About two years ago, I met a group of girls -- whom I had been getting to know through their blogs and numerous blog events we all attended -- for a tomato-themed dinner at Upstairs on the Square. It may well have been the first time we were getting together outside of blog events, and it was the day that we all remember being significant to building our friendship. We learned we had much in common with each other, even besides our love for tomatoes.
We tried to go back the following year, but Upstairs on the Square was promoting its new chef's counter (which we scoped out on this visit) and not hosting the tomato dinner. This year, we saw that it was back on the events calendar and immediately made reservations.
Last Tuesday after work I met Meghan at the bar and we caught up over bubbly cocktails (hers the Violette Royale and mine the Hits of Sunshine, a drink with house-made elderflower liqueur, raspberry puree, and bubbly). Daisy joined us soon after, and Michelle, who had to battle some traffic getting into the city, met us just before dinner.
As we were led upstairs to the Soiree Dining Room, we remembered how we had sat at the corner table with the plush purple throne-like bench and how Alicia had been with us the first time we feasted on course after course of tomatoes together. We thought about how much had changed in our lives over the past two years: Three of us have different jobs, three of us live in different places, and two of us are planning weddings. (Add one more to each of those categories to include Alicia.)
This year's dinner featured three courses plus an amuse-bouche and dessert for $44 (with wine pairings for $62). We all added on the wine pairings and settled in for what we knew from past experience would be a creative and interesting spread of tomato-laden dishes.
The amuse-bouche was a piece of toast topped with pork rilletes and tomatoes. It was definitely one mouthwatering, appetite-inducing little bite. The pork rilletes were so tender and just about melted in my mouth.
The first course, paired with Bonny Doon Albarino, was Green Zebra tomato gazpacho with green olive oil and what I believe was creme fraiche to tie it all together. The chilled soup was garnished with rosemary and chives, which added their well-known flavor profiles to it. We all cleaned our bowls.
A Brandywine tomato, peach, and lobster salad garnished with nasturtiums made for a light but flavorful second course. I'm not sure why I've never thought to pair peaches and lobster before. The combination is interesting and flavorful, especially with the peaches being so sweet, ripe, and juicy. This was paired with Sybille Kuntz Riesling.
The main course, paired with Occhipinti Frappato, featured tender, fire-roasted Berkshire pork with fresh fennel pollen and smoked tomato molasses. Some greens on the side were a little too bitter for my tastes, but the rest of the dish was right up my alley. I loved the smoky-sweet flavor of the tomato molasses.
Dessert was a simple bowl of tomato sorbet with candied pine nuts and a glass of de Trafford "Straw Wine." We enjoyed the tomato sorbet at our first tomato dinner at Upstairs on the Square, but the dessert we had then completely blew this one away. Along with the two components above, it had olive oil ice cream, a red wine reduction, and lemon-thyme shortbread. I loved how this year's dessert was reminiscent of that one with the easily recognizable tomato sorbet and those candied pine nuts I learned to love last time, but I wished it had those other complementary components as well.
At the end of the meal, the sommelier sent us out some macarons and dried fruit-studded white chocolate bark -- perhaps because we were so interested in knowing about the wines we were having. It was a thoughtful gesture.
The evening was a great way to celebrate our friendship and all the changes in our lives over the past two years, while enjoying dishes featuring one of my favorite summer ingredients.
If you're interested in the history of Upstairs on the Square, read Charlotte au Chocolat, a memoir written by the owner's daughter about growing up in the restaurant.
If you'd like to check out some single ingredient-themed dinners in the area, 80 Thoreau and Bistro 5 are both hosting some. I've been to both restaurants and highly recommend checking out these dinners.
- Chef Carolyn Johnson of 80 Thoreau is featuring a Corn and Tomato Festival Menu from August 2 to 18. The four-course menu is $39 and will showcase local tomatoes and corn from Verrill Farm, Yellow Stalk Farm, Brigham's Farm, and Blue Heron Farm. Possible courses include a griddled johnnycake with lobster, tomatoes, and tarragon and pan-roasted local hake with charred cherry tomatoes, clams, and corn puree.
- Chef Vittorio Ettore of Bistro 5 will be offering a Peach Tasting Menu (three courses for $45 or five courses for $65) on Tuesday through Saturday through August 11. Some highlights from the menu: a peach gazpacho with mint-cucumber water and a cilantro-avocado sorbet, peach risotto with prosciutto di Parma, and a baked peach with zabaglione and vanilla-lavender ice cream.
On what ingredient would you want a whole dinner focused?