|foie gras, turnip, persimmon|
Last week I told you about the first half of our amazing experience at fine-dining pop-up Holdfast Dining in Portland, OR. (Read Part 1 here.) I ended that post with the first of three courses of duck.
The second course of duck was listed on the menu as “foie gras, turnip, persimmon.” We were presented with one of the most gorgeous bowls of food I have ever seen: a beautiful arrangement of turnip slices, persimmon wedges, glossy half-spheres of persimmon jam, delicate green herb fronds, and a little wedge of something that I assumed was the foie gras – served in a tiny amount as usual, because it’s such a precious ingredient – all layered on a pool of mousse, like some tiny fantasy landscape.
Next to the bowl was a small square plate holding two small slices of nearly black bread, a wedge of butter, and some coarse salt. Will explained that the bread was based on an Icelandic steamed bread, crossed with Boston brown bread. The bread was sweet and grainy and fabulously delicious, practically good enough to be a course on its own. He said we should feel free to spread the foie gras on it. Arne scooped some of the mousse at the bottom of his bowl onto his slice of bread, and suddenly I realized:
|two courses of duck|
That tiny wedge wasn’t the foie gras. The pool at the bottom was foie gras mousse, a king’s ransom of foie gras mousse. (The little wedge was candied turnip.) I tasted the mousse and swooned. It was incredible: rich and smooth, coating the tongue with ecstasy from corner to corner. There was enough to play with: How does it taste with the pickled turnip? The candied turnip? The persimmon?
It was an embarrassment of riches. At $90 a diner, the foie gras had to be cut with other ingredients,
but it was so rich and decadent that it didn’t taste that way. It was purely sensuous, and had us practically panting as we tried to scrape the bottoms of our bowls as decorously as possible.
We tried to recover as the chefs put together the third and final course of duck: duck, squash, curry, nasturtium.
It was another beautifully composed plate, this one reminding me not of a landscape but of a pond. Nasturtium-leaf lily pads floated on the surface, next to stepping stones of roasted and pickled squash, all leading the eye toward an island of three perfect, pink slices of duck, topped with curry-granola gravel. There were also little droplets of intensely flavored curry gel.
|duck, squash, curry, nasturtium|
Why have I never tasted a savory granola before? Curry granola is a great idea, and it tasted wonderful, offering a nice textural contrast to the general softness of the other elements. Did I mention the duck was perfect? It was beautiful, the same rosy rare from edge to edge, tender and juicy and delicious. Arne was a quivering mound of delight, so overcome he was barely verbal. And though I am not a fan of winter squash, I loved it here in both its pickled and roasted forms, and especially loved how the sweetly caramelized roasted pieces played against the tangy pickles.
Arne begged Joel for the secret to the duck, and he obliged: It was a matter of roasting the duck for 5 minutes, removing it and letting it rest for 5 minutes, and returning it to roast, repeating I’m not sure how long, thus allowing the heat to migrate into the center of the breast without overcooking the edge. (No sous vide equipment required.) It sounds labor-intensive, but I plan to try it sometime.
|Chef Joel Stocks|
The savory portion of the meal was over. Almost. Next up was our gateway to dessert, a bridge dish between savory and sweet, so beloved that it was the only dish to have been served at all 156 Holdfast dinners: cornbread madeleine, lardo, parmesan, honeycomb.
|cornbread madeleine, lardo, parmesan, honeycomb|
Served on a little plate – we were kind of pleased to get New Mexico terra-cotta while everyone else got white – the madeleine was quite unprepossessing compared to the previous courses. Its comparative simplicity was a bit of a relief, a nice pause. I knew it would be rich, though, as I watched Joel drape lardo over the hot-from-the-oven madeleines: Lardo is basically paper-thin slices of cured pork fat. They recommended eating it in two bites, to evenly distribute the honeycomb between bites, but I like to take many little bites, so I made it four.
Humble as it looked, this little corn cake was scrumptious: grainy cornbread, the play of salty cheese against sweetly floral honey, the luxury of the melting lardo. I devoured it gleefully, licking the honey off my fingers, thinking: Finally! Something I can attempt to approximate at home!
|frozen yogurt, honey|
Next, we were served a bowl of snow. Actually, it was frozen yogurt. Will described the process of making it, and it may be the world’s most labor-intensive frozen yogurt: I can’t remember all of what was involved, but there were multiple steps of freezing and crushing to create the powdery consistency. It was served in a bowl ringed with a spiral of honey, dusted with granulated honey.
It was really good honey – I scraped all of it off the bowl – and the “snow” was tasty, but this course was probably my least favorite. Still, its delicate flavor was a nice contrast to the robust madeleine and all the preceding decadence.
|earl grey, almond, citrus|
The final course in the nine-course count – though definitely not the last thing we were served – had been being slowly plated over several other courses, and we were dying to see it all put together. When it landed before us, “earl grey, almond, citrus” turned out to be a sharp-edged bar of Earl Grey panna cotta topped with slabs of meringue, citrus curd, and what I think was citrus “roe” – tiny balls of tart citrus (lemon or yuzu) juice that popped delightfully in our mouths. There was also a burnt-almond crumble and a cute little meringue. The dish was beautiful and I loved the citrus roe. I wished there was a little more Earl Grey flavor in the panna cotta, but the texture of it was beautifully smooth and melting, impressively lightly set to have such clearly defined edges.
The final course – really, the post-final course, since we’d already had the promised nine – was just listed as “candies.” Before the candies came out, each party received a lovely coffee service with a press-pot of coffee, cream, and sugar. The coffee was very good.