Return to Wonderland (Or a Paris Jardin in Cambridge)

Written by Hairee Lee

It was back in February that I first met Jim and Page. They hosted Dinner #8 on a cold and stormy night. Inside, a fire was a-blaze in the fire place, a fantastic meal of seasonal ingredients a-digesting in our bellies, enjoyed in Page and Jim's a-mazing medieval times inspired dining room.

For more pictures of the dinner go to our album on Flikr.

Then suddenly, in the middle of dessert, Jim opened the the only closed door in the dining room. And there, beyond the warmth of house and hearth, framed by the warm wood paneled walls, was snow, piled up on the ground and falling through the inky sky. It was an Alice in Wonderland moment or a scene out of Labyrinth ((Remember that film with David Bowie? Whatt?? Check it out.)) with a door leading, not into a room or house or sidewalk, but into another world.

The winter wonderland transforms into an elegant, white fenced, flag stone laid, Jardin-de-Luxembourg-of-Paris-inspired garden in the summer. Page and Jim’s gardener, David, has cultivated an eight year relationship with the couple, and has come to realize their impeccable taste that begins inside their Cambridge home and extends to the rest of its grounds.

Inspired by the summer verdure, Melissa designed a table setting with a Libeco Polylin tablecloth in grass green that matched the foliage perfectly and an enormous green antique wine bottle as a centerpiece. For more details on the table setting, read Dinner #11: The Table Setting.

A meal without wine is like a day without sunshine. -Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, French gastronome, (1755-1826)

Dinner begins (and ends), as usual, with wine. Jonathan picked up a red and a white from the Burgundy region. (For more on the wines we drank at this Dinner Series event, read Dinner 11: The Wines) French wine in a Frenchy garden. Bon!

We start with red to go with the selection of antipasti served in a Match Pewter crudite tray with crackers on a Match Pewter antipasti plate. The thing about Match Pewter is that their stuff oozes elegance, oozing unto the food and making it look even better. Even taste better. Freshly sliced Huron Loaf (a hearty whole wheat bread) from Hi-Rise Bakery is served on a Heath Ceramics Chez Panisse bread & butter plate. ((The Chez Panisse line of Heath Ceramics dinnerware was produced exclusively for Chez Panisse, a French joint out in Berkely, California. (Again the French connection.) The diners got excited about the plates while being seduced by the food and demand resulted in Heath releasing the Chez Panisse dinnerware to the public. ))

Then onto the salad course: Caprese salad with basil. We've all seen this salad before and it's just a great go-to summer salad for it's freshness and flavors. But what really made this one pop for me was the super syrupy balsamic vinegar Page served on the side. Balsamic vinegar this good pours out like maple syrup. It's so old and sweet and bold, you want to take little sips directly from the bottle.

 

Good wine needs no bush. -William Shakespeare, As You Like It, Epilogue.

By the time we tuck into the main course, the sun has completely set. An Orrefors raspberry votive that shoots candle light across the linen and lamps hung from the a tree light our dinner. It's always around this time during a dinner, when the wine frolics in the blood and the diner has relieved that initial hunger pang, and the aroma of the next course teases your belly, and your companions are sitting deeper into their seats and talking more freely, that the evening comes to the height of its ripeness. The decline, like the decline of flowers, foliage, fruit, and even human beings, deepens the dining experience, making the perfume of pleasure ever more potent, the evening, poignant, special. I can't see the garden anymore, but that's okay because, in the words of the master playwright, "Good wine needs no bush."

For me the star dish of this dinner is Page's couscous salad. It's loaded with seasonal vegetables and seasoned to perfection. I could eat bowls of this stuff for days. A close second is the barbied salmon. ((And we're talking the full-on, old-school, charcoal brisket barbecue. I haven't seen anyone use real charcoal in, probably, over a decade. Everyone seems to have gone over the the gas side.)) Jim's got this nifty trick: brush on mayonnaise on the fish before putting the fillets on the grill. It keeps the fish from sticking to the grill, retains moistness, and you can't taste the mayonnaise once it's been heated over the grill. Add a cob of corn served in a jade glazed Jars Tourron rectangular dish and a glass of chardonnay and you've got one fabulous summer meal.

By this time, we've gone through the four bottles of wine that Jonathan brought and Jim brings out a favorite of his, a Pinot ((A favorite of mine as well, especially since watching Sideways with Paul Giamatti being obsessed with the stuff.)) from California, and another one from Napa Valley. We polish those off, too.

And you think, I'm good. All set. But then there's dessert and you realize that you only think you're satisfied until it gets even better. The Apple Pear Cranberry with Brown Sugar Walnut Topping from Petsi Pies ((Based in Cambridge, Petsi Pies makes amazing pies. The first pie ate was a Pecan and Taza Chocolate at Dinner #5 . I'm not a huge chocolate fan, so I remember it being good but nothing spectacular. The fruit pie for this dinner was something special.)) served à la mode. (French encore.)

This--good food, good wine, good people--it really doesn't get better than this. -Jim Anathan, host and bon appétit and belle vie advocate

"You know, this is just fantastic," says Jim. "This--good food, good wine, good people--it really doesn't get better than this." This philosophy isn't new or beatable. The most basic human needs of sustenance and society are met--and by met I mean met well --only with the most non-basic planning, execution, and company.

Elvis knows what I'm talking about. "Having fun takes a lot of work." (Margaret Henke)

Photographs by Nathan Brescia.