“Farm-to-Post” or Real Local Food
One thing is for sure as I sit here and talk to owner Chris Himmel and executive chef Eric Brennan of Post 390: They are in a love affair with food, starry eyed and could go on for days. It borders on obsession, but I know the feeling because I feel the same way.
This is not the first love affair to be written about nor will it be the last, but the difference here is at the heart of the matter. Their love affair focuses on where their food comes from and how it lands on our plates. Without that knowledge you can tell it just doesn’t feel the same to them.
Chris, a pioneer of the Boston restaurant scene, saw a need to enhance the dining experience at Post 390 in a city with a constantly evolving food scene. He and Chef Eric discussed new concepts for Post that would showcase Eric’s talent and the absolute best food the region has to offer. Thankfully they had their collective “aha” moment and we can now enjoy the fruits of that decision. And so the local farm and sustainable table was set for a 3 course prix fixe menu ($48 per person) with wine pairings ($65).
Taken by Chris Himmel
Chris and Chef Eric relived moments of them hanging out on the Snappy Lobster boat with the same zest that a first grader when telling you they lost their tooth. Grinning from ear to ear, I could see something was apparent in this not-so-new duo. They had found their niche together. Chef Eric, who has been working with Chris for over 10 years now, loves getting out and working for his food more than any other part of this experience. I thought he might say it was cooking with fresh ingredients, but to him it was about respecting where your food comes from and being honest with your diners about what it is. While he realizes this is one step towards conscientious eating, he was careful to note that not all of our global food problems have been solved in their initiative.
Either way, I’m glad they’ve decided to take this step. In celebration of their June “farm,” I had the pleasure of toasting the hard work of the Snappy Lobster men and the Post 390 kitchen with the first ever “Farm-to-Post” Monthly Tasting Dinner. While bumping elbows with some of Boston’s finest faces and voices, I couldn’t help but think about the challenges that lie before them. With New England’s erratic weather and limited products during winter months, I wondered how they would pull off featuring a monthly farm or weekly menu changes to keep things fresh.
“Alter the concept a little bit,” said Chef Eric as he assured me that he will do his best to keep it local and innovative. He postured that perhaps they would represent a dairy farm in the off season by cheesemaking. “And if we can’t find anything, then maybe we’ll just take a vacation,” he joked. Even though he was kidding, somehow I could sense the desire in his voice. After all, he and Chris have been sourcing out for food over the last six months throughout Massachusetts and sometimes as far as Vermont. Each time they choose a farm or fisherman and they spend a day on that farm getting their hands dirty while learning about new potential products.
Taken by Chris Himmel
And this friends, is how the night started for us. Watching a literal fishing “reel” of the two Post men catching fish, pulling traps and fileting live mackerel with the Snappy Lobster trio. During the video, I spent time talking to the actual fishermen that work hard to be Snappy Lobster Company. Adam Fuller (former Executive Chef of Great Bay and Radius), the friendly CEO who wanted to be a little closer to home after working the demanding hours of the restaurant industry, Larry Throwbridge, a lifetime seaman and COO of Snappy Lobster and their pal Edie (quite frankly I never caught what he does, sorry bud?!) These three down-to-earth guys spoke to me about the challenges of their industry, fishing the Scituate waters, using their byproducts of the catch and providing for their families through their small fishing operation. They also told me that the food we were about to eat was no more than 24 hours out of the water. Talk about food with a face.
After the truly unique experience of watching the food we were about to eat be “caught,” I knew we were in for a dining treat. Indeed I was right. We dove right into one of the most unique seafood displays I’ve had the luxury of tasting. A mountain of pate arrived thickly bedded on an everything bagel crostini with batons of pickled beet and a fresh sprig of dill. We sipped an 2006 Boppard Pinot Gris and I had my first bite of an applewood smoked mackerel pate. I bit with trepidation because I know mackerel can be an overwhelmingly strong fish, but what I found was nothing of the sort. Let’s just say this, fishy would be the last way I’d describe it. It was smoky and rich yet balanced by the bright earthiness of the beets and dill. Divine perfection, so I went back for more. I asked Chef Eric what the secret to the flavor was and while I may get in trouble for giving away the goods, it’s duck fat. And boy that fat duck tasted good.
Taken by Chris Himmel
We took our seats and braced for what came next: the unbelievably refreshing Jonah crab and watermelon salad with avocado and spicy brunoise salsa on top. It was presented like a sashimi tuna caterpillar roll of sorts but tasted quite different. The salad danced with flavors so untainted by each other’s strengths that I longed for more. Salt, sweet, tang, spice–it really does sound like a dance. A dance I enjoyed next to a glass of Schramsberg Blanc 2008.
Taken by Chris Himmel
Moving right along through the courses to the freshest, plumpest sea scallop Scituate waters has to offer, seared to perfection over a sunchoke puree and sauce salmis. The plate was littered with chanterelles and serrano ham. Sauce salmis for those of you who don’t know, is a French sauce enhanced by cooked pureed foie gras. The result got me searching the table for bread to sop up the goodness. This plate was rounded out by an 2009 Chardonnay Roche de Bellene.
Now at this point, I was getting quite full (and tipsy) but the courses kept on coming. Each course came with a new conversation. Whether it was speaking with Chris’s mother and aunt (quite the pair themselves, owners of a nationally renowned interior design company called Visions), or speaking with Leigh Belanger, program director of Chef’s Collaborative and recent author of Boston Homegrown Cookbook, I was having an exciting night out. (Stay at home mom/blogger doesn’t actually scream excitement so this is where I get to have my cake and eat it too.)
The next course was truly an innovation, as it’s the only time I’ve ever seen lobster served this way, and I thought I had eaten lobster every way to the point of exhaustion. The chef called it snappy lobster schnitzel with liquid corn on the cob. I call it New England summer on a dish. A butterflied lobster tail pounded, breaded and pan fried over a bed of what one might describe as a sweet ear of corn rubbed in butter reduction. It was complimented by poached lobster and glimmer of corn chowder stir ins. A light 2010 La Follette Pinot Noir balanced the richness.
Taken by Naomi Kooker of Zagat
I started to realize something as we got near the end of the dinner. Chef Eric’s talent varied greatly at every layer of the meal, with various cooking techniques that extracted the freshness of each ingredient. The next dish illuminated the chord I’d mentally struck. We were presented with a roasted cod and Thai pork belly dish that was strewn with various Asian obscurities I’d never heard of including yellow chives, choy sum (similar to bok choy), whelk (a lobstering byproduct snail of sorts that they poached in a court bouillion and then sliced thinly) and fermented black bean sauce (I never knew you could age beans). The sauce was light and fragrant with star anise and the cod was perfectly cooked with a crisp outer crust. Freshly shaved water chestnut graced the top of the plate with a crisp finish. A 2007 Domaine Prudhon Pinot Noir backed the elegance of this Asian-inspired fish story.
Taken by Chris Himmel
And as if there were any room left, there was yet another layer: dessert. A house made whoopie pie ice cream sandwich. Your typical chocolate and vanilla combo made special by a perfectly baked “whoopee” and malted vanilla ice cream filled in as pie. I enjoyed a 2003 Taylor Fladgate Port with my dessert that reminded me of Italy for some reason. Maybe it was all the wine or maybe it was all the local goodness? Either way I was satisfied with a belly full of New England (not Italy) and something felt right.
While I’d say the dinner was a success, they sealed the deal by sending us each out with homemade lobster lollipops like the times of yesteryear. However as we left, I did find myself regretting a few things about the night: 1. Not finishing every course or at least wrapping them up. 2. Not meeting and chatting up everyone in the room including Janet Wu of Channel 7 News, Alex Hall of CoupBoston, Naomi Kooker of Zagat and many other Boston personalities. 3. Not saving any stamina for one of Post’s signature cocktails I’ve been wanting one for quite some time. Oh well I guess there’s my excuse to get back in and check out another farm.