Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Fall Menu Tasting at Brasserie Jo

As life gets busier, it’s harder to keep up with the blog. I’m more interested in creating infrequent videos and in-depth posts, and I’m funneling most of my restaurant reviews to paid freelance assignments. For those gigs, I never write about complimentary meals I’ve received. While I’ve covered a number of free blogger meals here on the blog in the past, in general, I prefer to use events like those as a chance to scout out restaurants for future (anonymous, non-wined-and-dined) coverage. Meanwhile, many of these events have begun to welcome us to bring along a guest, so Joel’s been freeloading off of my freeloading...and understandably loving every minute of it. Time to put him to work - I’ll let him cover some of these events that I’ve been neglecting. In this latest guest post, Joel writes about a fall tasting we attended at Brasserie Jo. You can view his past guest posts here. Without further ado, here’s Joel.  ~Rachel Leah Blumenthal

Dating a food blogger definitely has its advantages. Granted, I have to hear about all these awesome events that Rachel goes to and the amazing food that she eats while I'm sitting at home eating store-bought mac and cheese, but occasionally I do get to reap the benefits when I’m allowed to join her for some very fancy and fun meals. Plus, as I now venture into the world of becoming a full-time musician, I’m willing to do a lot of things for a free meal.

A few weeks ago, I was able to join Rachel for a tasting of the fall menu at Brasserie Jo in Back Bay. Having visited France for two weeks one time a few years ago, I would definitely consider myself to be an expert on all things French, including the food and the three or four words that I know in French, so it makes sense that I would write a nice recap and review of our meal. They started off the night by showing off their new collection of martinis as well as some hors d'oeuvres. Because I wasn’t driving, I made sure to get a full taste of most of the drinks they had to offer.

Cucumber Rosemary Cocktail: Effen Cucumber Vodka, Fresh Rosemary, Lime, House-Pressed Cucumbers
The drink that really shined for me was the Cranberry Cobbler, which is made with Bulleit bourbon, cranberry-brown sugar syrup, cranberry juice, and lime. The drink was very well blended and had a hint of sweetness in the aftertaste. (I'm a sucker for cranberries and have been a big cranberry juice addict since I was really young, so my opinion might be a bit biased.) At the same time, I’ve never had a kidney stone, and I’m sure this drink will help keep it that way. The hors d’oeuvres were gourmet takes on childhood foods: a peanut butter and jelly finger sandwich with foie gras and peanut brittle, mini ham and cheese sandwiches, and salmon tartare with caviar on a potato chip.  The favorite of the group was definitely the chicken and honey skewers, perfectly fried chicken in a sweet sauce. There was no way any of us could resist it when the waiters walked by.

House Baguette
Well, as much as you want to read about all the free drinks and fancy appetizers I got, I’m going to now make you jealous by talking about the meal that I got to eat.  It started off with a very flashy appetizer. On top of a special cup that had a blue light shining inside, there was a spoon of pressed lamb belly with olives and riette on top of a bed of seasoned salt. This definitely got everyone’s appetite going; even Rachel liked it, and she usually hates olives. The lamb belly was very soft, and the saltiness from the olives and salt bath really complemented the taste of the lamb well.

Amuse Bouche
The first official course was a seared scallop in a vanilla beurre monté with butternut squash and confit fennel, paired with Francois Villard Viognier. This pairing worked very well; the wine had the right amount of body so that it didn’t overpower the scallop. I’m a huge fan of scallops, and this course didn’t disappoint me. It was cooked just right so that it was really juicy, and the beurre monté had a very warming flavor. I was about to try out this awesome idea of dipping the house baguette in the sauce, but the waiter took away my dish as I was tearing off a piece of bread. It was a very sad moment, and I might have cried about it like a little girl when I got home (well…no, not really), but Rachel said it was really good. I learned a lesson that night: Always take a good opportunity when it’s available. If you miss it, you may never have a chance to make up for it.

Pan-Seared Diver Scallop: Vanilla Beurre Monté, Butternut Squash, Confit Fennel
Wine Pairing: Francois Villard Viognier
Before I shed a tear over that lost sauce, let's move on to the next course: a salad with a poached quail egg, brioche, and wine-glazed lardon. I know what you’re all wondering: a quail egg is just like a small egg. Though nothing else here probably needs to be explained, I should point out that the lardon is awesome. It’s like a really fancy form of bacon. So take really good bacon, keep it thick cut, and make it more awesome. That’s pretty much what it was.

Frisee Salad: Poached Quali Egg, Brioche, Banyuls-Glazed Lardon
Wine Pairing: Louis Boillot Cremant de Bourgogne Rose
We were then served a dish with sablefish (also known as black cod according to the infallible Wikipedia) served in a saffron fumet with mussels and pommes boulangère, which are very similar to scalloped potatoes but cooked with oil instead of butter. The fish was cooked perfectly: light, flaky, and a little bit crispy on the outside. It was paired with Domaine Ferret Pouilly-Fuisse, which was a very good balance with the light flavors of the sablefish while still carrying through over the saffron sauce. These first four dishes were spectacular, leading to very high expectations for the main dish, beef en croute (beef wellington).

Sablefish: Saffron Fumet, Mussels, Pommes Boulangère
Wine Pairing: Domaine Ferret Pouilly-Fuisse
These expectations weren’t met. Not to say that it was bad, but it wasn’t as good as it could have been, and the bar had been set pretty high by the other plates. I personally believe that really good quality red meat basically shouldn’t have to be cooked. I love my steaks rare and my duck raw, so I was expecting this dish to be medium rare, maybe medium at most. But it came medium well and was pretty dry as a result. I also would have liked a crispier pastry coating, but this was my first beef en croute so I have nothing for comparison. Luckily the chef provided some sauce in a really cool shot glass type of dish that really saved the beef. Anyways, for the menu price of this dish, it really should not need the sauce. It was served with wild mushrooms, parsnip puree (my favorite), potatoes, and mustard greens, which were a little overpowering. Everything else was done well, especially the parsnip puree, and the wine pairing was spot on. We had a glass of bordeaux (my favorite red wine to have with steak) - Château Greysac. Apart from its inappropriate name, it was great: a little bit of a black pepper flavor along with rich dark berries - without being jam-like. I made sure to finish this glass.

Beef Tenderloin en Croute: Wild Mushroom, Parsnip, Fondant Potato, Mustard Greens, Thyme Jus
Wine Pairing: Ch
âteau Greysac
The night didn’t end there. After the beef, we had a light cheese course consisting of a bleu d’Auvergne pot de crème, a tomato marmalade, and marinated pear pearls. This was paired with a French riesling (Pierre Sparr). The pears were particularly amazing because each pearl had to be hand-scooped by the sous chef! There were a lot of these pearls in my portion, and there were a lot of us at this dinner. This was by far my favorite part of this course as you could taste the suffering and hard work of the sous chef. I was not as big of a fan of the cheese and tomato marmalade though. These were made well, but for my tastes the marmalade was a bit too sweet and the cheese was too pinching, like a radish. I wasn’t really prepared to have such bold flavors after the main course. I was also not very happy with this wine. I lived in upstate New York for five years, where rieslings are a very popular wine. The Finger Lakes have a similar climate to areas of Germany, where these grapes grow very well, and so I quickly gained a taste for good local and German rieslings.  A dry riesling should not be very acidic to balance the lack of sweetness. Similarly, a well-made sweeter riesling should have more acidity to not let the sweetness overpower your palate. They chose to pair this course with a French riesling, and I can only imagine they did so to maintain a French atmosphere, though I think they would have made a much better decision to let the Germans pair up with the cheese plate. This was a dry riesling that was too acidic and didn’t help soften or complement the flavors of the cheese or tomatoes. Still, though, those pear pearls were so good, and I feel bad for the sous chef because he or she will have to make many more of those for everyone I’m telling about Brasserie Jo.

Bleu d'Auvergne Pot de Creme: Tomato Marmalade, Pear
Wine Pairing: Pierre Sparr Riesling
The dessert - a caramelized pumpkin tart with salted caramel ice cream and almond brittle - was a very happy ending to the meal, providing the right climax to the build-up from all the dishes prior to the beef. I’ve recently become obsessed with salt and chocolate, and this gave me a new flavor pairing that I can appreciate for the same reasons. I’ll give you two words to describe this dish: Epic Win. Plus, the wine pairing was spectacular. This was actually the only non-French wine they gave us. It was a muscat from Renwood, a California winery.

Caramelized Pumpkin Tart: Salted Caramel Ice Cream, Almond Brittle
Wine Pairing: Renwood Orange Muscat
Overall I was very happy with this meal. Though I was disappointed that the main course didn’t live up to the standards set by previous dishes, I still think it was a great meal. Also, the wait staff was very friendly and helpful.

Disclosure: As indicated above, this meal was a complimentary tasting held for a large group of bloggers and their guests. I was not obligated to write this review, nor was I monetarily compensated for it, and all opinions are my own.
Brasserie Jo at the Colonnade Hotel on Urbanspoon

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