Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Downright Comforting

Somehow I think Houman's reasoning behind his recent comfort food menu was less because of the unseasonably cool Spring temperatures and more a chance to showcase the firepower of his sparkling new dual tier, 4-burner, salamander-packing stove. Not to disappoint my mind's picture of this contraption, from the minute I stepped into the apartment, all burners were whopped up to high with pots gleefully bubbling away.

The smell that filled the room (and entire building) was enough to get me drooling. Here's what we had in store:

1. Rustic brandade
2. Teddy's boudin noir with caramelized apples and onions on celeriac puree
3. Porterhouse, sauteed kale, pancetta
4. Guinness braised short ribs with rosemary-maple glaze
5. Melon with basil-lime granita and cornmeal cookie

Our starter, the rustic brandade, was the classic salt cod and potato combo with an added twist. A deep fried fritter (same as the brandade recipe with added herbs and chives) was placed on top and the whole thing was covered in a pungent garlic aioli.

The garlicky waft and the sight of a perfectly browned croquette on top of a chunky bed of starch was pretty to admire, but lasted mere seconds as we all tore in and made quick work of it. The salt cod added a great fish taste without overpowering the dish with salt and the smooth/crispy texture worked wonderfully.

The second course included a familiar ingredient, as Teddy's homemade blood sausage made a cameo appearance to the delight of all of us. I would have munched away happily on nothing more than the sausage and a smear of tangy mustard, but it came plated beautifully with maple-drizzled onion and apples, and a smooth puree of celeriac. As if that wasn't enough, a veal stock based gravy was spooned around the plate. A fabulous dish overall - the rich spiced sausage, a tart celeriac, and sweet onions and apples to tie everything together. Relatively simple, but loaded with flavor and a definite crowd pleaser.

The porterhouse steak course (strangely not the main course) was as amazing to watch being prepared as it was to eat. First of all, the uncooked piece of steak itself was beautiful with a labyrinth of marbled fat running throughout.

It started out on the stove top in a smoking hot pan, then was flipped and moved to the oven which tops out at around 1500 degrees Fahrenheit. More than enough to add a nice char to a steak without over cooking the glistening pink center. It was quite a show, at one point Teddy and JC were on all fours peering through the oven's tinted window just to get a glimpse of the bubbling, browning porterhouse. The seasoning was simple, ("salt, pepper, and butter is all you need is you need for a steak, man" to quote tonight's chef) and the results were sublime.

As good as any restaurant that I have been to. I guess the secret is slicing off a bit of the sun and stuffing it inside of your oven.....nice if you can get it. The side dish was nothing to scoff at either, with some nice braised kale and pancetta. A tiny bit of maple syrup found it's way inside also (not a big surprise considering our Canadian host) which added a nice sweetness to the salty accompaniment. The steak was center stage though, and rightfully so.

Short ribs have been done before, at one point in back-to-back-to-back weeks which threatened to change our name from Thursday to Short Rib Club. They are delicious though and when done correctly, few things can top it. Houman's take had the ribs braised in Guinness and finished with a maple rosemary glaze.

The meat was fall apart tender and the glaze added a nice sticky coating to the meat that took on the dark color of it's braising liquid. No knives needed for this course as the meat shredded off of the bone (which I used as a shovel-like utensil just to drive home the meat-tastic nature of this meal). The combo of the meat and creamy mash was amazing and the realistic portion, uncommon for us at times, left us pining for more.....which there was.

Luckily for us the dessert was a cooling and light one, honeydew melon balls with a lime-basil granita. Never using basil in desserts, the combo was foreign to me, but really opened my eyes to using herbs in cooperation with sweet dishes. Unfortunately the heat of the kitchen had turned the granita a bit soupy near the end, but fortunately Teddy our in-house mixologist had the smarts to throw it into a cocktail shaker and stretch the dessert further by making it into the nicest lime-basil based drink I've ever tasted.

It was truly a night of excellent classics dishes. Even though they had a familiar ring, the subtle twists made them unique and a welcomed change from the ordinary comfort foods we were used to. And the stove was damn impressive.....

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