Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Autumn 2008 at Talula's Table

Thank you, Martha Stewart.
Your busy schedule opened the way.
Thank you, Martha Stewart.
Your cancellation brightened our day.
Thank you, Madam Stewart.
We’d have missed this fall menu.
Thank you, Martha Stewart….
C’est tout.

In all seriousness, it’s only through the combination of a little luck and the good graces of Ms. Stewart’s last minute cancellation for a kitchen seating at Talula’s Table that our recent meal (and hence this post) became possible. So happily, just a couple of days before the airing of Chef Bryan Sikora’s prerecorded appearance on The Martha Stewart show, my dining companions and I were able to make it out to mushroom country and into Talula’s for a late taste of their autumn menu.

Pemaquid Oysters with Preserved Lemon, Belgian Endive, and Saffron
The Damariscotta River Pemaquid on the half-shell, topped with saffron and lemon-laced sabayon, was downright delicious. But it was the little endive scoop canapé – filled with a smaller oyster and topped with micro-green sprigs and a Prosciutto chip – that made the plate. If they’d been served as butlered hors d’oeuvre, I’d have found a way to place myself in the butler’s path throughout the night.

Smoked lardo, particularly good schmeared on Talula's pretzel twists, is a new addition to the bread plate.

Cinderella Pumpkin and Duck Consommé, Duck Confit, Foie Gras, and Housemade Duck Sausage
Bryan’s consommés do not command attention so much as they quietly require it. There are no big, bold flavors, no immediate oohs and aahs. But there’s purity, delicacy and depth of flavor at play that make the consommé work as a transparent vehicle for the delivery of other elements. And, in the end, the consommé adds its own haunting memory to the complete dish. A panoply of fall flavors were provided by wild rice toasted in pumpkinseed oil, duck sausage made with pâté seasonings, foie gras and diced Cinderella pumpkin, with each spoonful providing a different textural and flavor experience. In retrospect, it may just have been the most thought provoking and memorable dish of the night.

Aimee Olexy and her front-of-the-house crew keep things rolling smoothly at the main farmhouse table as well as back in the kitchen.

Handkerchief Pasta with Wild Hen of the Woods Mushrooms, Brussel Sprouts and Farmstead Parmesan
Once again, I somehow managed to miss snapping a picture of a course. It was another perfectly seasonal dish though, featuring a tender square – thus “handkerchief” – of pasta nestled atop supremely fresh shredded maitake (aka, hen of the woods) mushrooms. The chiffonnade of brussel sprouts, lemon zest and shaved parmesan set atop the pasta brought the earthier flavors below into high focus. I dug Bryan’s description of the dish, “Like the first snow of the season, falling while the grass is still green.”

Wild Alaskan Halibut, Piquillo Pepper Essence, Braised Smokey Bacon Pomme de Terre, and Our Late Crop Chard
This was one of the evening’s dishes that immediately hit home as simply off-the-hook. Since his days at Django, I’ve always felt that Chef Sikora has a gift with fish, always able to put together a range of ingredients that enhance but never obliterate the essence of the fish itself. His dishes are almost always anchored and harmonized. In this case, whipped potatoes provided the grounding base, a nest of frizzled frites offered textural accent while the combination of bacon-y richness and piquillo piquancy played the full range in between. Even if the halibut was ever so slightly overcooked, this was still pretty damn scrumptious.

Lady Talula herself stopped by for a quick visit to see papa Chef before bedtime.

Beef Short Rib "Chili," Tomato Fondue, Roasted Pearl Onions, Cranberry Beans, Cheddar Cornbread Crumbs
Chili deconstructed. This may have been the edgiest dish of the night – complete with agar-gelled tomato “fondue” – but it all came together via a deft hand with the seasoning palette. The application of chili spices throughout and a dash of pâté seasoning in the fondue provided subtly building heat and pervasive but unobtrusive smokiness that tied together the dish’s red-earth driven flavors. Definitely a case of the sum surpassing its parts.

Venison Tenderloin, Cocoa Roasted Beets, Honey Cap Mushrooms, Tawny Port Sauce
Off the hook, part two. Cocoa rubbed game, venison in particular, has leapt from the northeastern Italian and Austrian tradition to become a new classic. Cocoa roasting beets, on the other hand, was a stroke of inspiration. Putting the two together rocked. The fact that the venison was incredibly tender and perfectly cooked – slow smoked to rare then pan-basted in butter – was just icing on the cake.

Funky Fall Cheese Collection, Roasted Nuts, Dried Berries, and Warm Fondue
From top left: Trillium, a goat’s and cow’s milk blend from Lazy Lady Farms, layered with apricot and sour cherry preserves; Green Hill, a Camembert-style bloomy rind cow’s milk cheese from Sweet Grass Dairy; Dante, a sheep’s milk cheese from the Wisconsin Sheep Dairy Cooperative; and Beehive Creamery’s Barely Buzzed, a cow’s milk cheese rubbed with coffee and lavender. Front and center is the fondue, a mixture of Valdeón and basic chèvre (from Vermont Butter & Cheese), which was pretty tasty even if it did turn out looking grey and a little sad.

Bryan and new sous-chef Matt Moon, recently moved from Alba in Malvern and a former member of Bryan's kitchen staff at Django, relax after a long night in the kitchen.

Apple Parfait of Creamy Tapioca, Crunchy Oats, Apple Butter and Crispy Chips
The essence of Apple Jacks (as in Kellogg’s), minus the harsh crunch and the sugar-fueled burn to the roof of the mouth. The pop of tapioca made for a nice bridge between the apple crisps and the creaminess of the apple parfait. A light, bright, autumnal ending to a lovely meal.

Wine notes to follow now posted.

Talula's Table
102 W. State Street
Kennett Square, PA 19348 [map]

Previous visits:


Anonymous said...

Been wanting to go there for a while. There website has a link to Va La wines. Ever tried them? I'm curious about the quality of Penn and Virginian wine.

Anonymous said...

That cheese plate looks oh so yummy!

Little_Jewford said...

wow....We are off to SF for a little slice of urban-ness, food, wine and music...not sure the food part will come close to what I've just seen

David McDuff said...

Welcome, Sam. You'll find my brief write-up on Va La here. As close as I live to the Brandywine Valley's viticultural area, I don't get out to the wineries much. That said, Va La's stuff shows more promise than anything else I've had from the area, though Chadds Ford sometimes gets it right.

A hale and hearty hello to you as well, Rachel. Aimee and Kate both do a tremendous job with the cheese program at Talula's and there's always something interesting on their sampler plates.

Whether or not the food compares, have a great time in SF. I'm jonesin' for a visit myself.

Anonymous said...

Looks awesome...

David McDuff said...

Awesome it was -- an overused word but more than appropriate in this case.

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