Farm to Table to Table to Table to Table
Pulling off meals for a large group is a daunting task, for any restaurant, regardless of where it is. There was a period of time when I was eating at Wolfgang Puck’s Postrio a lot. After a while all the food eventually started to taste the same, so I took a break. When I returned after an absence the flavors were familiar, but I was less fatigued by them.
What I’m trying to say here is that I knew their food well. I had a good sense of what they were capable of producing. And besides that one ill-conceived lobster BLT, I never had a bad meal in their dining room.
The banquet room was another matter.
Because it was there that I attended a group lunch held by some magazine publisher for a couple of dozen people in the industry. It was pretty fancy. But to simplify the task for the kitchen we were asked to select between one of two entrees. And even then the food still wasn’t up to snuff.
So I wondered how chef Brian Bowden and his team would fare at the task for the All Over Albany Farm-to-Table dinner last night at Creo with a similar number of people and many more courses. The answer is better than I ever imagined.
Poached farm egg, Goats and Gourmet chevre, and creamy Wild Hive Farm polenta, carrot puree, and pork cracklins.
The pork cracklins were made from the skin of the pig Chef Bowden got in from White Clover Farm. I was sitting next to the farmer, but that’s not what made it so good. It was that the skin was diced into a brunoise before being fried. So these were like little crispy and crunchy pork sprinkles on top of a beautiful poached egg with tender, delicate whites and a rich golden runny yolk.
Plating close to two dozen of these darlings, and getting them out to the dining room, in the middle of dinner service, is an amazing feat. But really I want a bag of the cracklins to sprinkle on top of all my food. Who am I kidding? I’d just eat those for a snack, right out of hand, like nuts.
Heirloom tomato, ricotta mousse, basil puree, fire roasted heirloom tomato vinaigrette, mache.
Tomatoes? In October? As it turned out I was sitting with the man behind Purple Gunder Farm as well. And he grew these tomatoes. It turned out that what we were eating were the very last tomatoes of the season. The tomatoes we are getting from Roxbury have gone hard and are lacking in flavor and color compared to those from the height of summer.
However this small heirloom resembled more of a large cherry tomato. It had been blanched to remove its skin and to give it a little sex appeal. The small plate was bright with color and robust in flavor, with each bite being influenced by the smoke of the vinaigrette, enriched by the ricotta, and complemented by the basil.
It was simple, elegant and unexpected, driven by the vibrancy of the ingredients.
Savory roasted butternut squash panna cotta, Maplebrook Farms burrata, Meadowbrook brown butter, toasted squash seeds.
My fat tooth kicked in in earnest here. Brown butter. Oh man, that was decadent. The spoon had to pass through a layer of it before it could withdraw any of the squash from below. And the toasted squash seeds added great contrast in texture. Still, this dish was a little tricky to eat, and burrata may not have been the best choice for this.
White Clover Farm “sous vide” beef, roasted garlic-sage “chimichurri”, roasted corn pudding, braised chard empanada.
Chef Brian explained that the beef had been in the immersion circulator since nine o’clock in the morning. It didn’t get as tender as he had hoped in the time allowed. But he’s still working out the kinks of using an entire cow from White Clover Farm. A sharper knife would have helped greatly. But the flavor of the dish was tasty, especially with the accompanying “chimichurri”, although my favorite part may have been the empanada with its crispy shell and well seasoned chard interior. That was seriously good.
Pan-roasted apple gelee, puff pastry, brown sugar powder, apple chip.
For a meal that started off with breakfast, looked back to summer, embraced the fall, and provided the protein we would need to get through winter, this delicate dessert with a real sense of place was a great way to cap the event.
The bottom line is that this meal is just another in a long set of data points that Creo has changed. It is no longer the restaurant of infinite disappointment. Now it’s a place where the chef gets really great food, and is working with local farmers to bring it to the people of Albany. It’s very exciting, and I can’t wait to see what’s next.