In the House That Beard Built

So, last month, the phone rings. M picks it up and I hear, “Hi, Will!” The only “Will” we know is EMP’s g.m, Will Guidara. My ears perk up. I stand in the doorway of M’s computer room. He listens for a few moments, then turns to me. Daniel Humm will be cooking at the James Beard House and John Ragan will be doing the wine pairings. Will is inviting us to be EMP’s guests. Are we available that evening? A quick check of our engagement calendar shows nothing scheduled. We’re so there! After he hangs up, we go onto the Beard site to look at the menu. Sounds wonderful! We can’t wait…

On a raw, rainy Tuesday evening, we cabbed down to the Beard House. After checking our rain gear, we stopped at the reception desk, gave our name, and were told we’d be sitting at Table 5.

We are not members of the Beard House and had never been inside before. I’m guessing that the room where the reception desk stood had been Beard’s dining room.

The cocktail hour was held in a large room on the street level, a solarium that had been added onto the back of the house. In order to reach it, one has to walk through the kitchen, which is shockingly small.     

Passing through the kitchen, we stopped to say hello to Chef Humm. We congratulated him again on winning the JBA as Best Chef NYC and thanked him for inviting us to this dinner.

We emerged into the back room and saw that there was a lovely garden behind it. Too bad about the rain because if the weather had been conducive, no doubt the cocktail hour would have been held there. Approximately 75 people were attending, and the indoor space was a bit cramped.

Cocktail Hour:  Selection of Lollipops

Champagne was being poured at a table along the left side of the room. M accepted a glass; I passed as I don’t care much for Champagne. Servers circulated with trays holding the evening’s hors d’oeuvres, a selection of lollipopsicles in three flavors: pea, carrot, and asparagus. We’d had the pea lolli at the restaurant, so we checked out the other two. While the carrot flavor was a bit stronger than the asparagus, I thought they were both rather weak.

When it was time for dinner, we ascended a staircase on the right side of the room to the second floor. (Beard had a penchant for taking his showers outdoors, and we noted the shower head still affixed to what was once the outside back wall of the house.) On this second level are three rooms: a library, a living room and Beard’s bedroom.

For Beard House dinners, tables are set up in all the rooms throughout the house, including two in the reception area and two on a little balcony outside the library. Also, after the cocktail hour was over, a very large table was set up in that space as well. Our Table 5 was in the library.

James Beard House

My only regret of the evening was that the lighting at our table was extremely dim. Thus, I must apologize because the photos I took are not of the best quality. I wasn’t about to use a flash, and my camera’s internal flash for the special food setting can only do so much. Ironically, the other table in the room to our left had the benefit of a wall fixture casting good light on it.

James Beard House

Our tablemates were all very pleasant. Two of them were, like us, EMP regulars and guests of the restaurant. The others were James Beard House members and often attended dinners there.

The table was set with the wine glasses for all four courses at each place, plus a water glass. Made for quite an armada of glassware.

The water at the table was sparkling, but I prefer still. I asked John Ragan if he could get me plain tap water. Next thing I know, one of the waiters arrives and says that they don’t serve tap water, but would bottled still water do? Of course, it was fine, but it was kind of comical to me that “Chateau Bloomberg” isn’t good enough for the James Beard House.

Dinner consisted of five courses.

FIRST COURSE: Spring Garlic Velouté with Fava Beans and Everglades Frogs’ Legs
Wine:
Hirsch, Lamm, Gruner Veltliner, Kamptal, Austria 2003

The wine for the first course had already been poured before we were seated. I’m not much of a wine drinker, though I do like a sweet white wine with foie gras. No foie gras on the menu that evening. Still, I decided that I would at least taste all the wines.

1st Course:  Spring Garlic Velouté

The velouté arrived promptly after we were seated. We were told that it was currently being served at EMP as the amuse during dinner service. The portion size we received was larger than amuse size. We’ve had many of Chef Humm’s veloutés, but this one was new to us. The ultra-smooth velouté beneath the airy foam had an amazing depth of flavor. How did he get that garlic to taste so sweet? The frogs’ legs and fava beans, providing a contrast of textures to both the velouté and each other, were delicious. An ambrosial start to the meal.

SECOND COURSE: Diver Scallop Ceviche with Celery, Yuzu and Rhubarb
Wine: von Schubert, Maximin Grunhauser Abtsberg, Spatese, Mosel, Germany 2007

2nd Course:  Diver Scallop

At lunch at EMP a few weeks before this dinner, I had had a diver scallop with these same ingredients. However, while that scallop was seared, these scallops were served ceviche-style. Sliced thin, each scallop disk sat under a cap of celery. The strips of rhubarb were rather sweet, while the yuzu-based sauce provided a citrusy tang. Like the dish I had had at lunch, the plate was additionally garnished with a couple of very sweet little strawberries.

Now here’s the amazing thing about the wine served with this course. When it was first poured, I took a sip. It was slightly sweet. However, once I started eating and taking sips along with the food, the wine miraculously turned much sweeter. So much so, that I fell madly in love with it – the first time I’d ever had this kind of experience. You can bet I drained that glass!

THIRD COURSE: Nova Scotia Lobster Slow Cooked with Spring Carrots, Ginger and Vadouvan Granola
Wine: Andre Perret, Fran de Pied, Collines,Rhodaniennes, Rhône Valley, France 2007

3rd Course:  Nova Scotia Lobster

We’d had this dish before at EMP. But don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining. Far from it! The succulent lobster sat atop spring vegetables: carrot, turnip and sugar snap peas. To the side was a little hill of tasty vadouvan granola. The plate was finished with a seriously delicious shellfish sabayon flavored with ginger. Truly a wonderful dish!

FOURTH COURSE: Organic Chicken Poached with Oregon Morels, Asparagus and Sauce Vin Jaune
Wine: Evening Lan Vineyards, Seven Springs, La Source, Williamette Valley, Oregaon 2007

At that same lunch where I’d had the seared scallop, M and I had shared the Roasted Organic Chicken for two. Without a doubt, it is one of the most, if not THE most, amazing chickens we have ever had! When we saw that chicken was on the Beard House dinner menu, we wondered how it would stack up.

4th Course:  Organic Chicken

This chicken, breast only, was prepared differently: poached instead of roasted. Another difference was that the roasted chicken had a stuffing between the skin and the breast while this one did not. During the Q&A after the meal, Chef Humm explained that this chicken had been twice-cooked. First it was poached sous vide, and then it was finished in the oven. This technique resulted in a chicken breast that was as juicy as the roasted bird’s and with a skin that was very nicely crisped.

Morels and asparagus were lovely spring accompaniments, and a large swath of very creamy puréed potatoes was configured to encompass the luscious vin jaune sauce.

FIFTH COURSE: Chocolate Peanut Butter Palette, Caramel Popcorn and Popcorn Ice Cream
Wine: Vinbos Barbeito (Rare Wine Co.), New York Special Reserve, Malmsey, Madeira

5th Course:  Chocolate Peanut Butter Palette

We’ve had this dessert several times. But, again, no complaints because I love this sophisticated creation which combines those two symbiotic elements: chocolate and peanut butter. Adding to the dessert’s irresistible qualities are the Cracker-Jack-like caramel popcorn and the delectable popcorn ice cream.

To close out the meal, there were trays of EMP’s ever-fantastic macarons.

Mignardises

Chef Humm and his entire team trooped up to the second floor where they received a long round of applause from the extremely appreciative diners. He made a little “Thank you!” speech and then took a few questions.

It’s no surprise that Daniel Humm and his team can turn out superb cuisine. They do it every day (except Sunday) at EMP. On their home turf, they do it in a kitchen the size of a small continent. So, what’s especially admirable about this Beard House dinner is not just that they turned out 75 plates at once for each of the five courses without missing a beat, but that they did so in that cubby hole-sized kitchen. JBA Best Chef NY and 4-Star — indeed!

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One Response to “In the House That Beard Built”

  1. ulterior epicure Says:

    My Dearest Wizard, what a lovely night, what a lovely meal. I wish I could have been there.

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