On Tuesday night, I picked up some friends (and fellow bloggers -- Rachel, Michelle, and Alicia) from the T and headed out of the city to Medford, Mass., for a tomato tasting at Bistro 5. Living in the city, I sometimes forget that there are great restaurants beyond walking distance.
It took us longer than I thought to get out to Medford, but we also headed there during rush hour. I think for a later dinner, it would be a pretty short drive... about 15 minutes.
The restaurant is on the corner right by the railroad tracks, and we noticed it immediately. We parked on the street out front (another plus to leaving the city -- finding street parking!) and walked into a dimly lit dining area. We were led to the back room and seated at a long table with the rest of our party.
I was happy to meet Kate from Shamon PR, who invited us to the dinner; Sara Ferguson, who runs the Winchester Farmers Market, and her husband; and Lingbo. And I was excited to see Michele, Katie, Robin, and Christine (from Citysearch Boston) again too.
Once we were settled, Chef Vittorio Ettore came out and spoke to us, introduced himself and the restaurant, and then started our tomato tasting, which we soon learned was actually a tomato and basil pairing. A different type of tomato and a different type of basil were used in each course, and each course was paired with wine. I was in heaven.
Like all good meals, this one started with fresh bread. We were served warm focaccia and a basil hummus in a puddle of olive oil.
This simple, basil-flavored chickpea spread set the standard for the rest of the meal. I kept going back for more.
Soon our first wine (Picpoul de Pinet) was poured, and our first tomato course was set before us. Chef Vittorio came out to explain the dish to us. While he noted that the saffron foam on top was a little fancy, he gave us his reasons for using it. It allows him to add saffron to the dish without completely invading and masking the other flavors in the dish. This was my first time having foam or froth, and for me it just went with the dish. It wasn't odd or strange; it just worked.
Pineapple Tomato Bisque, Lemon Basil, Saffron Bubbles, and Brioche Toast
The pineapple tomato was actually used in the bisque stock, and the dish has a very prominent, very welcome tomato flavor. It was both creamy and crunchy and definitely one of my favorite courses.
Our next wine (Macon Les Morizovittes) was poured, and a beautiful panko-crusted fried green tomato was set before me.
EVOO Fried Green Tomato
Copia Tomatoes "in Carrozza," Buffalo Mozzarella, and Opal Basil Pesto
This was much different from the fried green tomatoes I've made. I cut a small section of the tomato, making sure to get some of the mozzarella and basil on my fork as well. The light, crunchy panko crust gave way to a warm tomato that seemed to melt as easily as the soft mozzarella paired with it.
Our courses were nicely spaced out. We had time to chat in between and sip our wines. It was so nice having dinner out and not feeling rushed.
The third course was paired with a Cotes du Rhone Rose. When we saw the dish of risotto placed before us, most of us had to hold back our groans of delight. There in the middle of the plate was a crisp piece of prosciutto, a definite crowd-pleaser.
Heirloom Tomato Risotto
Red Brandywine Tomatoes and Queso Leonora Goat Cheese
with Crispy Prosciutto and Lime Basil
I savored every last bite of the creamy risotto and held on to a small piece of the prosciutto to eat last. I usually just set prosciutto out to pair with cheese and crackers at home, but now that I know how delicious it is crisped up, I'll have to try incorporating it in some other ways too.
And the lime basil was such a shock. You would have thought there was lime zest in the risotto, but it was really just the basil.
The final savory course was the most interesting and was meant to slowly move us into our sweet dessert, with its sweet and savory components. It was paired with a Nero d'Avola Blend from Sicily. This may have been the sweetest red wine I've ever had.
Duck Confit Strudel
Smoked Speckled Roman Tomato Brulee, Sweet and Sour Kuri Squash,
Port Poached Seckle Pear with Thai Basil and Pickled Ginger
The tomato creme brulee was the most interesting component of the dish. It was finished with a very light layer of sugar, just like any creme brulee. The sugar layer just melts in your mouth like a crisp piece of bacon.
The first thing that went through my mind when I tasted it was bacon mac and cheese, and the second thing was charred hotdogs (weird, I know, but in a good way). When eaten with a bite of the duck strudel the creme brulee's smokiness was well balanced. Alone it was good but a little overpowering.
Under the duck strudel was a grid of cubed kuri squashed cooked with agave and finished with sherry vinegar. I loved this. And I admit I have a small obsession with sherry vinegar.
We ended on a sweet note with a glass of Moscato D'Asti and a plated dessert. I also got a decaf cappuccino.
Tomato... Sweet Tomato
Organic Peach Tomato Napoleon, Cinnamon Basil Yogurt Gelato,
Vanilla Bean Creme Anglaise, and Pistachio-Estevia Pesto
I was excited to try the basil gelato because it was made with yogurt, and I had my own basil ice cream in the freezer at home. Chef Vittorio's version was much lighter and tangier than the ice cream I made. He also used cinnamon basil, which I did not even know existed until this dinner. And this dish also incorporated the peach tomato. I've actually bought these at the farmers market in the past just because they are so adorable -- and fuzzy like peaches.
I am so glad that Kate from Shamon PR reached out to me and asked if I would like to attend this blogger tomato dinner because, otherwise, I never would have discovered Bistro 5. (This dinner was complimentary. All opinions are my own.)
Chef Vittorio does different tastings throughout the year, depending on the local produce. The Heirloom Tomato Celebration menu is available until the end of the month. The menu varies slightly because Vittorio doesn't like to leave the same thing on the menu for very long. It really shows how creative he is that he can come up with all of these different ways to serve tomatoes and basil but not overwhelm or bore guests with them.
The tomatoes were from Kimball's Farm and the basil from Soluna's Farm. I love seeing a local chef using and embracing local produce.
Which of these tomato dishes do you think you would like best?