What the hell.
It's over a week after the first spoon. (yes, the name is "spoon." just like that) pop-up dining event, but I still want to write about my impression of the whole thing. It's the second such event in Richmond (the first having been the extraordinary Meddle from Secco's Tim Bereika), and I think it continues an exciting direction for the leading edge of Richmond's dining scene.
spoon. is the brainchild of Richmond cooking prodigal John Maher, in which he brings his brand of artful and thoughtful cooking to the River City. This inaugural event was hosted in the hip-casual space of Pasture and also had an optional cocktail pairing available for each course from Comfort's bar-tending wizard, Mattias Hagglund. I paid for that pairing and got more than my money's worth, let me tell ya.
So what can I say about the food (and the drink)? Well I'll keep it simple: Maher's dishes show evidence of somebody who loves food; loves to cook, loves to eat, loves the ingredients that comprise each course. Nearly every bite in this dinner had the kind of balance I like so much, with each ingredient providing vibrant expressions of their own flavors in addition to careful combinations from dish to dish. And the cocktail pairings! Rarely have I had beverages so well-suited to the food with which they were served. Hagglund's drinks were exceptionally creative while also purposeful and complementary. Even my least favorite drinks at least matched well with the intended course. By the end of the meal I found both my stomach and curiosity sated, and I'm eager for the next incarnation of Maher's cuisine (which, I should point out, looks to be a collaboration with Bereika for "Meddle with Spoons" - heh - which may be more awesome than my palate can handle).
I've heard a lot in the past year or so about Richmond being "late to the party" for a number of things - particularly in our culinary scene. Whether it's food truck courts, fancy donuts, and of course, pop-up restaurants. Sure. Whatever. That kind of commentary misses the point though; it's the quality of the product that matters. And where quality is concerned, Richmond's pop-up restaurants are 2-for-2 so far.
SO, in case you're still interested in some more detail, here's an expanded version of my notes from the evening.
Course 1: English pea soup with preserved lemon, charred onion, and mint
I thought this was a delicious pea soup, but I have to be honest - I didn't really pick up on the additional flavors that much. This was the only course where I thought there was a significant flaw, but only in that the additional components didn't really express themselves. But it's hard to complain about a delicious pea soup.
Cocktail 1: Ron Zacapa rum, mint, lime, sparkling wine
Tasty, refreshing, matched well with the soup - not much more to add than that.
Course 2: Asparagus variations with salt cured egg yolk and prosciutto
It looked, basically, like an asparagus salad arranged beautifully (and linearly) on a black-laquered, routed-out plank. I've never eaten asparagus cooked so perfectly as the tender sections of the plant in this dish. There was a variety of textures and flavors moving from one end of the plate to the other.
Cocktail 2: Allagash White, honey, lemon, Fernet Branca
My absolute highlight of the evening, beverage-wise. I've never tasted or smelled anything like this, and there was crispy prosciutto on the rim (and a little in the glass) that lent some complexity to the whole thing. This is a definitive beer cocktail in my mind, and I only wish I could get the recipe so I could make it myself at home. I'd drink it on its own almost any day of the week. Needless to say, it was an outstanding companion to the asparagus.
Course 3: Atlantic mackerel with fiddleheads, greens, and sea beans
What an incredible piece of fish. There was some little mushrooms as well (I can't identify mushrooms to save my life), and they were a tasty surprise. And fiddleheads - oh my, quickly becoming one of my favorite green things to eat. This was my favorite dish of the night for its use of ingredients and pure deliciousness.
Cocktail 3: Lunazul Blanco tequila, ginger, beet, citrus, and Ringer Farms egg white
I liked this one - it was sweet but not too much, and the faint funky aroma that I get from most tequila worked well, too, balanced by the ginger and citrus. Because of the beet and egg white, the whole thing came out looking like grape soda in a champagne flute, which made me chuckle.
Course 4: Marrow-basted beef calotte with smoked potato mousse, pickled ramp, and bordelaise vinaigrette
Translation: "calotte" is the cap end of - I THINK - the ribeye. And "smoked potato mousse" is certainly a finer way of saying mashed potatoes. Maybe the preparation is more like a mousse than the more vulgar mashing, but texturally they were indistinguishable from mashed potatoes to my admittedly crude senses. Regardless, they were absolutely delicious. The beef was wonderful, tender, and juicy, and taking a bite of everything together was a joy.
Cocktail 4: Broadbent 5-Year Madeira, savory rum, bread & butter pickle, and Ringer Farms egg yolk
Not gonna lie - this was the most challenging cocktail for me. Most folks who've shared a table with me know of my pathological hatred of pickles, so seeing pickle in the bill of materials had me worried from the start. But I pressed on, determined to at least try it and see how it worked with its paired course. And you know what? It was clever, well-executed, and matched the dish just fine. The savory rum was made so by the addition of duck fat, and the pickle component didn't assert itself too much. It was a balanced drink that served its purpose, but when I got to the end the excess pickle did make me gag a bit. I chalk that up to my own tastes, however. Your mileage (should you ever come across such a drink) may vary.
Course 5: White chocolate and cream cheese cremieux with red velvet cake, huckleberry sherbet, and yogurt sponge cake
Such an excellent finish to dinner, and almost my favorite course. I liked the inventive red velvet "paper" along with the crumbled bits of cake, and the cremieux itself was a delight. And I just loved the huckleberry sherbet.
Cocktail 5: Russian Standard Vodka, huckleberry, Gallano, citrus, "heat", and sparkling wine
I thought this was an interesting cocktail, but it didn't have a lot of flavor going on - maybe it just couldn't stand up to the richness of the cremieux? I'm not sure. And the spiciness that made for the "heat", while clever, didn't seem to add much to the dessert for me. While it wasn't a bad cocktail, it was last on my list for the evening. But it didn't, at least, detract from the wonderful dessert for which it was made.