Thursday, March 27, 2008

Return to Blogging

This blog had to take a long hiatus from publishing, thanks to pesky job responsibilities, but we were still eating, and now we're back and hungrier than ever.

Recap of Maple Tour Dinner at JT Baker’s in Greenwich

Signs of spring:
All those dirty piles of snow at the curb have melted away.
Raking yard debris and uncovering tulip bulbs sending up green shoots!
The end of the winter term.
Birthday barbecue of
filet mignon and tender asparagus
Sap running from maple trees and, mmm, maple sugaring weekends

There’s nothing like plate of pancakes to serve as a vehicle for consuming unhealthy quantities of maple syrup, and we thought about diving into the usual plates of the pancakes and maple sausage, but, on second thought and a glance at a blog, we decided drove over to Greenwich. That’s where culinary experimentalist Jason Baker has created a special menu to celebrate maple sugaring weekends. The regular menu at JT Baker’s New Cuisine is still available, and while several of the special Maple Tour Menu items are available a la carte, we were enticed by the maple-themed 4-course tasting menu comes with a special price and optional wine pairings.

The menu starts out with a slice of hearty house-made bread, accompanied by whipped butter and flaked sea salt and pepper, served just ahead of the amuse-bouche: an espresso-sized cup of delicately flavored cauliflower and truffle consomme.

The first course is a parsnip, maple and parmesan bisque. These simple ingredients could easily be overwhelmed by the sweetness of the maple syrup, but the maple flavor was pleasantly well-integrated in the bisque, which was creamy and smooth but not too heavy or filling. The nutty saltiness of the parmesan was a welcome counterpoint to the sweetness. A dry unoaked Oregon Chardonnay was the wine pairing.

The second course was a mutton crepinette served over a maple emulsion, with a swoosh of smoked paprika sauce on the side. The mutton was from Elihu Farm, and the casing of the meatball was caul fat, which is the thin membrane that covers the organs of the animal's abdominal cavity. The caul fat casing is nearly imperceptible (no snap like a regular sausage), except for small streaks of fat. The plating was very attractive, although we had to admit we weren’t stunned by the quantity of food being served. What it lacked in quantity was more than compensated by the quality of ingredients and preparation. As with the bisque, the maple emulsion played a well-proportioned role in the overall flavor. The wine paired with the second course was a delicious California Cabernet Sauvignon from Two Tone Farms. The dry and robustly tannic characteristics we look for in Cabernet were very present, but the wine still had balanced fruit and acidity and good length.

Before the third course, we were served a palate cleanser of cold grape and lavender consomme, served in a tall shot glass. Our palates were refreshed, but neither of us is terribly enamored of lavender or rose-flavored food and drink. When the floral aroma and flavor plays a strong role, it just reminds us a little of Grandma’s perfumed bath salts.

The third course was a seared, maple-glazed, yellowfin tuna filet accompanied by edamame puree, beet pudding, and a bit of baby bok choy. Again, the maple flavor gracefully entered the picture on the back of the meaty tuna, without the overwhelming caramelization we expected based on our experiences of maple glazed salmon. The beet pudding was like soft and smooth puree, but firm enough to slice into several bites - delicious flavor and pleasant, interesting texture we weren't expecting from beets. The accompanying wine for this course was a 2003 Chateau Lagarosse Bordeaux. The strong meatiness of the tuna stood up well to the wine, which had hints of stoniness and must, with a pleasant finish.

Overall, we weren’t completely blown away by the extravagance of any of these dishes, but we were impressed by the perfect execution of every detail -- the artful and elegant hand of the chef in highlighting maple flavors without letting them steal the whole show.

Desserts at JT Baker’s are made by Suzanne Baker, and this night we were served maple cheesecake on a brownie crust, with garnishes of maple cream and candied peanuts, and sliced pear, as well as a broad streak of dark chocolate sauce on the plate, and a crumbly chocolate topping. At home, we’ve made cheesecake on top of a brownie before, by baking the brownie and letting it cool, then baking the cheesecake on top of that, but often the brownie becomes soggy from the moisture that seeps from the cheesecake. By incorporating a slightly more dry, crunchy brownie crust, the dessert we had at JT Baker’s maintained good textural contrast between the creamy cheesecake and the crust. The maple cream and candied nuts formed opposing sweet and salty points on the maple dessert that were rich and delicious. The dessert course was less elegant and restrained than the first three courses, but we didn’t mind at all. We loved this dessert (I mean, how can you go wrong with brownie and cheesecake?), and the accompanying wine, a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc whose bouquet reminded one of us of litchi fruits and the other of us (who had never had fresh litchi) of a blend of pink grapefruit juice and fruit cocktail syrup. The wine itself was more dry than we expected from the nose – nicely refreshing during the dessert course.

JT Baker’s New American Cuisine doesn’t look impressive from the outside, or from the inside for that matter, but the food is the star here and what you get is pure, impeccably executed modern cuisine. We appreciated that the Maple Weekend-inspired menu was just that, inspired, rather than gimmicky and over-the-top. Maple syrup is as truly North American as flavors come, and this was true American food on the same level of many great chefs now reinterpreting the classic elements of European cuisine. JT Baker’s is a gem of a restaurant and we hope that it stays around for a long time, because we’d like to take advantage of their longer tasting menus and other regular dishes, as some of the other diners did that night at the restaurant. The Maple Tour menu is also available the last weekend in March, but there aren’t many tables, so reservations are advisable. Phone: (518)-531-2000