Friday, June 22, 2007
47 Main Street, Walpole, New Hampshire
Bread and butter
Rabbit breast & prosciutto with mustard sauce
Gateau St. Honoré
This joint was jumping! From first to last, an elevating evening celebrated the beginning of a week's vacation. Besides, the sink was still backed up at home.
This favorite of ours was jammed last night, a surprise only because we have tended to go at quieter times. Shall I speak of the din of diners at dinner? The sound of happiness is a pleasant thing, but I much prefer to hear what my own companion says and not what's going on two tables away. (I heard about, but did not see, the pictures of Bobby's graduation in Flah-rida.)
A word about Burdick's service. I am astonished that a server can answer questions about the menu, describing nuances of preparation and presentation for several items, and still remember the details of what is actually ordered. For the whole table. Correctly. Applause, please.
I now know I prefer my Bellini to be made with freshly crushed white peaches rather than just the peach liqueur. Asked if I wanted mine made with champagne or prosecco, I chose the less familiar prosecco and was only mildly satisfied. My quibble is not about which sparkling wine is used, but the effect of the whole. Hey, I'm in this for the sparkling taste of peaches complimented by the sparkle of the wine. Last night's offering was a bit boozy for my taste and missing the bright, sweet slap of peaches. I suppose a side-by-side comparison of wines is what is called for. Perhaps more on this another day.
The strongly tasting sparkle of the cocktail was a good balance for the arugula salad. The youngest, most tender leaves were used, so its usual bite was quite gentle and immature. The sensation was heightened by small sections of orange without the membrane and shards of a pleasantly dry, vaguely salty, cheese. Parmigiano-Reggiano? Pecorino Romano? The salad, barely clothed by the lightest of dressings, was pretty, sweet-tart in the mouth, and daintily fun to eat. Negotiating legless baby plants from plate to palate was a silly experience with a fork. Reminiscent of pitching hay, it is not something to be attempted by the palsied, impression-conscious, or silk-clad.
The charcuterie plate is an instructive, happy trip to peasant Italy of yore. Last night's offerings included four samples. A dark and well-aged cured pork, shaved thinly enough to read a newspaper through. A pork sausage featured fennel and was adjacent to slices of a huge, well freckled salami. Another strongly flavored but younger, pink, and thinly shaved part of the pig, the fourth selection was well marbled and pleasantly chewy. Presented with strips of lightly pickled eggplant and red pepper that still had some tooth to them, the meats were garnished with assorted olives and giant capers. Can't you just picture farmers in their barns honoring the butchered animal by using every bit? I imagine ropes of curing sausage, dark red haunches hanging above cool blue smoke, and the scent of hay, old wood, and ashes. I do have a question, though. Why call an appetizer of cured meat in the Italian style by a French name?
But the rabbit. A seasoned breast rolled up in prosciutto, then roasted unto a crisp crust with a juicy, tender, delicately pink interior is true kitchen art. The sauce featured whole grain mustard. While the rabbit was fine alone, the pairing with this sauce made me happy to be alive. The fingerling potatoes were halved and quickly roasted. They, too, benefited from the mustard sauce, but were toothsome and potato-y on their own.
I don't get broccoli rabe. It seems to be on every menu of any pretension. Is it faster to grow or easier to ship than other green vegetables? Does it keep better in the kitchen? Last night's was softly wilted and dressed with a light shallot vinaigrette. Perfectly nice, but, well, who cares?
The hanger steak, on the other hand, was huge, boldly grilled, and sliced to show contrast between dark, crisp exterior and bright pink interior. Tender, hot, and happy. Just what you want for your dinner and your fellow diner.
Frying potatoes properly elevates the 'umble vegetable to star status, doesn't it? Crisp and plentiful, last night's cook understood the place of French fries in the pantheon of comfort food. These were pleasantly, if unusually, parslied with just the right about of salt and they didn't go soft in the meat juices. A treat of the first order, these, in particular, were remarkable.
Another first order treat, but more secret until now, is this. I'm having an affair with pinot noir. Each time we meet, I crash, head over heels. The Napa Valley vintners at Trinchero honored the finicky plant, its ancient heritage, and its oenophilic potential. A thick, clear, promising red swirled in the candlelight. Layers of cherry, tobacco, dried hay, and black pepper preceded delicate earth on the tongue. Not as silky this time around, it was beautiful to look at and met the mustard and roasted prosciutto with gladness.
I want to talk about my gateau St. Honoré. Imagine tiny cream puffs, all baked together to make a tart: circular floor with low walls. Add chocolate-filled, crenellating spheres along the palisade. The enceinte included enormous stripes of chocolate and vanilla pastry cream. Gaily harlequin and un-shy on the plate, it startled the inattentive gourmand expecting a piece of cake. Completely fun to look at, the flavors were disappointingly muted. The pastry creams tasted quiet, unsuitable for the clarion way in which they were used. The pâte à choux finished crisp and flaky, tanned beautifully, but was lackluster in flavor. In the end -- the proof is in the tasting -- my lovely gateau was an appealing but unsuccessful attempt to honor the Roman Catholic patron of bakers and confectioners, a sixth century bishop of Amiens who was, apparently, inflamed with charity.
Dinner with John Calvi.
$50 per person with wines.
The Restaurant at L.A. Burdick Chocolate