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Blue Hill -- Concord Grapes!

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Blue Hill -- Concord Grapes!

cabrales | Nov 14, 2003 11:25 AM

It being the end of the season for Concord grapes, I returned to Blue Hill for an all Concord-grape dinner from Mike :) (Prior write-ups on the first two in 2002 are included below for everybody's convenience).

To mention one particularly intellectually provocative dish: Sable with Concord Grape Sabayon and Fresh Matsutake Mushrooms, served with a shotglass of Austrian vinegar

My dining companion and I received a piece of slow-cooked sable, with semi-translucent flesh. Interestingly, the sable was a very neutral base from which to sample the Concord grapes, the highlighted ingredient in the dish (even more than the sable). The Concord grape sensations were nicely communicated in the sabayon, which was a very good textural base for the Concord grapes (integrated into the sabayon). Wonderfully, on top of the sable and the sabayon were thin slices of uncooked fresh matsutake mushrooms (tasting somewhat like porcini, but perhaps slightly more flavorful). The mushrooms conferred a woodsy darkness that was an interesting background for the sampling of the Concord grape. Below the filet of sable were cooked, slippery mushrooms of a type about which I was unsure (like mousserons, but not).

The most provocative part of the dish was a shotglass of purplish Austrian vinegar that, on the nose, was quite acidic and that even in that context carried grape-like textures. (Unclear whether the grape from which the vinegar was made was Concord; unlikely from that region). Anyhow, there were grapey notes on the nose (with strong acidic sensations) from the vinegar, that were followed by a sweeter sensation on the mouth. The vinegar was sweeter, more syrupy -- like Concord grape syrup -- on the mouth. It was intended to be very gently sipped, and also poured onto the matsutake mushrooms.

A play on the grape derivations of certain vinegars, and on how similar the Austrian vinegar served was to Concord grape syrup. Also a play on the contrast between the strong acidic nose of the vinegar and its more syrupy, sweeter taste in the mouth.

>> October 2002 (Concorde Grape Tasting -- very memorable)

How can I readily convey my appreciation towards Chef Mike Anthony, Christopher, the dining room team member who primarily assisted us so wonderfully and the remainder of the Blue Hill dining room and kitchen team for having made dinner tonight literally the best meal I have had in New York? (Also, thanks to Dan, who may not have been in the kitchen tonight (?), but of course participated integrally in Concorde grape projects at BH).

My reservation predated the front-page-NYT-dining-section article on the utilization of Concorde grapes at Blue Hill. However, my review of the article, with its oversized pictures of plump looking Concorde grapes (both on the vine, and in clusters in the BH kitchen), spurred me to put in a call to Mike yesterday. I asked whether I could have all three of the Concorde grape-based dishes described in the NY article. Mike noted that he could consider an all-Concorde grape tasting menu. Perfect, I thought. The varied guises in which Concorde grapes presented themselves in every dish our dining party sampled charmed me, with respect to pure deliciousness as well as thoughtfulness on the part of Mike.

After sampling the gloriousness of the sea urchin dish described below, our dining party asked if Chef Mike Anthony would please increase the number of courses in our all-Concord-grape tasting menu. As always, Mike was happy to assist. Consistent with prior meals at BH, Christopher's wine pairings were outstanding -- and interesting at the same time.

Last night's meal unfolded with a shotglass of dairyless corn soup augmented by basil oil. Promising, just like a corn soup with peanut oil I had sampled on a previous occasion.

(1) Sea Urchin -- This dish was superb. Sea urchin from Maine was served in its spiky "shell", which I cupped with my fingers at times. There was just the right amount of clear-tasting crabmeat beneath the sea urchin. The urchin flavors were intense, and the sabayon atop it was laced with just the right (limited) sensations from the muted, but arresting, sweetness of Concord grapes. The saucing likely contained Champagne, which controlled (in an appealing way) the sweetness of the grapes.

I specifically asked for more sea urchins after having been seduced by this first one, but there were no more in the kitchen. A dish that offered some of my preferred ingredients -- egg, sea urchin, champagne. The wine pairing was Con Class, a Spanish white that was nicely aromatic. This was the first non-white-Rioja Spanish white I had sampled.

(2) Monkfish -- This was the only dish on which I had a less-than-entirely-enthusiastic reaction, although the dish overall was still good-plus. Slices of monkfish were accompanied by a sauce that included chicken jus, Concord grapes and lemon thyme. The monkfish was slightly soft in inherent texture relative to my subjective preference, and did not have a strong "elastic"/firm feel. However, the saucing was appealing, and the Concord grapes in this dish were *fascinating*. They were presented whole, with the skin intact. Interestingly, somehow the cooking method resulted in the diner sampling the intensity, tanin-like qualities, "darkness" and slight, slight bitterness (intended) of the cooked grape skin -- separately from the attached succulent, less cooked, flesh interior of the grape. It was as though each little Concord grape was a burst of strong sensations.

Wonderfully, mixed in with the unpeeled Concord grapes were pearl onions that were round in shape and that strongly resembled peeled Concord grapes. I had anticipated the peeled and unpeeled grapes being utilized in a dish together, and initially thought I had guessed correctly with respect to this dish. Imagine how amused I was when I bit into the softened, slightly savory onions! A play on not just visual appearances, but potentially also a statement as to the blurring boundaries between the sensations conveyed by fruit and by vegetables. Also mixed in with the Concord grapes and pearl onions were very few bits of potatoes and some diced chives.

The wine paired was Domaine Henry from the Languedoc-Rousillon region.

(3) Foie Gras -- The utilization of Concord grapes in this dish took such a divergent tone from that in the monkfish creation. Here, the Concord grapes were no longer purplish, but instead a mature, but relatively bright, reddish color. I was enjoying the visual appearance of the grapes while tasting them. The Concord grapes here exhibited a tartness that reminded me of cranberries and red currants. In fact, if I had been asked to guess what the ingredient making up the saucing was outside of the context of an all-Concorde grape meal, I would have guessed with some confidence berries. The foie gras piece had been sauteed, and accompmanied by tellicherry peppercorns. Also appealing was the medium-consistency coconut milk saucing included. It balanced the tartness of the Concord grape saucing, and added almost an almond-like, or otherwise fragrant, aftertaste. The wine chosen was wonderful -- a Muscat from Vineto, Italy, that had lychee tones, among other things, on the nose.
(4) Duck -- This dish was outstanding Four or five slices of duck, the flesh flavorful and cooked just right, were sitting on top of a black-colored metallic "burner" (unclear whether coal or special wood utilized). The burner was visually beautiful, having curved lines and a noticeable, rounded base of a quasi-tomato-red color. The duck had just the right amount of fat linking the appropriately cooked skin an the flesh. Separately presented from the duck was a little indented dish of Concord grape dipping sauce, of a medium consistency. Here, the Concord grape was relatively pronounced again, almost as if it were reminding me of the versatility of the grape.

The three members of our dining group agreed that the wondeful dipping sauce tasted almost of Concorde grape and white Worcestshire sauce (we were collectively perhaps 85 percent confident). Imagine our surprise when we were advised that the effect had been produced using white soy and yuzu. There was a bit of acidity, that was side by side with intensity.

The wine chosen was outstanding -- a 100% Cabernet Franc from the Loire region, Fillatreau.

(5) Belle Rouge Chicken -- At this point in the meal, I was expecting lamb or perhaps baby beef. Imagine my subjective pleasure when my dining companions received lamb (with walnut crust) and I receive BELLE ROUGE chicken. As discussed elsewhere on the board, Belle Rouge chicken has only recently begun to be offered in the Union Square Greenmarket. How thoughtful of Mike to have remembered that I am heavily interested in chicken. I had inquired within the last couple of days on the board about what the taste of Belle Rouge chicken might be like. Well, I found out through dinner at BH.

The chicken was presented skinless, its flesh a gleaning whitish color. The meat was very smooth, and flavorful. Interestingly, it almost had a very, very muted sense of sweetness and coconut-or-almond-like connotations. I appreciated this dish quite a bit, for purely its taste as well as for the consideration that it embodied.

The dish was further enhanced by (1) a single tomato, cooked a bit, and (2) a surprisingly delicate eggplant section, which did not resemble the taste of purple-skinned eggplant and which offered silkiness and subtlety in ways I liked. Again, the wine selection was very good, and reflected thought and a desisre to spur interest. I had a glass of Marion from the Veneto region in Italy (with which I am generally not familiar, but about which I am eager to learn).

(6) Pre-dessert of marinated stawberries and bluberries with a Concord grape granite. The granite was dark and intense, in the best possible way. The strawberries had been softened, and were closer to the Concord saucing than the more pristine, fresh-tasting blueberries. The dish was appealing, with mint (and less noticeable lemongrass) rendering the Concord grapes less dominant and providing nice aftertastes.

(7) The dessert was very good, and interesting. Unpeeled grapes and peeled grapes were combined in a nuanced sabayon that also contained neutral-tasting slices of small plums and rasberries. The dominant flavor in this beautiful-looking and advanced (with respect to conceptual underpinning and execution) dessert was that of Concord grapes. Interestingly, when the sabayon had been "grilled" on top by exposure to heat, it exuded the sensations on the nose that could have been mistaken for cheese. This was accompanied by a sparkling Riseling.

Overall, an excellent dinner, from the cuisinier I prefer in New York. Yummy for the taste buds and for contemplation.

>> October 2002 -- Concorde Grape #2

The gorgeous progression of the described Concord grape tasting menu at Blue Hill called for a request for an encore. So I called Mike up to ask if he could secure grapes for a second all-Concord grape meal. As usual, Mike was helpful and inquired whether I contemplated dishes that were distinct from those in the first sequence. Oh, yes, I gleefully retorted, although I would understand if he were to prepare the same dishes for robert and Susan brown and jordyn (my dining companions) to sample.

I had a very good meal at Blue Hill tonight. Perhaps not as stunning as the first Concord grape meal, but a meal that was very thoughtfully designed, intelligent and expressive of the grapes. A meal that embodied considerable effort and thought and consideration (e.g., the purchase of grapes from several suppliers, preparation of a Concord grape oil for certain dishes, securing of heirloom eggplants for one of the dishes). For all of those things, I am incredibly grateful to Mike and his team in the kitchen and dining room.

A shotglass of warm duck consumme with Concord grape oil was a delicious amuse. As jordyn and I discussed, it was engaging because the inclusion of Concord grape was reflected largely on the nose, when one took in the aromas from the shotglass, instead of in the mouth. As the duck consomme was taken it, its intensity and warmness brought to mind a beef consomme, and some muted Concord grape component could be detected in this heartening liquid (although it would appropriately been more difficult to detect, had I not known that the theme of our menu ).

(1) Tuna Toro Tartare with Concord Grape Vinaigrette.

This was a very good, and visually arresting, dish. Three or four thin slices of medium-sized radish, its whiteness made more apparent by the reddish tinge along the edges of the slices, almost formed a little, gentle domed cup, like certain flowers, for the interior of toro tartare. The tartare was a dark burgundy color, somewhat like the accompanying saucing of Concord grapes. The saucing was made using a special technique that Mike later described to us and that literally stunned me in terms of the labor involved and the attention to detail paid by Mike (uncooked grapes had been utilized). The saucing had the texture almost of certain tomatoes, with a soft feel of slight vegetable/fruit-like granularity.

There were other reasons this dish was tasty. A limited, but appropriate, sprinkling of sea salt had been added to the tartare. This was beneficial to the taste of the tartare, but was amusing to me because it hinted at the texture of what one might imagine finely crushed seeds of Concord grapes might feel like in the mouth. Moreover, the tartare was integrated with the grapes in such an appealing way that the tuna had been transformed beautifully. A dish I liked very much. The wine pairing was Al Vino Cava, a Spanish sparkling wine that conveyed grapiness towards the end of a sip and that had a bit of sweetness.

(2) Poached Ruby Red Shrimp with Spaghetti Squash, and Concord Grape and Shrimp Sauce.

While some of my dining companions were discussing the inherent merits of ruby red versus "regular" shrimp and their respective textures, I dug into this dish. I liked the slight sweetness and matte feel in the mouth of ruby red shrimp, and these aspects matched the relatively sweet Concord grape saucing well. The sweetness was mitigated by a slight hint of pepperiness which expressed itself slightly later in the saucing. The shrimp flavors in the brown-colored Concord grape saucing were appropriate controlled, and this dish highlighted the ability of the grape to match flavors of the sea well. The spaghetti squash was presented in a mount in thin juliennes, and added a refreshing aspect to the dish. The matched wine was Gewartztraminer, Eisenberg 1997.

(3) Poached Wild Halibut with Eggplant Confit, Eggplant Consomme and Concord Grape Gelee. This dish was literally ravishing. Perhaps the best Concord grape dish I have had at BH -- even more expressive than the sea urchin with grape sabayon and the Belle Rouge chicken prepration from the first meal.

Two intrinsically flavorful, perfectly cooked (and I do not say this lightly) medium-sized pieces of wild halibut formed, on my plate, almost the shape of a scallp shell, with a spoonful of sweet, perfumed Concord grape gelee nestled inside. The flesh of the halibut was tasty, and the inside had a room temperature and a slight pinkish hue and texture from perfect cooking. The halibut had been placed on top of a reasonably sized, luscious piece of slinky eggplant with a whitish, slightly lavender (?) skin. This eggplant was excellent, being subtly smoky and yet luscious in a "clean" way. Quite subtle (in the best possible way, in my book).

The consomme was special as well , bearing certain Asian-like aromas when its aromas were inhaled. A connotation of certain dashi ingredients. A sensation on the nose of the softened intensity of mushrooms, which also appeared in supple juliennes inside the consomme (some of it in mounds). The consomme was at once clear and nuanced, and carried roundness concurrently with a hint of smokiness. It was as though intensity had paired with restraint to produce something that was no longer either.

Perhaps the wine paired of Domaine Henry, Rose, from the Languedoc region was slightly stark for this dish. However, the halibut dish itself was truly excellent. It contained a good taste of Concord grapes in the gelee, but embodied so many other flavors. Furthermore, from time to time inside the consomme, there was the same superb preparation of Concord grapes (tanin-like, intense qualities of the skin, still attached to the fleshiness and slipperiness of the insides of the grape) that I had experienced during my first grape meal at BH. A burst of flavor and sunshine to the dish!

(4) Slow Roasted Flat Iron Steak with Chestnuts, Brussel Sprouts, Blue Kale and Concord Grape Sauce.

A dish showing that Concord grapes can convey intensity and a transfixing "darkness", and yet not overwhelm a dish when cast against beef (in this case, from the shoulder). The beef was in several delicious slices of medium thickness. The aggressiveness of a red meat seemed appropriate at this stage of this meal. The Concord grape saucing enveloped the steak pieces (which were cooked just right) to cast their irresistible spell.

Chestnust were nice, and not unduly softened. The brussel sprouts included were tiny, and delicious. The kale was an excellent choice, for it fulfilled some of the roles normally occupied by spinach, and yet was darker and a better choice with the Concord grapes than spinach. The paired wine was a Loire Red. I liked this dish very much as well.

(5) Our pre-dessert was a shotglass of Bosc (spelling) pear in a Concord Grape soup with vanilla ice-cream. It was spot-on at this point in the meal. I appreciated the utilization of mint (or a similar item), which was apparent on the nose and also in the aftertaste of this effective pre-dessert.

(6) Concord Grape Financier with Concord Grape Sorbet and Blueberry Sorbet. A fitting, wonderful closure to our meal (or so we thought). Paired with a nice glass of Muscat d'Asti, the financier was more intense than the blueberry version that is sometimes served at BH. I liked the amusing retention of bluberry in one of the two quenelles of sorbet, although I preferred the Concord Grape sorbet. The financier was an appealing, buttery base for the convincing notes of grape.

The perfect end to our meal was the bringing forth, after the serving of mignardises, of Concord grapes au naturel. Here, there was the ability to sample the contrast between the skin of the grapes and their fleshy interior.

After this meal -- after two such Concord grape meals -- I am somewhat at a loss as to how to convey my gratitute to Mike and the BH team.

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