Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Dinner at Towne, and an Evening with Anthony Bourdain and Eric Ripert

A few weeks ago I saw a post on Grub Street Boston that Anthony Bourdain and Eric Ripert were coming to Boston and would be speaking at Symphony Hall.  That was really all I knew, but I was completely sold on the idea.  A few days later I bought tickets and didn't give it another thought, other than making dinner reservations that would be worthy of such a foodie evening.  Having only had brunch at Towne, Nick and I decided to go there.

As the event drew closer, we were talking about what we were going to see and realized we really had NO idea what this show was going to be about!  Were they going to cook, speak - what, exactly?  Talking about the night with Nick's dad, we found out that he and his wife were actually going to the same show with some friends - and they, too, had no idea what the show was about.  Nick went ahead and got a much larger reservation at Towne - we definitely wanted to share the wealth!

Towne was pretty accommodating and took our reservation for 2 and upped it to 7 after Nick's sister decided to join us as well.  While most of us stuck to the basics (beer and wine) Nick went with an Apple Press.

Apple Press

The Apple Press had some of his favorite ingredients: farmer’s gin, St. Germain and apple cider, and was served up with an apple chip.  This drink was nice - not too sweet like a lot of apple cocktails can get.

Recently, Chronicle had done a review of Towne in which they highlighted the lobster popovers.  Being a HUGE popover fan and, of course, a lobster lover, I did not even had to look at the menu to decide to order this appetizer.  More than the show, I was looking forward to these!

Lobster Popovers
They did NOT disappoint.  Somehow they were able to maintain the eggy popover flavor and blend it seamlessly with the lobster.  They also drizzled the whole dish with honey, which gave the popovers a hint of sweetness.  I could have ordered this a few times over and been completely satisfied.

Nick's sister got the mesclun greens with meyer lemon and 2010 harvested capezzana and olio nuovo to start.

Mesclun Greens
The presentation of this dish was striking, the whole salad was wrapped in a couple of large slices of cucumber!

Another member of our party ordered the beet carpaccio with whip of bufala ricotta, blood orange and toasted hazelnut dressing.

Beet Carpaccio
I did not get much feedback on this dish, but the plate was pretty much cleaned, so I am guessing it was good!

For the main dish, I went in (much like the popovers) knowing I wanted a cheeseburger.  It has been on my list for awhile, and was actually part of the reason I want to go to Towne.  So to say I was devastated to find out the burger was no longer on the dinner menu is not exactly an understatement.  Somehow I did manage to recover and was able to order the skirt steak - 8 oz. wagyu xtreme with wasabi and hot green garlic.

Wagyu Xtreme
This picture does not to the dish justice.  It was cooked well (medium rare) and the sauce was different in a good way.  I always enjoy going out and trying something new and different, since it makes the food seem worth going out for.

Nick ordered the peking chicken and scallion pancake.

Peking Chicken
Once again, the presentation was striking.  This dish happened to include a drink umbrella that was placed right in the chicken!  Nick loved the dish, even though it was a little difficult to eat since it was all still on the bone.  He did have great sides in the potatoes and scallion pancakes when he needed a break from the chicken.

Other dishes our party ordered included...

swordfish - winter’s crisped Maine shrimp,
speckled heart grits and smoked shrimp butter

statler chicken breast - citrus brushed & wood grilled
with polenta sticks and garlic “ toasted ” broccolini

margherita with fior di latte and yellow tomato smoked over olive wood

pappardelle de cecco - bolognese

king oyster mushrooms - garlicky and wood
grilled on whole grist polenta with
roasted marrow
I did not get in-depth feedback on the other dishes, but it was because people were too busy scraping their empty plates in order to make sure they got every last bit of it.  Everyone enjoyed their meals thoroughly, which worked out well for Nick and I considering we made the recommendation! 

We all managed to save a bit of room for dessert - made necessary when we saw this dish go by: brown sugar angel food cake with caramel ice cream and maple cotton candy.

Seeing that cotton candy being walked by was enough to get us to test out the dessert options.  The angel food cake was light and moist, and the brown sugar added a nice candied touch to work with the massive pile of lovely cotton candy.

Being a huge fan of coconut, I ordered the coconut creme brulee with "popped" hawaiian caramel corn.

Coconut Creme Brulee
For those who read this blog regularly, you know I LOVE creme brulee, but ordering it everywhere does lead to some repetitiveness.  However, this one really was different.  The coconut flavoring in the actual dessert was only slight, but when you pour the shot of coconut milk on top, the coconut taste became the star, that and the sugar crust, of course.  I am not sure what made the popcorn Hawaiian, but it was good and a fun side to make the plate more interesting.

For the chocolate lovers, the go to dessert is the bittersweet chocolate bouchon with peanut butter sauce and ice cream. 

The Bouchon
Once again, another fabulous dessert.  This dish offered enough other complementary flavors so you were not on chocolate overload, but even the biggest chocolate fans still get their fill.  Even after such a filling meal, most of the dessert plates were bare at the end - we enjoyed ever bit of them!

Only after such a great meal were we off to figure out what was going to happen on stage with Anthony Bourdain and Eric Ripert!

The show was at Symphony Hall.  When we looked at the stage, it was basically bare expect for three chairs, two comfy wing backs and then a small metal one.  Shortly after we were all seated, Anthony Bourdain was introduced, and he then introduced Eric Ripert.  I really know these chefs from Top Chef and not much else other than their reputations, which are polar opposite.  The evening offered a great way to learn more about the chefs, willingly and interrogation-style!

Shortly after Eric Ripert was introduced, we was instructed to bypass the comfy chairs and sit in the hard metal one.  At that point, Anthony Bourdain offered up a series of questions.  The topics really ranged from upbringing to other celebrity chefs (Gordon Ramsey) to feelings on "stoner" food.  One of the most interesting things I learned was that Ripert was not always the seemingly mild mannered person he is today.  He admits we was a plate thrower!  Finally, after losing most of his kitchen staff he learned from his mistakes and changed his ways.  Having had this change in attitude in the kitchen is one of his main reasons for disliking Gordon Ramsey.

Once Anthony Bourdain was finished with his interrogation, they switched seats, and Eric Ripert got to give Anthony a little taste of what it is like to be in the hot seat.  His first question was interesting: how can Bourdain be such a critic for having never worked in a great restaurant?  Obviously Ripert was excited to give it out as much as Bourdain did!  Bourdain completely admitted he really did not have the cooking experience as others, but that he has traveled the world to know what good food is and and how it should taste. 

Finally, once the interrogations were over, they both sat on the comfy chairs, popped open some beers and literally chatted about food, the chef community and topics including sustainable fishing, the wave of new italian restaurants in New York City, and whether or not we're on "burger overload" (my opinion: no such thing.)  Finally they opened the floor to questions from the audience.

It was a lot of fun to listen to the two speak about it all, and who they respect and who they don't.  One person asked about Cambridge's own Julia Child and neither of them held back with the praise, saying how she changed the way people cook.  They really could not have been more complementary of her.  Other Food Network stars did not go over so well.  Bourdain, however, actually showed respect for Ina Garten, who is almost always Nick's go-to source for just about every dish.  The other big shout out went to Craigie on Main as the place where Bourdain most wanted to try in Boston.  He claimed the NYC "chef mafia" was buzzing about the restaurant! 

Overall the evening was great, beginning with a great meal at Towne (where I still need to try the burger!) and ending with a really fun time watching two great chefs talk about food.  I'm so happy we decided to go, even though we had no idea really what we were in for.  As we should have know, however, the two people behind the names were enough to keep us entertained and wanting more.  Top Chef - Boston anyone???

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  1. I want to try the burger at Towne too. I went on a Sunday afternoon and they were only serving brunch, so no burger for me. It sounds like dinner was really good... I've heard some mixed reviews. That maple cotton candy would be a must-have if it's still on the menu when I get back there.

  2. I am so impressed at how much food you managed to photograph! and it all looks amazing. I have got to get to Towne!!

  3. Great photographs of foods. I wish to be a talented photographer but my hand knows only how to handle kitchen ware.

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