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Campton Place tasting menu report [long]

eel | Mar 10, 200508:50 PM

My dining companion and I took the chef’s tasting menu with wine pairings at Campton Place last Saturday night as a birthday celebration. I didn’t take notes, and as there was ample wine and rather complex dishes, my recollection is not perfect, particularly as to some of the subtleties. But here goes:

After mulling over the meal for the last few days, and comparing thoughts with my friend, we arrived at some strong general impressions: Chef Daniel Humm is a wild man (I mean that in a good way)—his dishes pushed us out of our comfort zone time and again (mostly a good thing). He definitely has flashes of brilliance. He’s infatuated with certain ingredients/preparations, e.g. foam sauces, olive oil, and exotic salt. He does beautiful things with each element, but we would have preferred to see each just once or maybe twice rather than repeatedly—don’t they say it’s best to leave them wanting more? I may be exaggerating, but it seemed that at least one of these elements appeared in almost every course.

I hate to say this, but what stands out about the meal for us were the elements that didn’t work, rather than the ones that were amazing. For me it’s usually the other way around. Not to say that the meal was not rewarding; it was. Not to say that I regret doing it; I don’t. And I don’t want to discourage anyone from trying it, but our impression is what it is.

BTW, Chef Humm is really nice, sweet, friendly, and humble—I was honored that he came out and chatted with us.

The specifics:

To start, we each had a glass of champagne (rather pricy, and not part of the wine pairings). With that was served a plate of 7 or so tiny hors d’oeuvres—there was a fried item (sweet bread?) which unfortunately had strong taste of the frying oil and was not freshly fried. There was a wonderful diamond of smoked salmon layers alternating with crepe. There was an amazing oyster in its shell with apple gelée—inspired, exciting, one of the best bites of the night. Since my dining companion and I had to split it (and it was difficult to bite in half!), I wanted to ask for another one. It was that good.

Amuse bouches:

Port gelée with hazelnuts topped with foie gras foam—really amazing! Wow.

Olive oil ice cream with a cured sardine garnish and tiny parmesan cracker. Having heard about this, I was really looking forward to it and was not disappointed. Loved the weirdness factor and the flavor of the ice cream, although I would have preferred it to be much less sweet. The sardine did not work for me.

Raw chicken egg yolk topped with sea urchin roe and osetra caviar. Might also have had foam. This dish looked beautiful on its plate and the waiter was very proud of it… but for us, it was a spectacular failure. Too weird. Chef Humm went out on a limb with this and I imagine that some would call it brilliant and adore it, but neither of us could handle the raw yolk when it spilled out of its membrane into the dish. I had asked the waiter how he suggested we eat it, but he gave us no advice, saying “you just eat it.” I could not.

Hounds: please chime in on this dish! Is it something you would like to eat?

Fish course (same for both of us): a small chunk of lobster and a single prawn wrapped in something (pancetta? It wasn’t smoky) on a bed of tripe. The combination didn’t thrill me, but I’m not into tripes. My friend like it better than I.

Soup (2 preparations): the first was an intensely flavored, brilliantly green pea soup. I can’t remember the garnishes. Mint? It was great. The second was a veloute of some kind that had several chunks of something at the bottom, I’m guessing sweet breads. And there was foam.

Foie course (2 preparations): the first was small chunks of seared foie topped with chives and alternating on the plate with white asparagus tips wrapped in raw tuna. Foie was delicious, but the combination of tastes on the plate didn’t really thrill or make sense to me. My friend liked it better than I did. The second was a large oval of tuna carpaccio over a very thin and very crispy layer of brioche with a thin layer of foie between them. It was coated with what was described as citrus oil, but we tasted just the olive oil which overpowered the subtlety of the other ingredients. Sprinkled over all were big crispy salt crystals(fleur de sel?). After scraping off most of the oil, it tasted good but what soared was the fabulous texture. The juxtaposition of the crispy brioche with the silky soft tuna was a thrill. One of those moments of brilliance.

Frog leg course (which surprised me): We got two different preparations but neither was memorable for me. But then I don’t like frog legs. My dinning companion really likes them and enjoyed both dishes. On one of the plates the legs where frenched and then fried to make a little ball of frog flesh on a single bone.

Meat course: (same for both of us) Pork chop, carved at table into two portions. Spear of braised endive. Can’t remember the other accompaniments. This was good and comfortable. It was a nice nod to the chef’s Swiss roots.

Cheese (same for both of us and not selections from the cheese cart): a fat cylinder of soft goat cheese topped with an ample pour of olive oil and garnished with big crispy salt crystals and pepper ground over it at the table (nice touch). This was fun and good. Nice combination of flavors--goaty/sour, peppery, salty. Nice texture contrast: soft, slippery/oily, crunchy.

Dessert course one (2 preparations): My recollection is poor here (lots of wine by this point) but each was composed of 3 or 4 elements on a plate. One of them had passion fruit beignets (great), chocolate milk with coconut foam, and something(s) else. All I remember about the other plate was that it had a soufflé. I do recall being pleased by this course.

Dessert course two (same for both of us): a chocolate disk that had a genache-like element and something else, all topped with a sprinkling of those large intense salt crystals. Unexpected, tasty, and interesting.

Then there was a plate of bite-sized tasty treats—really good. I remember a house-made marshmallow, a tiny citrus tart, a well tempered chocolate, a tiny cake of some kind. We took most of them home as we were stuffed. We ate too much bread during the meal—it was from Bay Breads and very good.

A take home treat was presented at the door--a chocolate Madeline with a slight citrus flavor. These were given only to “ladies,” but I begged one for birthday boy and ended up getting to eat them both because he inadvertently left his in my car.

Cost: $390 (without tip) for the tasting menus, wine pairings, and a glass of champagne each.

The service was great. The room was NOT full, which was a surprise on a Saturday night.

My take away: this was a true chef’s tasting menu—he got to express himself and (sometimes) thrill us with his crazy brilliance. Truth be told, I think my palate would have been happier if we’d ordered four courses off the menu (and no frog for me!). But that would have been safe and my mind would have been less challenged and stimulated. Sometimes it’s good to be pushed out of one’s comfort zone.

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