Contributed by Bryce Lambert Chef Robert Harris, owner & chef of Season to Taste Catering, invited us to the new Table at Season to Taste, to sit down to a gourmet farm to table dinner for ten. They've recently installed a dining table in their Cambridge kitchen and made it available to small parties for their unique take on private dining. In the returning tradition of table d'hôte, Chef Harris creates a custom prix fixe menu based on the freshest seasonal ingredients, completing the menu with wine pairings.
The table sits beside antique kitchen cupboards stocked with homemade preserves in Mason jars and cookbooks, and is practically within arms reach of Robert Harris' cooking space. Hanging copper pans, as well as the smells and sounds that emanate from Harris' stove and counter throughout the evening provide the pleasurable feeling of being close to one's food. It's almost like being back in mom's kitchen, if she could cook like this.
A big idea behind this in-kitchen private restaurant is opening up a dialogue between chef and diner. Everyone is encouraged to watch the chefs work and ask questions, and each course begins with an informative introduction by the chef who prepared it. Ethan, the server, always has a few intelligent words to say on the wine. It's difficult to walk out of the door at the end of the night without having learned something about food and its preparation. You may not be able to go home and re-create your dinner, but you'll know a lot more about it than if you had ordered it off a restaurant menu. On that note, they also teach classes--check their blog for class listings.
We thought this was the perfect opportunity to set up a sophisticated holiday table setting with Kosta Boda glassware, Chilewich tablemats, David Mellor cutlery, Pillivuyt dinnerware, and Jars Ceramics dessert plates, because we always love to eat dessert off of Jars. Under normal circumstances, you don't have to provide your own tableware, of course. Season to Taste does a perfectly fine job with that. But we wanted to do something really special and try out some ideas of ours for a modern and sophisticated Christmas table setting.
The first course, a Roasted Beet Tartlet with Vermont Goat Cheese, Fried Sage, and Candied Walnuts, was served in a small Pillivuyt Quartet bowl. This few bites of light flaky pasty, filled with a rich creamy purée of goat cheese, spinach, and applewood smoked bacon, and topped with a meaty slice of roasted beet and a small cubed beet salad tossed in a lemon vinaigrette, set our appetites in motion, and silenced the table to nothing more than the sound of steel against porcelain and unintelligible hums and grunts of approval and satisfaction.
The creamy cheese purée felt good in the mouth with the pastry crust and the two preparations of beets gave the dish a fresh, light taste and texture that kept it from becoming too rich or heavy for a first course. This course was paired with a 2009 Domaine Augis Valençay. Valençay, a small area in the Loire Valley, is known for its goat's milk cheeses, so, geographically and gastronomically speaking, it fit the course well. Its sweetness and fruity flavors complemented the dish.
Chef Harris described the second course, Crispy Confit Quail on Free-Form Butternut Squash Gratin with Grilled Frisee and Cranberry Gastrique, as a "way to eat duck fat." And it was. These little birds from Cavendish Game Birds of Vermont (which specializes in quail) took a four hour bath in duck before being fried in cast iron. This preparation gave the quail a deliciously crispy skin and tender, flavorful meat. The cranberry gastrique (a reduction of berries, sugar, and vinegar) countered the crispy saltiness of the quail confit with its dense sweetness.
A surprise palette-cleansing course followed the quail dish. This simple plate of a Coupole from Vermont Butter & Creamery, watercress, olive oil, and orange pieces combined a creamy, expansive cheese with the taste of fresh greens and sweet orange pieces, served like Chef Harris likes them, with a dash of cracked pepper.
Season to Taste takes deliveries of whole butchered pigs from Bachelor Hill Farms, so our pork trio was a natural way to put this swine to use. A full, colorful plate, anchored by a Cabot Cheddar Polenta Cake, held a grilled loin and pear chutney, a free-form Apple and Pecan Sausage with Medira, pears, roasted pecans, sage, and other herbs, and pork shoulder braised overnight in cider. Parsnips and carrots from Kimball Fruit Farm provided a hearty serving of winter vegetables, along with kale cooked in white wine and rice wine vinegar. The plate was a fantastic medley of pork sweetened by the pear chutney and fresh vegetables. It paired perfectly with the zesty and fruity 2009 Scagliola Barbera “Mati” we sipped from capacious Kosta Boda Eclipse wine glasses.
For dessert, Chef Sam served us thick slices--about twice as thick as what a restaurant would usually serve--of his two layered chocolate raspberry "delight." He combined Callebaut chocolate with Taza, to balance out the latter's bitterness. The bottom layer of this dessert was basically a solid chocolate bar, which some of the group had difficulty slicing into it with their David Mellor spoons. I, however, did not, and was happy to lend a hand to anybody who wanted to forfeit their plate to me. The top layer was a rich chocolate cream. Chambord in the truffle layer carried over the the flavors of the house-made raspberry preserves that garnished the Jars Ceramics Tima dessert plate and a rich walnut crust held things together.
See more photos in the Flickr gallery.