Kitchen Improv!


NB: This post is quite long. I thought about splitting it in two, but I like the way it reads all together. So sorry, friends, y’all will have to deal.

This is the story of two ladies who have formed a bond of love and friendship over food. Actually, it was originally a bond of love and friendship over a mutual understanding of a Donkey Kong reference, but it grew into so much more, quite a bit of that more being food.

It should be fairly obvious that one of the ladies is me. The other is my dear friend Nandi, who has graced these pages more times than I care to look up and add links for, but for this post we are going to do something extra-special – you are going to hear about a dinner we shared, each in our own words! For those of you who know both of us, you know that this means that you will get one rather whimsical, absolutely beautiful description of the sensations of our meal. And you will also get my half, in which I relay the facts, as I know them. My words will be in the usual font and style. Nandi’s will be in:

well.  hmmm.  let’s just say that it’s hard for nandi (who has now jumped in and is speaking about herself in the third-person, which is an odd habit that she tries not to cultivate, but slips out from time to time, especially when making difficult choices involving typography) to decide what kind of font best describes her style. comic sans? oh god, let’s hope not.  this is not 1998, after all.  oh man, remember the curlz font?  i used to think that was the shiz.  how about this– SKIA!  woooo, this nandi knows how to party!  (to further clarify matters, please be advised that from this point on, nandi will eschew all capital letters unless in a moment of extreme EXCITEMENT THAT REQUIRES YELLING.)

Let’s ride!

The setting of this adventure is TW Food, a favorite establishment for both Nandi and I, despite a name that sounds a wee bit like a chain restaurant specializing in flair.  (seriously true, ms. menace!  tw food is one step away from my all-time favorite bar, tipsy mc staggers.) In fact, nothing could be further from the truth – TW Food is dedicated to using fresh, locally-sourced ingredients in creative ways. Chef Tim Wiechmann (yes, the name becomes more clear. It is in fact a sort of…anti-flair (TEE HEE!)) studied at Le Cordon Bleu and cooked under several prominent French chefs, and it shows in his work. At the same time there is a modern playfulness to the food that I feel like I rarely encounter. In the spirit of that playfulness the restaurant has recently started doing a rather fun new prix-fixe concept – on Wednesdays after 8:30, the restaurant serves a totally impromptu menu with the ingredients of the day. Food allergies will be taken into consideration, but otherwise it’s a totally spur-of-the-moment experience. How could we resist?

Our evening started with an amuse-bouche:
Amuse Bouche
Crispy, with a hint of maple. A lovely start.

lovely start, indeed!  now, normally, i am a bit wary of the amuse bouche.  maybe it’s because i watch too much top chef and it seems like the chef-testants ALWAYS eff up this portion of the meal.  plus i kind of hate the image that its description conjures– according to my main man chef tom colicchio, an amuse bouche should merely AMUSE THE TASTE BUDS.  what the heck does that EVEN MEAN?  but my concerns re: naming and verb choice aside, this was a perfect beginning to our meal.  as ms. menace points out, it was crispy and tart, yet sweet, and left my taste buds clamoring for MORE MORE MORE.  plus, it was served on a tiny spoon.  and goodness knows, i LOVE all things tiny. But ESPECIALLY Tiny Cooper! (darling readers, you don’t know Tiny Cooper yet, I’m pretty sure, unless you’re on the cutting edge of YA fiction (as we are, clearly). But you will, if Nandi and I have anything to say about it. Go on. Click the link. Dare to fall in love with the maelstrom of awesomeness that is TINY COOPER.)

At our first course, I realized that the evening was going to be even better than I had hoped for, because they brought us different dishes. The opportunity to sample twice as many options was enchanting! I was served a salad composed of watermelon turnips and golden beets over julienned parsnips:
Turnip-Beet Salad
Vibrant and outstanding in color, this was crisp and cool, with a hint of vinegar and a bit of warmth from olive oil. and, like snookie, i have never met a pickle i didn’t like.  this was no exception.  the vinegar-laden vegetables were tasty and crisp, but what made the dish special was the aforementioned olive oil.  it was fruity and nutty and mellowed out the acidity of the beets and radishes, giving the plate a depth that you just don’t find at tipsy mc staggers.  or at most restaurants in the boston area, for that matter.

Nandi received a stunning smoked broccoli rabe soup:
Pea Soup?
This was rich and smoky, with a spiced creme fraiche on top. I think I could have licked the bowl, if it were appropriate. I will say that nearly every soup I’ve been served at TW Food makes me feel the same way.

now, now, now, this was one of my very favorite things that we ate this evening.  then again, you could coat my grody old running sneaker in creme fraiche and i would devour it.  but, as red points out, this soup was smoky and rich and stunningly not at all bitter, which is what i certainly expected from a soup that showcased surly broccoli rabe, the crusty old man of vegetables.  o frothy deliciousness of soup!  your velveteen texture and smoky taste!  your adorable little fold of creme fraiche… you, you, you are the soup of my dreams.

Next I received a Wild Mushroom Croute with Persillade:
Wild Mushroom Croute
I’m sorry the photo is so dark, because this was quite possibly one of my favorite dishes. I really, really love the taste of wild mushrooms, that sort of funkiness combined with meatiness, almost like game. The persillade brightened it up a bit, however – contrasting the darkness while at the same time enhancing it.

and let us not forget the BREAD!  to provide some context, at the time of this delicious supper, i had been experimenting with a gluten-free diet and had not eaten bread for about three weeks.  however, in honor of this event, i decided to throw off my shackles of self-inflicted food ludditism.  and was it ever worth it… the slightly toasted bread served as a grand nest for the mushroom and herb deliciousness that the red menace describes.  firm enough to serve as a good delivery vessel (read: it didn’t fall apart when i shoved the shroom into my mouf), and yet not too crunchy– it’s the attention to even these miniscule deets that make my heart swell.

Nandi’s dish was equally exquisite:
Pheasant in Cornmeal
It’s pheasant, in cornmeal! This is like the fanciest comfort food of all time. The cornmeal was more of a mush consistency than polenta consistency, and that was fine by me. Salty, meaty, cheesy heaven in a cute metal bowl.

a tureen of happiness, i agree completely.  if there was one food that i could eat on this whole earth morning, noon, and night, it would be cornmeal.  (and you could totes do it!  mix it with dried fruit and syrup for breakfast!  eat it plain for luncheon!  and for a decadent dinner, stir in some mascarpone.  drool!  it’s the cher of grains– constantly reinventing itself to remain relevant.)  and so this little number, complete with pheasant and cheese– i have actually compulsively started eating corn chex whilst i type this in order to quiet my hunger pangs.  NOT THE SAME.

Next came our main dishes. I received fluke over a bed of kale:
Fluke with Amazing Sauce
Fluke, also known as summer flounder (and I’m not sure why they prefer to call it fluke, since I get creepy associations with that word, and none at all with flounder) is a local, totally ridiculous-looking fish. They’re flat fish, so their eyes are both on the same side of their head, making them look like something Picasso threw away. I’d never really had fluke, and I was amazed at how much I liked it, as white fish aren’t typically my jam. This was incredibly tender, and it didn’t hurt that it was served in a creamy sauce that seemed to be infused with 5-spice powder. Outstanding.

and so incredibly soft!  i know, terrible adjective choice.  but that’s what this fish was… a buttery (and not too fishy) pillow that fell apart when gently probed with a fork.  (okay, i am just embracing the terrible word choices at this point, much to my own chagrin.)  and the sauce!  magical.  if i was writing a recipe for this particular dish, i would call it soft buttery fish WITH MAGIC MAGIC SAUCE.

Nandi received pork ravioli in a black pepper sauce:
Pork Ravioli with Black Pepper Sauce
I very much enjoyed these as well, though the sauce was QUITE peppery, with a bit of cinnamon flavor hidden just below the pepper surface.  Alas, there’s not much more to say than that.   It’s just a bit hard to write anything exciting about ravioli, and I can’t even cast aspersions on their looks.

since i have already used the word “pillow” to describe the delicious aforementioned fluke, i will have to resort to other turns of phrase to describe ye olde ravioli.  it was expertly made: the dough was tender, not tough, which can be a big problem with homemade pasta, and the filling was meat-laden.  but i do agree with red about the pepper– it overpowered the porkiness (woooo, love that adjective) of the filling, and i was left feeling a little sad that it hadn’t lived up to the expectations that i had placed upon it.  but friends, although i am sort of hinting that this was the lowlight of the evening, please consider my feelings to be similar to my contention that the godfather two was not as good as the godfather one.  like, it’s still an amazing movie, but without sonny corleone, well, godfather two just wasn’t quite there.  (and no, that one extra flashback scene at the end doesn’t count.)

These courses were followed by two of the most amazing cheese plates I have ever had. This is actually a bit of a tragedy, because our server (Bronwyn, wife of Chef Tim) carefully explained what each cheese was, and then we didn’t write them down, but we were blown away by them, so we asked a bus boy what they were, and he not only had no idea, he did NOT go ask Bronwyn for us. SO. SAD.

hey, busboy!  your ineptitude (or laziness) is now revealed to the WORLD!  HA. HA. HA.  SUCK ON THAT!

Anyway, I received this:
Cheese Plate I
The harder cheese was actually transcendent. I will never forgive myself for not knowing what it is. (the softer cheese was good as well, but it’s the other one I’m kicking myself over.) The cranberries served with it were torched in some way and tasted like roasted marshmallows. This was amazing with the cheese.

amazing.  amazing!  i have no other words, except to express my sadness that we will NEVER KNOW what the delicious cheese was.  (shaking fists at busboy… why i oughta!)

Nandi’s cheeses were also excellent, though a bit subtler in flavor:
Cheese Plate II
They came with an apricot compote, also delicious, though it doesn’t help me remember the cheese names one bit.  but what does it matter, ms. menace?  these cheeses, much like all other cheeses that i will eat for the rest of my LIFE, will never measure up to the deliciousness of the phantom cheese of ought-ten.

At last we reached the dessert portion of the evening. I don’t normally order dessert in restaurants, in part because I am far more of a salt fiend than sweet and in part because I don’t eat dessert at home, either. But when I get one in a prix fixe I’m usually pretty jazzed about it. Mine was a pumpkin mousse tart:
Pumpkin Mousse Tart
The crust tasted like sugar cookies – I would like the recipe. The ice cream is creme fraiche, and I’m not sure they meant to make the coulis smile at me, but I like it.

Nandi’s dessert was in another direction entirely:
Chocolate Budino
That, my friends, is a Valrhona chocolate budino with candied nuts, sea salt, and olive oil. It is also pretty much my perfect dessert – barely sweet, with salt and crunch. For those of you who don’t know, budino is an Italian pudding, similar to mousse but more dense. Heaven.

i am not a dessert afficianado, either, for a multitude of reasons.  i actually grew up in a bakery– my mom ran a cake bidness out of the basement of our home.  and like any good daughter, i tended to overlook the amazing things that my parents did, and therefore never was really big into the whole dessert thang.  but then a few years ago, i was diagnosed with diabetes and suddenly, guess what!  i love dessert!  but, of course, now i cannot really eat it (especially now with this whole gluten-free escapade), except for on special occasions.  special occasions like kitchen improv night at tw food, that is.

so, because red received the punkin mousse tart first, i was graced with the valrhona chocolate budino.  “chocolate budino!” i thought to myself as it was lovingly set in front of me.  “what an adorable name for something so decadent!”

and then i took my first bite.  what. the. eff. i had gulped the world’s largest spoonful of olive oil.  salty salty olive oil with peanuts.  and maaaaaybe a slight hint of chocolate, but i wasn’t exactly sure.

“well,” queried the red menace, eyes somewhat cloudy and distant from her own punkin-induced haze.

“um.  it’s.  um.  i don’t really know how it is,” i admitted, whilst steeling myself for another bite.

as ms. menace points out, this dessert was barely sweet and very salty, which definitely threw me off.  but i am no stranger to salty dessert items (these were ubiquitous on my wedding day, par example), so what i think really threw me off was the gigantic spoonful of EVOO that coated my entire first bite.  after that, the dessert still packed a heavy and powerful punch, but the olive oil just amplified the punch, instead of whacking me right in the jaw.

meanwhile, the punkin mousse tart was lovely.  but it was a bit too nice– the leather-wearing, scooter-driving valrhona chocolate budino left little miss punkin in its dust.  tasty as all get-out, but really not so different from the punkin pies that you meet on thanksgiving day.  however, my compliments to mr. tw food for his delectable homemade creme fraiche ice cream!  any feast that delivers not one, but TWO, items involving creme fraiche ranks at the top of my list.

i would like to offer my most heartfelt thanks to the red menace for allowing me access to her blog and therefore the ability to wax poetic on foodstuffs.  although food writing is not my forte, food eating is, and i have had a big big BIG amount of fun documenting this joyous occasion.  and so i would like to propose a toast to the red menace and her excellent blog– may you continue to adventure!  may you continue to eat!  and may you continue to invite me along for the ride, especially when there is creme fraiche and phantom cheese to be had!

Aww, many thanks, Nandi ‘o mine! Thanks to you both for eating with me, and for helping me to write this post. I will raise the glass with you, and say, to many more joint adventures! And to Tiny Cooper, long may he reign!

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5 responses to “Kitchen Improv!

  1. WELL DONE, Ladies! As much fun as being in the same room with both of you at once, and that says something!!

  2. Teresa Root aka Mommy

    I can only say that the mystery which needs solving is this: how was the danged olive oil salt (cod?) choklit puddin? It can no way compare to little lonnie’s 4 your old birthday cake, a chocolate cabbage!

    • lady, let me just say (kindly, like you always taught me) that IT WAS NOT MY FAVORITE. but my tastes are not always the popular ones, as was evidenced by my first grade birthday treat, chocolate truffles.

    • I, on the other hand, was quite a fan. Howe’er, I think in this case the budino would be NOT to most tastes. I just really, really love salt and dark chocolate!

  3. Pingback: Fantastic Journey..man | Adventures in Food

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