Our son was driving hubby and me to our dinner date - he had reserved a table for us at ‘Forage’ (in Salt lake City) - owned by Bowman Brown, a contestant of ‘Iron Chef’. Actually my son and daughter-in-law had celebrated the 10th anniversary of their first rendezvous the previous day with dinner in this unique restaurant.. They had relished it and wanted us to enjoy this once-in-a-lifetime experience and had booked a table for both of us today. This was the first time both of us were eating out in the US without being accompanied by the family and we felt it odd. This was a formal place - usually for couples on dates ….
During the drive, our son briefed us about this place - it doesn't offer run-of-the-mill stuff like other restaurants. The chef forages the nearby forests like Yogi Bear in Jellystone Park and uses exotic items using herbs, nuts and roots and leaves. This would be a 13 course meal - actually it would have been 15 ...
“What? Even elaborate feasts in India are theoretically 4 - 6 courses and we are full at the end of it! We are no longer young, you see!”
“Oh this is nowhere like your sambar / rasam / payasams / curd rice courses!”
“The dinner goes on through 2 ½ hours ..”
“You must be kidding!”
“Seriously! And they have a different menu every day but I have requested that you be served our same menu - minus 2 items as I know you don’t like raw egg / mushrooms.”
He had liked the dishes and knew we would like them too - and we knew we could count on him.
So you see the menu was custom-made for every table reservation.
“So it must be pretty expensive - how much?”
“I’m not telling you…. and yeah it is not crowded.”
“Naturally - I can visualize that - considering the exotic price tag!”
“We hope we’ll enjoy them. Wish we could share one lunch between us - you see Dad and I love to split and share our orders in restaurants but then I know this is more ridiculous than wishing to share ‘one limited thaali’ between us!"
“Yes - because each serving is just bite-sized - literally one mouthful!”
“Some of them have ‘a peg’ of juice accompanying them - carrot / peach / green apple … So you will have enough to eat. And there’s bread too - I think we went overboard with the bread and that’s why we were stuffed at the end of the meal”.
“One more thing. ‘The Iron Chef’ will come to serve you the first drink. After that other waiters will take over - they’ll give you details of each dish - you can ask for clarifications if you wish …”
Clearly these were handy tips. And what I liked best was he told me I could take pictures and even jot down notes about each dish at the back of the printed menu (he understood my blogger-enthusiasm). I gave hubby a furtive glance as he is always the damp squib coming between the camera and me! Okay, all set for the palate-tickling unique experience…..
As we drove in, we noticed that the exterior was extremely low-key. Our son ushered us in and and left us at our table .. I looked around and saw some 20 tables for 2s - 4 of them occupied.As we seated ourselves at our table, we saw the menu card in front of us -
Nov 14 2013
Apple cider and green juniper
Cured unripe peach
Potato and elderberry capers
Young roots, stems, leaves with fruit vinegar
Oats and turnips
Beets and smoked onions
Frozen quince and lavender
Tasting menu - $ 87
Wine pairing - $65 / 35
Juice & non alcoholic pairing - $26
Chef - Bowman Brown
I loved the card: the carefully chosen term ‘tasting menu’ but with so many personalizations, I felt they could have included our names too! And the dinner was priced at 87$ plus taxes and juices at 26$ plus taxes. Hmm... we should like what we are offered - I think this sort of positive approach helps!
Soon Chef Bowman presented himself pleasantly at our table and started explaining about the welcome drink while pouring hot apple cider over the little green juniper branch held over the tiny silver cup with a ball of cream in it. Then he took leave and left us to enjoy our drink. I jotted down the details at the back of my menu card , took out my iPhone with a flourish and took a picture even before taking a sip. (As much as I would have loved to take a pic of Bowman I didn't, as I felt it wouldn't be appropriate.) Hmmm….. yummm..y - warm, frothy, refreshing and out-of-the-world.
Soon we started off with the starters - the first next serving arrived - cured unripe peach - just 2 small pieces - one for each of us - nice and sour.
The next was ‘Black Bread’ - very nicely presented! As I finished taking a picture, hubby warned me to pick the right piece - only one was the edible piece (he had eaten his) camouflaged amidst black stones!
I chose to take a close-up pic of the cheddar-cheese-filled bread piece fried with malt.
We soon realized that each dish was presented uniquely - only they were a tiny bit in a large bowl! As we were waiting for our next dish, our next table was occupied by a young couple. Wasn't I pleasantly surprised to see her as enthusiastic as me (in fact less so) as she too started clicking pics of each dish. No, she didn't take notes like me....
‘Crispy potato’ was a delight to the eyes and the palate - ultra-thin, crispy ‘potato-string-morsel’ crunching in your mouth ...hmmm…
‘Buckwheat crisp’ - resembled a tortilla chip - with a dash of onion puree and topped with some herb - again one for each of us - it is not like digging your hand into a bag of chips and popping mouthfuls! These were all starters, you see!
Next the entrees were announced. A bowl of homemade bread accompanied by locally made butter and salt (remember we are in Salt Lake City) presented themselves. Both of us remembered not to splurge on the bread right away though it tasted awesome with the butter and salt.
I also remembered our son telling us that as the courses progressed, the size of the portion also increased but warned us not to expect big helpings. In fact that suited us beautifully as we were poor eaters, both of us!
The first one to adorn our table was Black currant - a tablespoon of the dish in a huge bowl - it tasted like savory custard, with smoked iced tomato - cold and crisp, tingling our tongues.
The next one was ‘Potato and elderberry capers’ - a piece of baked potato with capers (leaves) and a dot - yes, literally a dot - of sour cream. Who wouldn't love baked potato?
The next entree had a decent spread compared to the others - ‘Young roots, stems, leaves with fruit vinegar’ - as you can guess - there were very slender carrots, beets, sweet potato with brown butter sauce and fruit vinegar. This was the tastiest dish so far and we did full justice to it.
After the roots and stems, it was the turn of flowerets - ‘Brassicas’ - broccoli, cabbage, kale (?) ...with buttermilk sauce. We managed to finish them too, with a few intermittent bites of bread and butter.
‘Oats and turnip’ were on our platter next - oats with roasted turnip and sliced turnips. Weren't we glad that the quantity was measly! We were not fans of either turnip or oats. But then it turned out that my son and daughter-in-law too liked that the least.
We resorted to a slice of bread again as our main courses were coming to an end.
The last entree was announced - ‘Beets and smoked onions’ - a decent platter of white beans, beets, roasted gooseberry, onions - the tangy taste of gooseberry and the purple patches was yummy. And was an awesome presentation - just look at this picture!
We made sure to enjoy our last slice of bread along with that dish.
The dessert was announced. The first was ‘Frozen quince and lavender’. The marshmallow frozen yogurt sorbet with quince on top was a sort of cold sweet-sour magic with the aroma of lavender.
The second dessert ‘Roasted acorn’ was also presented very artistically - a small piece of acorn bread with a dash of acorn custard was also a bit of a sweet-and-sour affair. And I was under the impression that acorns are squirrels’ delights!
The desserts were too less in number and too mild to satisfy the Indian palate which is so used to payasam / halwas / laddus ….! At the end of it, our good-natured waiter brought a plate with a bunch of brown stones and coaxed us to pick our chocolate, warning us that there were just two of them on the plate. I was so engrossed picking out the right one and popping it in my mouth to satisfy my sweet craving that I forgot to photograph them.
Our son presented himself just as we were finishing - at the end of 2 ½ hours. There was a look of surprise at our bill. The goodbyes came with packets of special nutty cereal packets for the next day's breakfast.
“What’s your judgement on the dinner?”my son was eager to know.
“Good, we didn't waste a thing and we were not feeling stuffed,” we said.
“How about the drinks?” he probed.
“We asked for just water,” I sheepishly said.
“We didn’t want to get over-stuffed.”
“Or did you want to save some bucks?”
“Well, both,” I muttered to myself.
All said and done, it was an experience to cherish. Of course no one would be keen to go in for a second time for more than one reason!
On our drive back, I was imagining the prospect of a similar restaurant in India. I wouldn't forage in the forests for exotic herbs / roots but build up my menu with recipes from all over India and offer mini helpings of them. And I’d call it ‘India Unlimited' / 'Flavors of Indian food'.
If I were to open a restaurant, my menu card would read something like this -
rasam ( tomato / lemon / pineapple / garlic)
karuvadam nest / papad piece / banana chip / potato chip / papad with topping
pakoda - chutney / cheese lollipop / Manchurian pop
amla moraba / sharkaravarati upperi
gol gappa / pani puri
fried idli / mini idli with topping
butter & pav
sauted veggies / greens / leafy veggies / koshambir
chole / rajma on a mini puri
coconut / lemon / tamarind rice / noodles / upma / poha / sabudana khichadi with chutney / dahi vada / curd rice with pickle
savory doughnut - mini thepla / dhokla / vada with tamarind sauce and mint chutney
triangles - uthappa / masala dosa with tomato chutney
stuffed paratha piece with raita & pickle
jackfruit / mango piece with honey / Kerala plantain brownie
gulab jamun / rosogolla in ‘milk sauce’
shrikhand / halwa / payasam
Each item would be at least two morsels each - to satisfy big eaters ….
For the drinks I would include jal jeera, panna, tender coconut water, mango lassi / buttermilk / chaas, fresh fruit juice …..And price the meal at Rs. 700 and the drinks at Rs. 300! Personally I would like to start off with half the price. But if we have to be unique, we have to raise the bar with the rates as well in order to entice the elite!
© Copyright 2011. Brinda Balasubramonian.