After moving way out to the suburbs (even though I know it's only temporary), I have been feeling really deprived of city life. I was so used to going out after work, meeting up with friends, checking out new restaurants, etc., and I suddenly had to get accustomed to meeting Jeff at the car after work and making the hour-long trek home. While I knew I wouldn't miss some parts of city life, like taking the T every day, it quickly dawned on me that I missed the freedom of being able to make plans and go out after work and easily get home afterward.
So when Chef Joshua Lewin of Beacon Hill Bistro invited Jeff and I in for a tasting, we made a date night out of it. We had a reservation for 6 p.m. on a Friday evening. When I got out of work that day, I hopped on the T (definitely don't miss it) and took it to Hynes, the shortest distance I could think of that would still get me in range of our destination. It was a gorgeous day, and I strolled up and down Newbury and Boylston Streets, remembering what it was like being able to walk around there on weekends and weeknights. Jeff met me a little while later, and we ducked into Shreve, Crump & Low to peruse wedding bands for a few minutes before we had to head over to the bistro.
When we arrived, Josh was waiting for us at the door. I've known Josh for a while now. We first connected through our blogs. He even shared some pictures on my blog for a farmers' market roundup I was doing--back in July of 2010 when he first started at Beacon Hill Bistro as a sous chef. He's now the executive chef there and has put his own spin on the menu. What I know Josh best for is his focus on local, seasonal food and his connection to the food he prepares and serves.
After a quick greeting, we were seated in the dining room. I was delighted to see little menus beside our plates, welcoming each of us and detailing what we'd be having. We each had different dishes listed for each course.
Our waitress brought over some wine and bread, and we dug right in--though I limited myself to one piece of bread, as delicious as it was, knowing all that was to come.
Jeff's first course was evergreen-cured gravlax with English peas and horseradish creme fraiche. This dish was full of fresh, bright flavors. I loved the light, springy taste of the peas in contrast to the silky salmon. (I know I said it was his first course, but of course I had to try it.)
My first course was a fried Wellfleet oyster with wood sorrel aioli and a chickweed nest. I was initially worried because I tend to like only raw oysters and haven't had great luck with fried oysters in the past. But I needn't have worried. This one was light, almost buttery in texture, and the chickweed, like so many other elements Josh brings to his dishes, added fresh, bright, green flavors. The wood sorrel aioli was sort of lemony and slightly acidic and provided a counterbalance to the other flavors in the dish.
Jeff's second course was a stinging nettle risotto with green garbanzo beans and French breakfast radish. I thought the tiny radish on his plate was adorable. I'm not a big fan of risotto or garbanzo beans (it's a texture thing), but I did try a few bites anyways, and I found the risotto more firm than others I've tried, which was a good thing. And the green garbanzo beans were amazing. They have a texture more like edamame, waxy rather than pasty. (I may have eaten all of them.) The radish was just the right touch to bring a sharp note to the dish.
My second course was a wild watercress soup with miner's lettuce, borage flowers, and verjus. While it looks overwhelmingly green, it was actually very balanced, and I didn't tire of eating bite after bite of the cool soup. It was thick and luxurious without being creamy or heavy.
For his third course, Jeff got the brandade de morue with picholine olives, preserved lemon, and spring leaves. I ate his olives and spring leaves. I couldn't resist the vibrant pink in this dish and the briny olives and preserved lemon added sparks of flavor. I would describe the brandade de morue as a cod fritter, with a very creamy, light, almost whipped filling. This was Jeff's second favorite dish of the night.
My third course was "Sandra Jean" scallops, kaniwa, orchard morel, bergamot, and Mosefund Mangalitsa lardo, and I must admit I was quite intimidated by it. Scallops are one of the few foods I don't really care for, but I always try them because I desperately want to like them. (And after hearing the waitress tell the table next to us that Sandra Jean is the name of boat the scallops come in on, I wanted to like them even more.) These were perfectly cooked and super tender, and I loved the bright notes the lemon added and the luscious, melty quality of the lard (but I still don't love scallops). The morel was an interesting pairing, adding its hearty earthiness to the dish. This was my first time trying a morel and based on its appearance I expected it to be spongy; instead it was tender yet firm. (I sort of wonder who first looked at a morel and thought it would be a good thing to eat. Whoever it was, I'm glad he or she did.) And there was still something more on this plate: kaniwa. This was my first encounter with kaniwa, which is actually a smaller version of quinoa. I was overjoyed upon seeing the tiny seeds and now I want to find kaniwa and cook with it at home.
Jeff's fourth course very quickly became his favorite (and mine too). It was the duo of Rohan duck with a confit leg and dry-cured breast, purple brussels sprouts, sunchoke puree, and hazelnuts. I can't imagine anyone not enjoying crispy duck skin. It is incredible and just melts in your mouth. While I let Jeff keep most of the duck to himself, I did eat all of his brussels sprouts. I had never seen purple brussels sprouts and loved them just as much as the traditional green ones. The cured duck breast was interesting and definitely reminded me of other cured meats I've had in the past in both texture and flavor. The sunchoke puree brought a smokiness to the dish.
Jeff never gets as excited about food as I do, but he has already been asking me when we're going back and making sure I know he'll be ordering the duck again.
My fourth course was the duo of Pete and Jen's rabbit, which consisted of roast saddle and braised leg, gnocchi Parisienne, and fava beans. Just a couple months ago, I had never had rabbit, and this dinner become my third time trying it. I've been hearing a lot about how sustainable, lean, and healthy rabbit is, so while some might shy away from trying it, I'm okay with it. While the meat was reminiscent of chicken in texture and appearance, it had a much cleaner flavor and was sort of sweet with a slight nuttiness. The light, pillowy gnocchi and fresh favas were welcome accompaniments.
Jeff's dessert course was a duo of sorbets, which might sound boring after everything we had, but the flavors were sassafras and prickly pear, which are far from boring. The prickly pear was light, sweet, and fruity. The sassafras had a much more powerful punch of flavor, which made its traditional role in flavoring root beer evident.
My dessert course was a chocolate-covered parsnip cake (note the adorable baby parsnip on the plate) with juniper ice cream and hazelnuts. The cake was amazing--moist and light with a very clean, sweet flavor and just the right amount of thin chocolate coating. I enjoyed it with the bold-flavored ice cream and toasty nuts.
This dinner was elegant, eye-opening, and refreshing. I tried so many new things--chickweed, wood sorrel, green garbanzo beans, purple brussels sprouts, morels, and kaniwa--and so did Jeff. This was an amazing display of what Josh is capable of and is a good representation of the dishes you're likely to find at Beacon Hill Bistro.
In addition to the food, I was really impressed with the service at the bistro. At one point I heard one of the waitresses explaining practically every item on the menu, from brandade to Mangalitsa to pappardelle, to guests at a nearby table who asked. Any time any guest had a question (within earshot of us), I could hear a knowledgeable staff member chime in with an answer. I loved that the wait staff was so invested in the menu.
A huge thank you goes out to Josh for preparing this incredible tasting menu for us and to everyone at the bistro for making us feel welcome and attended to.
This dinner was complimentary, but as always my opinions are my own. We've been to Beacon Hill Bistro in the past and will certainly be back.
After dinner, Jeff and I wandered over to the movies to see 21 Jump Street. We laughed throughout the entire movie. (It's hilarious but crass--you've been warned.)
This was an absolutely perfect date night, and I loved feeling like we were back in the city, even if we did have to make a much longer trek home after the movie.
Have you had any memorable nights out lately?