For my 31st birthday celebration, James brought me to Ken Oringer's Clio in Boston. The ten-table restaurant is located in the Elliot Hotel and truly achieves a fine dining atmosphere without being remotely stuffy. We began our evening by perusing the overwhelming cocktail menu at the bar; even with several spirits certifications and an innate passion for vintage mixology, I found the list to be impressive. Our bartender took the art of handcrafting a cocktail incredibly seriously, treating it with the culinary respect so many people in our industry neglect. Unable to make a decision after perusing the 25-page menu, we both left our selection in what we [correctly] presumed to be his capable hands. I enjoyed a slightly bitter concoction of Plymouth Gin, Lillet Blanc, housemade bitters and lime while James had a Torched Cherrywood Old Fashioned: cherrywood barrel-aged bourbon, burnt housemade demerara sugar cubes, orange bitters, Luxardo cherries and a torched orange slice. Both were fantastic aperitifs, making an exceptional start to our dinner.
We selected the 10-course Chef's tasting menu (actually, it's 12 courses) with wine pairing accompaniments, rather than selecting a single bottle to carry though the meal. Ken Oringer is knowns for creating complete, balanced flavors and after seeing the attention to detail his restaurant put into their bar service, I had full confidence in their wine pairings.
Our meal began with an amuse bouche Financier Cake topped with fois gras threads over a salted lycée puree. The dense consistency of the cake created a rich mouthfeel paired with the creamy fois gras definitely did its intended job of waking up the palate.
Nexted, the "awakening of the palate" theme continued with a bright Tomato Water, basil oil emulsion, jicama, caper berry and pulp "popsicle" martini. Think of taking a tomato puree and spinning it incredibly fast to separate the "water" of the fruit from the pulp (which was used to make a popsicle). The result is a bright, refreshing concentration of flavor in a crisp, watery liquid. Think of literally drinking a freshly picked garden tomato drizzled with a touch of fresh basil.
Our third course was a Hamachi Sashimi prepared ceviche-style in a kumquat vinaigrette, topped with a negi (sea celery) salad and a puffed rice "roe" meant to mimic the popping texture of caviar. The fish was incredibly fresh tasting and the buttery texture played well with the acid of the vinaigrette without either overwhelming the dish. The course was paired with Tozai Living Jewel Junmai Sake which played into the creaminess of the fish and was sharply brightened by the acid and mild sweetness.
As an interlude to our next course, we were poured a tasting of Lucien Albrect Pinot Gris from Alsace. If I were blind tasting, I would have quickly concluded it was a riesling, only lacking the distinct floral notes that are typically present. The characteristic minerality of Alsatian wines was easily recognizable on the forefront of the wine with a distinct lycée note. All in, it was quite enjoyable - sweet, but not cloyingly so and well balanced with the classic earthiness of a European wine.
Our fourth course was a Nantucket Bay Scallop served in its shell with a pomegranate yuzu, shallot and osetra caviar paired with a chenin blanc heavy sparkling Vouvray blend. There was a slight [intentional] fishiness to the scallop that complimented the sweetness in the pomegranate. It was comical watching the guests dining at the table next to us trying to eat them with a fork and knife; I'm an advocate of shooting back any shellfish served on the half shell.
Course number five brought us back to fresh, garden note with a Red & Golden Beet Salad over a spicy Thai peanut sauce, crispy chicken skin and dehydrated black onions paired with a bright Albarino. My first reaction when we were presented the course was quite skeptical. I eat a lot of beets and would never think of peanuts being a strong pairing. Oddly, it worked rather well. The rich chicken skin chips and intense flavor of the dehydrated onions stood up well to the boldness of the peanut as well. The wine pairing, although both independently delicious, was my least favorite combination of the night. I really just felt the salad was too bold for the crisp, light wine and when paired, it faded into the background behind the peanuts and onions.
Our sixth course, which was one of my favorites of the evening, was a Lobster and Sea Urchin Milk Foam with green onions and pulled chili threads. Texturally, the dish was spectacular and the heat of the chili offset the sweetness of the seafood beautifully. The dish was paired with Punkt Sparkling Gruner Veltliner, a delicious and incredibly unusual wine that provided the perfect balance to the heat. Although this is my first time tasting a sparkling Gruner, the Austrian specialty is a classic pairing with spicy, southeast Asian influenced flavors.
The seventh course continued along the pescatarian theme with a Black Lime and Butter Basted Swordfish, fava and lima beans, salsify puree, black garlic sauce and turmeric gelee paired with Aia dei Colombi Falanghina from Piedmont. The wine was lightly aged in French oak (I'm guessing about 3 months) and then transferred to steel barrels which gave it a crisp, yet still buttery quality. Think about taking the best aspects from a big California chardonnay and marrying them with the best aspects of an unoaked chard. The balance of the wine complimented the heaviness of the fish and the puree incredibly well, creating another one of our favorite courses.
The eighth course, and my personal favorite of the evening, offered some personalization for each of us. I had a Seared Fois Gras Medallion with quince jam, milk and honey puree, cornichons and a pulled honey chip. James, not being a fan of organ meat, received a seared pork belly with the same preparation. Both dishes were paired with a Sotimatto Mate, an unusual red wine, similar to a Brachetto. The course was silky, balanced and decadent bringing together elements of sweet, savory and acid in perfect harmony.
Course nine, while conceptually good, was undoubtedly our least favorite course of the evening. A Black Cherry-Braised Short Rib with bok choy and pearl onion sounded incredible but fell short of expectations. The short rib wasn't as tender as expected and was ribboned with unmelted fat, making it a bit rubbery. I did however enjoy the Langhe Nebbiolo pairing.
We then moved on to our cheese course, once again individualized due to James' dislike of goat cheese. I enjoyed a Tomme de Feremac semisoft goat's milk cheese paired with a preserved fig and Armagnac vermouth. I found it to be mild for a goat's milk cheese but it still brought a nice after bite that was complimented by the sweetness of the fig. The pairing was a Le Clos de Paulilles Banyuls Rimage dessert wine which played off the notes in the vermouth beautifully. It was a great marriage of sweet and salty with the candied fruit notes in the wine bringing out the boldness of the cheese.
Course number eleven was a palate cleanser consisting of a white chocolate coconut sphere with kafir lime sorbet, cashew and pinenut crumble and a spicy Thai basil grenada paired with a La Caliera Moscao di Asti. Both the dish and the wine were refreshing with a bit of aggression (mostly from the Thai basil) that woke up our palates fabulously after three very rich, heavy courses. It made a beautiful prelude to dessert.
Finally, our evening concluded with a Deconstructed Apple Crumble with Buttermilk Ice Cream and a Yamamomo Mountain Peach. The caramel dotted on the sides of the dish may have been both of our favorite single components in any dish. When eaten together, you really did get each of the delicious flavors that are so familiar in an apple crisp. The Yamamomo mountain peach was an interested "berry" that balanced sweetness and acidity that concluded the dish with a refreshing note.
The meal was capped off with a glass of Thienot Champagne and a goat's milk rosemary caramel. It was such an amazing dinner and I feel so blessed to have been able to share it with someone who I care about.