For Dinner 20, we left the cooking to a professional (you can see the complete menu here), letting us concentrate on assembling a beautiful summer table setting at our friend Marshall's craftsman bungalow. We went tableclothless, exposing the veneered mahogany grain of Marhsall's table, on which chamomile Chilewich Bamboo placemats set off the rich color of the wood with a bright pop of summery exuberance.
Jars Ceramics Poeme dinnerware just came into the store, so this dinner gave our in-house table designer and store manager Melissa a chance to try it out. Poeme takes its shapes from the Jars Tourron collection, known for its ornate glazes and bright colors, but has a muted color palette and subtler craquelure glaze. Melissa used dinnerware in both Poeme colors: neige (French for "snow") and mica (a light celadon color). Stacking the mica against the neige brought out the Poeme's colors and glaze, and pulled together the table's warm & sunny color scheme.
Our meal began with a cheese selection from Formaggio Kitchen, our preferred cheese monger. Marshall had picked out an adventurous mostly French selection earlier in the day, including a milky Pardou Ardi Gasna, a tangy Robiola, and the moldy-rined Bleu de Termignon, a rare seasonal cheese from the French Alps that opens up and develops in your mouth unlike any other hard cheese I've ever had. We served the cheese on the undulating iittala Aalto oak serving platter with an iittala cheese knife, Sabre Natura cheese knife, and a Sabre spreader, that was useful with the Robiola.
We sipped on wine and cocktails in Marshall's kitchen as dinner companions arrived. Some of us watched the chef Benji at work, while others experimented with the most pungent of the cheeses. Most took a minute to wander into the dining room to admire Melissa's table setting and the large bouquet she had picked up earlier from Brattle Square Florist, which sat prodigiously in an iittala Kartio vase. The table's green grass Libeco Home Polylin napkins picked up the colors of the bouquet, bringing another shade of summer to this table that suggested clear and sunny summer days.
Benji, who moonlights as a private chef (email him at firstname.lastname@example.org for his services, which we can't recommend highly enough), prepared a delicious five course menu that was lavish, without being too heavy at the end of a hot summer day. The refreshing first course of golden beet borscht was a masterpiece of presentation, with the chilled soup's rich golden color offset by the deep red of a red beet garnish and a dollop of horseradish cream, some pickled onions, and green beans from Benji's garden.
The second course picked up the summery yellow color of the first. Benji topped fresh New Bedford sea scallops with homemade waffle chips and served them with a sweet corn puree and a scattering of smoky bacon and pan-roasted corn. The dish offered sweet, salty, and smoky flavors in perfect balance and its colors looked wonderful against the Jars Poeme canapé plate it was served on.
A third course of shaved fennel, dry cured olives, sweet orange, and shaved Romano cheese filled one's mouth with more refreshing bites of sweetness and bitterness in blooming harmony. This balance of contrasting flavors was a central theme to the meal and a major strength of Benji's cooking.
For the main course, Benji served up tender pan-seared striped bass with a deliciously crispy skin on a bed of potatoes and heirloom tomatoes and topped with asparagus and a garlic lemon aioli. Dessert came with a set change: Pillivuyt Quartet plates on Chilewich's chainmail-like metallic lace placemats. Benji's chocolate terrine had a touch of coffee whose bitterness was countered with a black raspberry puree and sugar-filled pockets of fillo dough.