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Highlight of the masterfully prepared wild game dinner was this grilled elk chop.
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From soup to berries, everything was wild!
I have always believed if you really want to know something about a chef, you need to taste many of his or her dishes. That's one reason I believe “tasting dinners”, or prix fixe menus, are one of the best ways to evaluate a restaurant. Generally, you're going to get between three and seven courses at the meal for a pre-set price, which makes it a pretty good value compared to going back to the place two or three times. If the tasting dinner happens to be something different, “off the menu” in foodie speak, then so much the better. It's a chance for the chef to try something new, and an adventure for the diners.
One of the most inventive I've ever attended took place early in August at the small, intimate, 2182Brecksville. Chef Kevin Powers came up with a “wild game” meal that challenged both his kitchen and my imagination. As the theme implies, each dish featured a central ingredient that could be defined as hunter's game. Around 50 of us gathered to watch him pull it off.
The meal began with a turtle soup, which is very unusual on menus in this area. Kevin defined it as “French Quarter Style”, and borrowed some New Orleans inspiration. The soup was luxuriously rich and full-bodied for something I am pretty sure was made without either roux or cream. It was perfectly seasoned and sweet with sherry wine, generous in the amount of turtle meat swimming among the small vegetables. Floating in the middle was a garlic-seasoned frog leg that had been pre-roasted. This was a terrific starter, and paired perfectly with the Michael Pozzan Chardonnay I chose to go with the first three courses.
I should interject at this point that we had the option of going wine-free, adding on a tasting flight of six different wines, or choosing off the wine list. I decided on the last because I had a longer drive home, so I matched the Pozzan Chard with the first three dishes, then went with a Stag's Leap Cabernet for the next two, and finished off with coffee with dessert.
The second course was a Waldorf-style bibb salad, with lots of cherries, raisins, apple slices, walnuts and Gorgonzola cheese. It was topped by a sliced seared pheasant breast, in keeping with the wild game theme, then finished with what seemed to me to be buttermilk style dressing. It was an excellent light counterpoint to the soup, and the pheasant was perfectly seasoned. A bit of fresh-baked whole wheat bread to cleanse the palate, and we were ready for the next dish.
The third course was my favorite of the night, and I've got to send Kevin an email and ask for the recipe! This was a French inspired cassoulette of white beans stewed for a very long time with smoked bacon and a rabbit/veal sausage. Topped by a single grilled quail, this was one of the finest bean dishes I have ever encountered in any restaurant. Cassoulette, for those unfamiliar with the dish, is a French peasant dish, essentially their version of baked beans. But usually, ham is used for flavoring, and it can be salty and heavy. This version was more perfectly balanced. In fact, it was so tasty that I ate half the quail, pushed the bird to the side, and finished up all the beans! More, please!
This was followed by a bowl containing ale-braised wild boar that had been stewed with pearl onions, oyster mushrooms, English peas, turnips, and more ale. It was topped by a small round of pre-baked crust, producing Kevin's take on pot pie. The sauce was wonderful; meaty with just the right amount of vegetable overtone; and the mushrooms were another highlight. The boar was tender, attesting to the long cooking time, as wild meat can be chewy. If I were making this dish, I might try for a little more body in the sauce, perhaps closer to the turtle soup (or maybe a soup spoon!), but this worked just fine. My Cabernet choice was an excellent compliment.
The final course was prototypical wild game, a Montana Elk chop that had been grilled to just past rare served on a long plate with baby carrots and a terrific sweet potato/parsnip puree. This later was the highlight of the dish, with the slightly bitter parsnips countering the sweet yams in perfect balance. The Elk was napped with a light three-onion veloute sauce which I felt did not quite stand up to the gamey nature of the meat. Of course, by this time, I was far too full of excellent food to truly appreciate this particular offering, but the table full of hunters and fishermen seated next to us offered full appreciation for this. I think they thought that overall, this was the finest meal they had ever consumed.
Kevin finished the evening with a lovely warm wild berry cobbler, served with a side of honeycomb ice cream made in the restaurant. Even though it was a small bite, I really could only manage about half. As an overall observation on meals of this type, a lot of chefs, or their restaurants, seem to fall into the trap of thinking Americans don't perceive enough value from smaller dishes. Frankly, there is often just a little too much food at some of these tasting dinners. I'm sure the people paying for them would rather go home stuffed than hungry, so I suppose the strategy is valid. I just wish the first courses at this particular meal hadn't been so very good that I over-ate on them.
2182Brecksville is located just south of the Route 82 intersection in downtown Brecksville. Kevin offers regular three-course wine tasting dinners, and has a very inventive summer menu available. There is also a full bar appetizer menu, and one of these days, I'm going back to make a meal of some of these. If you want to know more about upcoming events, here is link to the web site: