1. Roasted Elysian Fields Lamb Loin
For this dish, Chef Miles Vaden keeps the salt in the cupboard and rolls the dice on whether people will like the taste of the Elysian Fields lamb. The lamb jus and chestnut puree (peanut butter?) are both good dipping sauces, but the lamb itself is naked on the plate, brazenly showing its stuff without any detectable fresh herbs or garlic. Whether you like the full frontal depends on your level of attraction to the highly-praised lamb of Greene County, Pa.
That's where you'll find Elysian Fields Farms, whose ruminants have been a trendy pick since the late 1990s, when Thomas Keller liked them so much he decided to charter planes cross-country all the way from Pa. to his restaurants in Napa Valley, French Laundry and Bouchon. Elysian is also acclaimed at top restaurants in Manhattan like Gramercy Tavern and La Grenouille.
Eventide was my first encounter with Elysian. The Farm's owner, Keith Martin, is well regarded in the restaurant industry for aging his lambs just right, and that shows up on the plate: the meat has a firm tooth, not at all mushy like lamb that's grown past its prime.
And because Martin feeds his lamb both grain and grass, the taste is especially sweet. In the kitchen, Eventide abbreviates the roasting process; they know the best way to bring out Elysian's natural flavors is to serve on the rare side.
If I have one complaint about the Elysian, though, it's that you don't get the gamey flavor that you either love or hate about lamb. Whereas you can identify lower-quality lamb from New Zealand or Australia by its gaminess, the taste of Elysian is fresher and more comparable to beef.
It's very possible that I just don't know good sheep, but without that tangy, earthy flavor, I felt like I was missing the full lamb experience. If, like me, you aren't so impressed by Elysian's fresh taste, you'll be clamoring for salt. But if you're an Elysian-lover like Miles Vaden, Thomas Keller or Tom Colicchio, the meat-first, spice-second approach is a no-brainer.
2. Virginia Bison Tartare
According to the Washington Post, the Georgetown Farm in Virginia is the "largest bison operation east of the Mississippi River." Next time I get the urge to drive out to the middle of nowhere on Route 29, I'll be sure to look out for about 250 bison grazing on the creatively-named Buffalo Hill near Madison.
Til then, Eventide is a more convenient and tasty approach to quality bison bonding. Because it's local, the ground bison is fresh, and Vaden mixes it with capers and cornichons, which are numbers one and two on my list of things that are green and salty (don't worry, kosher dill, you come in a respectable number three).
What made the dish the highlight of the night, though, were the dipping sauces. One was a sweet cranberry mustard. The other, which actually looked and tasted more like mustard, was an aji amarillo aioli that was spicy, sweet, and went perfectly with the bison. Aji amarillio (yellow) chiles are mostly found in Peru. They jab a spicy punch right up there with Tobasco, notching 50K on the Scoville rating, and also have a slightly fruity flavor. Typically these peppers are used in salsa, but Eventide makes a paste of them and mixes with red wine vinegar. All this creativity brings out a wild streak in the residents of Buffalo Hill.
I've been on a roll over the past few weeks with my sweetbreads. At both Commonwealth Gastropub and especially Volt, the sweetbreads were so creamy I was able to completely forget that unpleasant business about cow glands.
The version of this dish at Eventide had all the accouterments of a winner. Slices of apple and radish sat appetizingly over a syrupy mix of spiced apple butter and cider.
Unfortunately, the sweetbreads themselves reminded me of a woeful attempt to cook these things on my own recently. Perhaps I was thrown off my game by the horrific sight of bloody cow organ sitting on my kitchen countertop, because I'm not sure what I was thinking, but I decided to forgo any kind of crust in preparing them. I just grilled those babies and had them straight up. The taste was so minerally that it was utterly apparent to me that I was eating innards, whereas the best cooking techniques for offal are aimed at distracting you from that regrettable fact.
The only reward to this experience? Having plumbed the depths of bad sweetbreads, I now really appreciate good restaurant versions.
But the texture of the sweetbreads at Eventide wasn't creamy at all but actually a little chewy, prolonging the amount of time I had to deal with a mineral flavor that was unchecked. The bittersweet good news: I now have a more forgiving opinion of my own sweetbread travesty because something similar was served in a nice restaurant.
Octopus Escabeche with green olives, cauliflower, peppers, chickpea mash
Grilled Pear Salad with frisee, arugula, candied walnuts, sherry vinaigrette, Great Hill bleu cheese flan