Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Fantasy Food

“We are very excited to have you with us this evening.” She spoke with a casual air of authority and a slight playful tone that hinted at something unusual and exciting to come. “If it pleases you, the chef . . . everyone, would like to cook a special meal for you. A tasting menu.” Now, these are beautiful words to hear anytime. Spoken by the head waiter at Blue Hill, home to one of the most gifted, ambitious, palette pleasing, inventive kitchens ever to focus on organic, locally grown seasonal ingredients, this was one of the key moments of culinary promise that I have ever been fortunate enough to celebrate. I accepted. What followed was a three and a half hour, nine course wonderment of color, texture, flavor and giddy anticipation.

There is nothing like a tasting menu. It is a true gastronomic adventure. Course after course presented for sampling and moments after moment of indulgence. It is the tasting menu that inspired one my favorite culinary games, Fantasy Food. Well, that and fantasy football.

Fantasy Food is when you make your own line up of favorite dishes from favorite restaurants and put them together, in a specific order, to make up your ideal tasting menu. It can be centered around a particular ingredient, theme or just random pleasure. Here’s how I’d put together a five course Fantasy Food tasting menu focusing on pork from my favorite places right round the Burbs:

Dish One – a salad of tender greens from the surrounding farm’s hills with a thin, translucent ribbon of pork, the essence of the Berkshire’s foraging in the nearby woods served on a clean slab of dark slate from Blue Hill at Stone Barns (click here for The WesFoodie piece on BH).

Dish Two - freshly made gnocchi bathed in a rich sauce of tomatoes and herbed wild boar meat from Lanterna in Larchmont. The gnocchi stays just the right degree of firm under tooth before succumbing to the bite in a soft finish that coats the tongue with warmth and a quick burst of spice from the sauce.

Dish Three – smokey, deep rubbed St. Louis ribs from Q in Port Chester (click here for The WesFoodie piece on Q). The pork falls from the bone with the touch of a fork or a gentlebit pull of the teeth.

Dish Four – the cleansing, cool flush of slightly piquant tamarind ice at Palleteria Fernandez (click here for The WesFoodie piece on Paletteria Fernandez) in Port Chester. The ice melts across the tongue and pleases with an unlikely flush of sun, tropics and chill.

Dish Five – dense, dark and moist, the slices of chocolate cake are two fists tall, just as wide and twice as long at Kneaded Bread in Port Chester. The mellow sweet icing is butter’s beautiful doppelganger, buttercream with cane and cocoa. Deeply chocolate. Forever a favorite. And a wonderful way to end a Fantasy Meal.

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