In my last post, I recapped our foraging walk with our visitor, wild foods expert Hank Shaw. The group was a nice mix of academics, chefs, and food industry people. But one intrepid soul, Sous Chef Crystal Platt, and her team at Marché restaurant, stayed behind to prepare a wonderful meal as the rest of us combed the forest for rarities.
The wild foods dinner menu.
I don’t think Marché has ever been so on. I’m so proud of Chef Platt for treating us not only to the area’s wild foods, but also her budding molecular gastronomy chops. I happen to know that she’s a fan of Alinea and similar restaurants experimenting with the intersection of science, food, and metamorphosis. I love the flavors she chose to feature: fennel, rye, duck, orange root vegetables. We got to see her passions in action.
And I’m not going to lie; one of my own passions, and one that grows more urgent by the year, is to facilitate opportunities for motivated people to express themselves creatively. She’s going to be embarrassed, but just look at Chef Platt’s face in Dmitri von Klein’s photography of the preparation of the meal. (Ugh, and here, I should take a moment to apologize for the yellowed quality of my own photographs. The light was not good, my camera not the best.)
At its worst, molecular gastronomy is like spending an evening with tech geeks: it can occasionally be amusing, but often devolves into theatrics for the sake of the blast alone.
And to be honest, it often greatly benefits from a less aggressive (dare I say macho?) and less clinical touch. It needs to have an element of play in it, of having fun. And that’s just plain hard to do in these times.
But Chef Platt pulled it off.
We started out with an oyster on a celery purée with parsley oil (the very first picture). That punch of GREEN works quite well with the briny shellfish, much better than the overpowering vinegar in a mignonette sauce and — ack — cocktail sauce.
Gougère with laurel butter and lardo followed. Enough said.
One of the more charming of the amuses bouches was the fennel flower dipped in tempura batter, served with “tea,” which was almond milk scented with fennel and honey. Each fennel flower cluster formed a wonderful little bite of crunch. The hors d’oeuvres were served with a Delmas Blanquette de Limoux Cuvée Berlene 2007.
Next came a venison carpaccio. A rye cracker (rolled cannoli style) was filled with buttermilk mousse(?) and topped by apple granita, shaved chestnut, and little sprigs of wood sorrel and yarrow foraged by our enthusiastic, competent servers, Aleica and Joseph (thanks so much to both of you!).
With this dish, the sommalier chose to serve a new Marché cocktail, a modified ‘Harvest Cocktail’ available at the bar. With its calvados and allspice dram, and following the opening wine, it was a little strange, but I do like the cocktail.
The next two courses were filled with attentive details, and delighted us. Roasted chanterelles and poached mussels, two very subtle flavors somewhat lost under a blanket of pinenut puree, got up close and personal with a mound of crispy pork. Dotted with new pine needles and pine nuts, rosemary flowers, and perhaps a pine oil, the dish was executed well, but crispy pork will steal the show every time. Just saying.
That was followed by a seared ling cod, shaved porcini salad (be careful with raw porcini at home), autumn greens, braised sunchoke, and braised mustard seeds, which immediately grabbed my attention. A not-so-fragile sheet of smoked lardo was laid on top, creating a sweet little blanket. Atop a roasted onion jus and garnished with reminders that spring will come again, little mustard flowers, the dish was like opening a treasure box and having a bunch of jewels fall out and spill all over the floor. Each little layer was worth careful examination.
These course were accompanied by an Eric Chevalier Pinot Noir Rose Val de Loire 2010 (from an area in the Loire valley close to the sea, which lent a bit of saline that matched well with the seafood).
Then came the fun. Our servers brought out a plate of compost, which was not compost at all but a shallow pasta bowl filled with singed hay, cinnamon stick, red maple leaves, pumpkin guts, and a wedge of apple. Yes, a fall potpourri, made somewhat fragrant by hot water. I wish the scents had been strong enough to balance the hay, but it was nevertheless intriguing.
“Autumn inspired whole duck,” our main course, was the star of the meal. It had a brilliant yellow duck egg yolk dip; duckfat-poached purple carrot; little dots and swaths of carrot puree, quince gel, and quince paste; duck pâté rolled in essence of Eugene, curried granola; seared duck breast; and a duck sandwich with confit layered between crispy duck skin.
The wine? Ah yes, a Domaine Notre Dame des Pallieres Gigondas Les Mourrue 2007 from the foothills near Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
And last but not really last was dessert: huckleberry sorbet logs with malt crumbs; a soft cinnamon meringue which may have been the only evident technical failure; “pumpkin & chocolate chips,” which I think was pumpkin puree and little chocolate dipped dried pumpkin slices. Delicious. This course was followed by mignardises: a beet and rosehip macaron and a cocoa nib brioche with a pear and ginger filling. These yumyums were paired with an AlexEli Muller Thurgau 2010 from close to home in the Willamette Valley.
Then we repaired to le bar where we had fernet branca. If you haven’t yet checked out Marché’s new bar, do go. It’s a very warm and welcoming place, and I think you’ll like it.
Well, I’m full again writing about this. Time to toddle off to new ground or a nap or something. Thank you, Chef Platt, Ryan, Jessica, Aleica and Joseph, and the entire Marché crew for making this happen. And thanks to Hank Shaw for being such a good guest — we loved having you in Eugene and you’re welcome any time!