Sound 3/09: Promised Land

Sound challenges three chefs to turn heavenly visions into delicious dishes

Sitting in a blue room, staring at the wall
Trying to get into anything at all
Cigarettes taste funny as I sink into my bed
Dreams of milk and honey are running through my head

“Dreams of Milk & Honey”
from The Best of Mountain
by Mountain (1970, originally)

For this month’s Dish-Off, three restaurants create menus inspired by “Dreams of Milk and Honey,” a song of sweet visions from the ‘70s rock band Mountain. I’m asking a lot from the participating chefs in terms of the two ingredients, anticipating dairy delights and drizzles of sweet nectar all in white and gold tones. While milk and honey usually play a supporting role in a dish, I’m hoping that one or the other will sometimes be the star. In other words, for milk and honey to fulfill my dreams, I’m looking for Kate Winslet-like adaptability. Which restaurant will feel most like a land flowing with milk and honey, offering me abundance, richness, and joy?

Six Seven: Goat\'s milk and apricotPerched right on Elliott Bay, Six Seven is idyllic for daydreaming, and after the sun sets, the restaurant is entrancing with its darkness and chill music. Chef Jordan Mackey serves up dreamlike dishes for the challenge, starting with an intriguing goat’s milk and apricot opener. I love the colors and textures, and feel like I’m floating above another planet, taking in the bubbles, foams, and other “strange” substances. (There are goat’s milk pearls, fireweed honey gels, and tarragon powder, for example.) Meanwhile, foie gras panna cotta, perhaps appropriately served in a parfait glass, tasted too dessert-like, especially on the heels of the previous dish. Vanilla and Sauternes-scented milk clouds and apple honey glass are interesting, but I’m losing sense of foie gras’ livery taste that I so desire.

The next two dishes are more meaty, but still with milk and honey extras. Persimmon pairs nicely with duck, and I also like the accompanying brioche almond spoonbread . But the goat’s milk and persimmon sorbet and honey lemon thyme foam are overwhelming and lost on me; I want a simpler preparation. Like the duck, the lamb is cooked sous vide with honey and thyme, and is incredibly tender. Again, the plate is busy. I like the hot custard with honey and rosemary, but not sure the other elements—like honey date pudding and pine nut milk caramel—are effective.

Dessert brings me full circle to the opener. Just as I enjoyed apricot in combination with goat’s milk, I like the pumpkin with the jelly-like noodles of young coconut flesh. But as with the other courses, there is too much competing for attention. The confines of this space can’t let me fully describe all the forms I experience: spuma, foam, powder, air, gel, cloud, puree, glass, jelly, gelee, custard, caramel, gastrique, sorbet, pudding, glaze, syrup—all of which lend themselves well to milk and honey. I can say that I appreciate the chef’s creativity, risk-taking, and gorgeous plating. Looking back, while the dishes engaged me and I enjoyed them in the moment, like a dream, I don’t really remember much detail afterward—just a sense of sweetness throughout the meal.

Pearl is part of the boom of Bellevue restaurant openings. The setting is sophisticated: Black sheer curtains adding softness and privacy for those lucky to land a prized booth. Chef Bradley Dickinson strives to use local ingredients in an ever-changing global menu, and in this meal takes me from Europe to Asia to home in the Pacific Northwest.

Buttermilk-battered calamari are terrifically tender, perfect with a nutty, piquant romescu smoothed out somewhat by wildflower honey. It’s still spicy, but not nearly as spicy as the namya soup, which brings a smile to my face. I’m crazy for curry, and while there’s a little honey amidst a myriad of other ingredients, the spice cuts through the coconut milk-enhanced broth, though I wish there was a little more depth to it (and perhaps more than one dumpling).

Pearl: Grilled sturgeonIn the main course, the vegetables are fabulous; honey-braised leeks and fennel are favorites, lending flavor to the carrots. That said, the sturgeon is fresh and tender, nicely seared, and kissed by the honey and the brown butter sauce. I appreciate the inclusion of three varieties (cow, goat and sheep) on the cheese plate that follows. Served with honeycomb and more, this is the seemingly perfect platter for this competition. The most visually impressive and creative course, though, is the Burgundy-poached pear. Slicing it reveals a surprise. Sweet and creamy mascarpone contributes a tangy taste that contrasts with the pear, though the honey restores some sweetness while the rosemary adds a perfect herbal note. Overall, it’s an excellent and enthusiastic effort—creative in its use of the theme ingredients, though I would have liked to have seen them in a little more of a starring role. Still, Pearl has great luster and potential to shine even more brightly.

Milk and honey make their mark most at Lark, winner of this Dish-Off. Exposed beams and a pitched roof give the restaurant a rustic, yet elegant look that makes it feel like the promised land for the challenge. Chef Jonathan Sundstrom serves small plates using high-quality ingredients in sometimes simple, yet classic preparations. He executes well. Take, for example, the hearts of palm. Here, vanilla salt kick-starts the dish, with vanilla the first taste before the salt enters and accentuates the sweetness of Acacia honey steeped with Abruzzi saffron and the sensuousness of beguiling cardamom butter. The result: a light and delightful first course.

Lark: Ricotta gnudiNext is a knockout dish that showcases milk in three forms: ricotta, Parmigiano Reggiano, and cream. The ricotta gnudi are soft and pillowy, bathing luxuriously in garlic cream. The result is incredibly rich and creamy, and escarole adds dimension and color. I then enjoy the chestnut honey glaze on a crispy duck leg, with Brussels sprouts, cipollini onions and chestnut confit benefitting from the honey’s sweetness, and bits of bacon adding an always welcome fatty bite. The dish is delicate and satisfying.

After a little taste of brie-style Fougerous cheese (woodsy and mushroomy) paired with local honeycomb, the small plate strategy pays off as I’m eager for dessert. The rice pudding is the “wow” dish of the whole Dish-Off. The unmistakable smell of truffle announces its imminent arrival. The pudding is creamy yet light, sweet yet subtle, and incredibly fresh. Would it be udderly utterly ridiculous of me to say that I felt like I was drinking straight from the udder of a cow—a sweet cow that had nibbled on vanilla bean and was producing milk with just a touch of crème fraiche? The Calasparra rice has the right bite, and the earthy truffles slices serve up sophistication to this show-stopping finale. Lark has lured me, demonstrating the strength and versatility of the theme ingredients, ensuring that dreams of milk and honey are running through my head.

The menus

Six Seven

  • Goat’s milk and apricot
  • Dreams of apple and foie gras
  • Persimmon, honey and duck
  • Honey, lamb and pine nut
  • Pumpkin, coconut milk and honey

Pearl

  • Buttermilk calamari with Marcona almond-honey romescu
  • Spicy namya broth with Dungeness crab dumplings
  • Grilled Columbia River sturgeon with honey-braised leeks and fennel and brown butter sauce
  • Cow, sheep and goat cheeses with organic fruit, pear balsamic jam and honeycomb
  • Burgundy-poached d’Anjou pear filled with honey-rosemary mascarpone

Lark

  • Warm hearts of palm with cardamom butter and saffron honey
  • Ricotta gnudi with Parmigiano Reggiano, escarole and garlic cream
  • Crispy duck leg with chestnut honey glaze and chestnut confit
  • Fougerous with honeycomb
  • Black truffle rice pudding

All photos in the post by Rina Jordan. (Click to enlarge them.)

Note: Dish-Off reviews are based on announced visits. Restaurants get guidelines and choose what to serve according to the month’s theme.

Six Seven on Urbanspoon

Pearl Bar & Dining on Urbanspoon

Lark on Urbanspoon

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#Pearl
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