, the third course was Pan Roasted Striper with cabbage, coriander, and poblano cream. The thick piece of striper was tender and moist, with large flaky pieces of white flesh that nearly melted in my mouth. And the crispy skin atop the fish was a special delight. Fresh fish, prepared so simply, can be amazing.

For dessert, there was a Mascarpone Mousse with peach, raspberry, and fish-shaped ginger cookies, created by Pastry Chef Katie Hamilburg.  Light and creamy, with fresh fruit, this was an excellent, lighter ending to the meal. The cookies were a cool addition to the Striper theme, and they were crisp and light as well, with a nice ginger flavor.

Overall, this was a compelling dinner, showcasing a few different ways how Striped Bass, which is tasty, sustainable & healthy, can be prepared. Chef Johnson's culinary skills make 80 Thoreau a suburban restaurant worth checking out, but make sure to make reservations so you don't miss out. Concord, for many reasons, is a great place to visit and you won't go wrong by choosing to dine at 80 Thoreau.

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