The new tasting menu at UNION is a re-creation of Chef Josh Berry’s very recent dinner at the James Beard House. I was fortunate to be invited to the restaurant to try it at a small media gathering so I could give my readers an idea of what to expect from the meal and how to take advantage of this awesome culinary experience.
After consuming a pre-dinner beverage and one of the hors d’oeuvres from the actual Beard House Dinner, we sat for the start of the tasting. Up first was the gorgeously presented starter of Marinated Clams – pickled mustard and green coriander seeds, chili oil, lemon pearls. The shells and driftwood presentation made me consider just looking at the dish instead of eating it.
Our clams were absolutely delicious and the addition of cilantro pearls and ponzu to the dish made them even better. Together, the layered tastes worked brilliantly to provide both lots of flavor without any particular item hiding another. It was a great way to start a meal and made me hopeful that everything else would follow suit.
I probably could have just eaten more of the clams and been happy, but our next course of the night came before I had time to tell the chef to just keep sending those out. We now had a plate of Cellar Aged Beets – duck confit, ginger, sesame puree, petite herbs. Again beautifully presented and nine months in the making, the beets were baked only in salt. The plate also had some chioggia beet slices, frisee, and cilantro to round it out.
My aged beets were rich and the aging process had clearly reduced them so that each bite contained more bold baked beet power per square inch. With some duck to pump up the protein, the meat and vegetable combination was one I could imagine as a full main course if it were a bit larger. This was a beet dish for the ages.
Our next dish was Chèvre Gnudi – anise cream, licorice, heirloom mint, pumpernickel, fennel pollen. Hidden by the pumpernickel on top, three pieces of pasta filled with cheese including ricotta, goat, and pecorino, sat in the dish. The semolina encasement was cured to be extra thin on the top and bottom of the cheese. Fennel cream and licorice puree created a powerful aroma that made me a bit nervous, but I wasn’t there not to eat, so I dug in.
Despite the smell, the licorice was only a very subtle component of the pasta profile. Instead, the thin, doughy wraps hosted a marvelous cheese combination that had me burning with a fire of happiness. They were absolutely great and I felt that the other ingredients added just the right touch to what would have still been awesome all on its own.
An unusual choice of meat, the last course before dessert was Slow Cooked Lamb Belly – heirloom carrots, whole grain porridge, smoked honey, black garlic agrodolce, rosemary ash. Obviously carrying more fat than other more commonly used parts of the lamb, the belly was intended to carry much of the dish as its best, most flavor retaining piece.
With a little fennel seed in addition to the sweet garlic and smoke, the lamb and carrot offering produced a variety of mouth sensations. I particularly enjoyed sliding the lamb through the garlic and porridge to get as much as I could in each piece. I don’t always want animal belly for dinner, but this one was well conceived and allowed me to try something different than I was used to.
As the grand finale, we had Smoked Almond Financier – whipped maple, preserved blueberries, yogurt panna cotta, spruce bud. With smoked sugar, almond, and flour, Chef Josh stated that “everything was smoked”. Fortunately, like with the other dishes, the theme wasn’t overpowering. The smoke offered a gentle touch to the dessert which also included some lemon and olive oil.
What I found particularly appealing about our last course was that it wasn’t too sweet. I’m a sucker for panna cotta and this one won me over. It was a perfect finish to a meal that had been well though out, with a reason not only for each dish, but the experience as a whole. Each item had a connection to the one before it which made it interesting and more than just a simple meal. It was truly a work of culinary art.
In case you were wondering about wine pairings, yes, they have those too. The sommelier picked them specifically for the meal and they were all very different, but I enjoyed them thoroughly. With pours from the US, Italy, France, and Uraguay, they ranged from fruity to dry to rich. And while the dessert wasn’t so sweet, its wine pairing was and featured bold, unrepentant vanilla.
Interested in trying the Beard House Dinner for yourself? The UNION Beard Tasting Menu will be running from April 6-12. You can make reservations by calling 207-808-8700.
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