"The Time Is Ripe For Pears" Dinner At Rialto

Vin Santo chocolate tart with seckel pears

USA Pears hosted a dinner at Rialto last Tuesday night, and I was lucky enough to be in attendance. Rialto, located in Cambridge, Mass., is helmed by Chef Jody Adams. Jody and her team of talented chefs worked with USA Pears to put together a four-course pear dinner, using a different kind of pear in each course.

The evening started with mingling with representatives from USA Pears and other attendees (including Elizabeth, Renee, Cara, Aimee, and Rachel), sipping pear cocktails, and talking about pears.

Pear cocktail

Did you know there are more than 3,000 varieties of pears? I had no idea. I am most familiar with Anjou, Bosc, and Bartlett pears. The dishes we had that night incorporated Concorde, Bartlett, Forelle, and Seckel pears. We may also have cut up the Starkrimson pear sitting on our table so we could sample this sweet, juicy variety.

Before we were served dinner, Jody came out to talk to all of us and to tell us her thought process behind the different dishes we were about to eat, including which pears she chose for which dishes and how the pears were prepared.

After Jody headed back to the kitchen, our servers placed bread baskets and small dishes of oil and salt on our tables, and we happily dug into these while anticipating the first course. We also sipped on wine. I tried the white, which instantly became one of my new favorites: Michele Chiarlo, Le marne Gavi 2009. I found it very smooth, almost creamy, if you could call a wine creamy.

The first course was an autumn Concorde pear salad with crinkle cress, Baylee Hazen Blue, walnuts, fennel, and Moscato dressing. What looks like parsley in the dish is actually the crinkle cress. The fennel was mild, the blue cheese creamy and nutty, and the pears definitely stole the show. They were thinly sliced, nicely ripened, and added a sweet crunch.

Autumn Concorde pear salad

Our second course, which is actually on Rialto's regular menu now, was a crispy mackerel escabeche with pickled Bartlett pear puree, currant, pomegranate, and mizuna. The mackerel was very lightly fried and had a strong but balanced flavor and a flaky texture. The pickled pear puree was the perfect complement in this traditionally sweet and sour dish, and the tiny pomegranate seeds made for a beautiful presentation.

Crispy mackerel escabeche

For the main course, we had roasted breast and braised leg of chicken, with smoked bacon, roasted Forelle pears, scorched brussels sprouts, and mustard seeds. I loved how the pears had been scooped with a melon baller. The crisp, tangy pear bites soaked in the broth around the chicken and were delicious eaten with bites of moist chicken. The brussels sprouts hiding underneath the chicken and studded with smoked bacon were one of my favorite parts of the dish and the first of many brussels sprouts I plan to eat this season.

Braised chicken with Forelle pears

When I say they saved the best for last, I'm not quoting a cliche. They really did save the best for last. I was beyond impressed by this seemingly simple dessert of ginger-spiced Seckel pears perched atop a Vin Santo chocolate tart. The chocolate tart not only had a chocolate filling but also a chocolate crust and was so rich and decadent. The spicy ginger-poached pears cut some of the sweetness and added their own strong flavors. But even the littlest touch added so much to this dish. On the plate itself were crumbled bits of candied ginger that added a pop of flavor when scooped up with the tart and pears. I am already thinking about how to recreate this dish at home. It was amazing, and I wish it was on Rialto's regular menu because I'd try to go back every night to eat it.

Vin Santo chocolate tart with seckel pears

We ended the pear dinner, tummies full, knowing so much more about pears -- the different varieties, the flavors, the ways to cook with them, and so on. We learned that the best way to tell if a pear is ripe is to check the neck because pears ripen from the inside out. Even if you're like me and love to eat your pears when they're still crunchy, it's good to know this little trick. Also, unlike apples, pears do most of their ripening after they've been picked.

The lovely representatives from USA Pears gave us all what I've dubbed "pear-aphernalia" as we headed out, which included a pear in a pear packer (to keep our pears safe when we tote them to work), a water bottle, pear and pear cocktail recipes, and a little stuffed pear. I thought Gunner might like to hang with the little pear, so I gave it to him when I got home.

Gunner, our chocolate lab

A huge thank you to everyone at USA Pears and Rialto for hosting such a fabulous dinner. (This dinner was complimentary, but as always my opinions are my own.)

I usually just eat pears plain, but this dinner has inspired me to incorporate them into my cooking and baking. I'm so excited to make some pear things now!

What pear dishes have you had or made?