Farmstead’s American Artisan Dinner at The James Beard House

Saturday, August 21, 2010


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On Monday evening, August 16th, at The James Beard House, Farmstead and La Laiterie Chefs/Co-Owners Matt & Kate Jennings presented an American Artisan Dinner to a very eager crowd of Rhode Islanders and New Yorkers. Having eaten food prepared by the Jennings many times over the past few years I can say that this dinner they pulled out all the stops and gave everything that they and their staff could offer. The meal was based around cheese and dairy because the Jennings felt they “needed to give a bow toward where we started but didn’t want [to serve] cheese on a plate.” So in preparing the menu they gave a very conscious thought as to “how to lend a dairy slant without eating a piece of cheese.”

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The evening began with five passed hors d’oeuvres served with a Gruet Brut NV and a 2009 Margerum Rosé. While the two items that were clearly crowd-pleasers—a Beef Tongue Pastrami and Roth Käse Gougères with Baboo’s Mustard and a Grilled Twig Farm Cheese and Heirloom Tomato Sandwich with Homemade Maras Pepper Butter and Herb Salad—were very good. It was two of the other hors d’oeuvres that beautifully layered several different flavors to make perfect mouthfuls. One was the Summer Melon with Smoked Pork Jowl, Sea Rocket, and Narragansett Creamery Yogurt, which delivered a burst of fresh melon in the your mouth that was immediately contrasted by the salty, smokiness of the jowl, the slight peppery-ness of the greens and the creaminess of the yogurt.

But my favorite of the five was the Savory Ricotta Gelato with Bacon-Lemon Marmalade and Crispy Shallots with Black Pepper. The combination of all those flavors and a range of temperatures due to the gelato and shallots just made a perfectly milky, silky, crispy and porky taste. The fifth hors d’oeuvre, a Chilled Young Carrot Soup with Clotted Cream, Pistachios, American Olive Oil, and Spearmint was good but not as successful to me simply because it was a little hard to get all the flavors in one gulp from the shot glass because of the thickness of the puree. The two wines were nice starts to the evening.

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When we sat for dinner there was a delicious cheese biscuit waiting for us. It was the one item we didn’t get notes about but I will assume it was a recipe of Pastry Chef Kate Jennings. The biscuit was light and fluffy, but it held itself together perfectly against a knife with butter instead of crumbling apart. The best part was the always exemplary staff at the Beard House kept bringing more as the night went on.

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Dinner began with a light fish dish that I actually muttered “wow” about when I tasted it. It was Raw Rhode Island Fluke with Buttermilk, Poppy Seeds, Celery, and Barden Family Orchard Apples along with another small item sprinkled on the plate that La Laiterie Chef de Cuisine Benjamin Sukle later told us were Sea Rocket buds, an attempt to not waste anything from their RI foraging. The fluke was incredible, a light, beautiful cut like crudo that almost tasted tuna-like from the combination of seasonings on the plate.

While I loved the dairy served with the next dish, A Farmer’s Fête: Our Favorite Summer Vegetables with Saffron-Cremont Fondue, Flowers, and Herbs, I couldn’t help but feel it was the least successful dish of the evening.  One guest remarked to Matt that there was “so much going on” and Matt replied the goal was to “get a bite with all of it [the vegetables, fondue and herbs],” but that was a little tough. It was a very artistically composed plate that I enjoyed having before the coming pork and lamb courses. The salad was served with a 2008 Poet’s Leap Riesling from Columbia Valley which was my second favorite wine of the evening.

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Besides bringing the cheese, Matt knows how to bring the pig and the Jamestown Pork Tasting: Roasted Whey and Hay-Brined Belly, Crispy Crackle, Porcini Sausage, and Cured Loin, Served with Golden Plums and Brebis Blanche was outstanding. The crackle was one of the best pork rinds I’ve ever had. The cured loin and sausage were tasty, though I wanted more fat in the sausage. But the belly was perfection: perfectly crisp on top, some luscious fat and then some sweet meat. I tried to cut it into thin slivers to savor it as long as I could. The pork course was served with a Hill Farmstead Brewery Honey Saison, a Belgian style ale from Vermont that Jennings recently blogged about procuring personally from the brewery.

As if the pork wasn’t enough we were then served West River Feta-Brined Lamb Noisette with Green Mountain Potato Torta, Corn, Olives, and Alliums. I love lamb and this dish didn’t disappoint. The potato torta was a nice treat to help the palate with all this delicious fat since there hadn’t been much starch served otherwise. Plus it was layered with all the great taste of a perfectly crisp potato. Brining the lamb in the liquid from feta cheese was a nice touch to tie in the dairy and the reduction on the plate was lip-smacking good. It was served with my favorite wine, the 2008 Quivira Vineyards and Winery Grenache from Dry Creek in Sonoma.

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The meal was ended with a Berry Pudding with Four Town Farm Sweet Corn Ice Cream and Ader Käse Shortbread, just a perfect capper to the meal, bringing in more dairy and sweet flavors, tempered with a little bit of warmth and earthiness from the pudding and cheese. As we had dessert, The Jennings and the entire Farmstead/La Laiterie team came up from the kitchen to take some questions and receive several well-deserved rounds of applause. As Matt Jennings told the crowd at the end of the evening, the dinner was a “team effort. A lot of what you tasted is collaborations.” After a meal like that I would think that everyone at Farmstead should be extremely proud to be on that team.

Farmstead and  La Laiterie Bistro, 186 Wayland Ave., Providence, RI 02906   401-274-7177

Farmstead Lunch, 225A Westminster St., Providence, RI 02903

Photos David Dadekian

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