Thursday, October 23, 2014

Elements: Scott Anderson Dinner at The Dutch

Much as I might wish for it, I don't get to spend my days traversing the country from restaurant to restaurant. We're fortunate to travel often and usually eat very well when we do, but even so, there are places I'm unlikely to ever visit. Princeton, New Jersey would fall into that category.[1] And as a result, I figured I would never eat at Elements, Chef Scott Anderson's restaurant which opened in Princeton about five years ago (and is currently closed while moving to a new location).

This was cause for regret, because I'd read and heard many very good things about it. A couple guys whose opinions I value raved about their meals there. Despite being somewhat off the grid, it was highly regarded enough to make Opinionated About Dining's list of the top twenty restaurants in the U.S. So I was pretty excited when I learned, through Chef Jeremiah Bullfrog, that Scott was interested in doing a dinner here in Miami.

We sent up some Cobaya flares for other folks who might be interested, and Chef Conor Hanlon of The Dutch graciously agreed to participate and play host. Together, Scott, Jeremiah, Conor and Josh Gripper, The Dutch's pastry chef, put together a pretty extraordinary ten-course dinner.

(You can see all my pictures in this Chef Scott Anderson (Elements) at the Dutch flickr set. Apologies for the weird sepia-toned hue to these pictures; the food-unfriendly yellow lights on The Dutch's terrace are the only downside of putting on events there).

A few canapes to start: a pink beet macaron with an herbed chevre filling, a nice repurposing of a traditional combination; a crispy chicharron topped with a Thai-inspired green papaya and apple salad; and an airy – kind of fishy – scallop chip topped with pungent kimchee and trout roe. I'm assuming each chef did one of these, but they didn't tell us who (I'll guess Conor for the macaron, Jeremiah for the papaya salad, and Scott for the scallop chip).

Sometimes simple is bold. Particularly in this kind of dinner format, where the natural tendency is to show off, restraint isn't easily exercised. But that's what Jeremiah displayed, letting the main ingredient – some really lush, buttery baja yellowtail (a/k/a hiramasa or goldstriped amberjack) – stand out in his first dish. Meaty cubes and a couple silky ribbons of the raw fish were paired with a verdant fava bean purée, a few green leaves (tart sorrel, grassy tatsoi?), some slivers of shallot and a thin round of peppery black radish for some bite.

Conor followed with something also aquatic and equally elegant: cured ora king salmon, a richly fatty but clean-flavored salmon sustainably farmed off the coast of New Zealand, served with slivered radishes, puddles of deep, funky black garlic hollandaise, and hillocks of nutty crispy quinoa. The composition brought to mind a more sophisticated iteration of the combination of lox and a pumpernickel bagel that is so deeply resonant among my people.

I'm not sure how much communication there was between the chefs about their dishes, but it was interesting that Scott's first course also seemed to be a continuation of the same theme. A plump, sweet scallop (brought in live) was just barely cooked through, topped with a relish of Brazilian starfish pepper and shallots that tasted both spicy and fruity (reminiscent of habanero but with less capsicum heat), plus buttery avocado oil, a couple nasturtium leaves and a bright marigold blossom. These were assertive flavors to match with the somewhat delicate seafood, but I loved how they came together.

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Friday, October 3, 2014

elements - Scott Anderson Dinner at The Dutch 10.20.14

I've been teasing it on Twitter and to the Cobaya - Gourmet Guinea Pigs mailing list, now it's official: October 20, 2014, 7pm, Chef Scott Anderson of Elements restaurant will be doing a nine-course dinner with chefs Conor Hanlon of The Dutch (which will also be graciously hosting the dinner) and Jeremiah Bullfrog of the gastroPod.

Anderson's restaurant is one of those places I've always wanted to visit but didn't ever see the opportunity – I'm not often passing through Princeton, New Jersey. Now, instead, he's coming here. To get some idea of why I'm excited, I'd encourage you to read these write-ups from a couple folks whose opinions I hold in high regard: ChuckEats and DocSconz. And they're not alone: despite not being on everyone's radar screen, Elements was included in Opinionated About Dining's Top 20 US Restaurants list.

The dinner will be $206 per person, inclusive of tax and tip. A pairing option will be available for purchase at the restaurant. To get seats, click on the "Add to Cart" button below (you can change the number of seats once you're on the PayPal page). The number of spots is very limited, so I'd encourage you to move quickly:

Elements Dinner at The Dutch
Monday, October 20, 2014

Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Alden & Harlow - Boston

The primary purpose of our trip to Boston actually wasn't eating, but college touring for Frod Jr. Our second day found us in the Boston U. neighborhood around lunchtime, during which we paid a visit to a sweet little Asian food court in the Super 88 Market just west of the campus. There were nearly a dozen different vendors here, and we had perfectly respectable banh mi sandwiches and bowls of pho dac biet from the Pho Viet stall.

Dinner, meanwhile, found us in Cambridge, where we'd made a reservation at Alden & Harlow. I hadn't heard much about the restaurant or the chef, but the unusual, vegetable-centric menu drew me in. (Then shortly after our visit, the restaurant was included in Bon Appetit's "50 Best New Restaurants" list.)

(You can see all my pictures in this Alden & Harlow flickr set).

The ampersand-ed name sounds like a lot of other restaurants that have opened in the past few years, and it looks like a lot of them too: the basement space in Harvard Square is clad in lots of reclaimed wood, subway tile, vintage signs and exposed bulbs. If only more of those places which looked like this had food this good.

One corner of the menu is devoted to "snacks" (a word I find almost irresistibly alluring), all priced at $8 each, while the rest of the menu comprises a couple dozen items, most of which are "share plate" type dishes in the $15 range. A good number of these dishes place vegetables in a feature role.

Frod Jr. can not resist chips and dip, and none of the rest of the family complains when he orders them. Alden & Harlow's "three onion dip" was a really good version, for which I now know the secret, thanks to BA publishing the recipe: a triple-blast of umami from anchovies, mushroom powder and worcestershire sauce. I don't have a recipe, but the appeal of the grilled broccoli served over squash hummus dusted with bianco sardo cheese and crushed cashews isn't so mysterious: it's the great interplay of charred, creamy and crunchy textures.

When was the last time you ate something so good you immediately ordered it again? Not "immediately" as in "the next time you went to the restaurant;" "immediately" as in "while you're still finishing the first order"? That's what we did with Alden & Harlow's seared eggplant with green sauce, sheep's milk cheese, crispy fregola and basil leaves. The eggplant is smoky and almost meaty in texture, the sauce is herbaceous and bright, there's a creamy, briny tang from the cheese, and crunchy contrast from the fried pasta balls. It was one of the best things I've eaten all year.

Many dishes follow the same winning formula, though the particular components differ. Sweet onions are roasted in butter til their edges blacken, paired with an anchovy and tahini crema and sweet-tart white and red currants for contrast. Crispy corn fritters are served over a silky crema, with a summer bean succotash infused with the smoke of Benton's bacon. A similar composition is played by sweet corn gnocchi in a zucchini ragout with crispy serrano ham croutons over the top.

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