Monday, April 12, 2010

FoodTrek: Springtime Feast at Artisanal

Spring has sprung, the flowers are blooming, and lighter, brighter fare is popping up on restaurant menus. Not that the recent crazy weather of heavy hailstorms and frosty mornings aren't proof that winter's not leaving us without a few tantrums, but I think people's appetites are starting to turn towards fresh eats. The Prime was lucky to be invited to a spring preview luncheon at Artisanal Brasserie and Winebar, presented by the award-winning chef and owner Terrance Brennan himself, to introduce their new seasonal menu and celebrate their weekend-long Spring Fling event at The Bravern.

Artisanal's Pork Belly Bowl - an Asian eggs n' bacon. Photo by Wasabi Prime

Chef Brennan visited for the weekend to host cooking demos, meet fans, as well as explain some of the thoughts behind the seasonal menu updates. Still heavily French-inspired, the new dishes try to give little nods to the Pacific Northwest tastes. Heavy stews and root vegetables are giving way to lighter broths and fresh-picked greens in the Artisanal springtime menu. It was a good reminder to shake off the winter's chill and start looking for what's sprouting up in markets, like asparagus and baby greens. It's also a time to look for dancing squirrel statues -- see, even they're happy spring is here!

Celebrating spring with Chef Terrance Brennan, soft cheese, and dancing squirrels - Photos by Wasabi Prime

Having the opportunity to try the new menu items was like an edible preview for the season, plus an easy guided tour of some dishes and flavors for those who may be stuck in a food rut. The appeal of a place like Artisanal is that it has the classic French bistro dishes like steak frites as well as super-comfort foods like the simple grilled cheese sandwich, but amped with the benefit of choosing from a menu of nearly fifty cheeses. These dishes become easy favorites and people may tend to not stray from their comfort zone. Among the new dishes on the Artisanal menu, there are items that introduce different textures and flavors without being overwhelming, along with appealing to Pacific Northwest tastes that don't mind mixing the flavors of cultures up a bit. For the picky eaters out there, consider some of these dishes baby steps towards expanding one's food horizons.

Spring is here - eat up! - Photos by Wasabi Prime

In general, most people won't jump at the chance of having a bit of liver. People probably remember it cooked with onions and just not having a great first impression of organ meat. The torchon of foie gras with a rhubarb jam and grilled country bread at Artisanal is like Liver 101. For those who list liver as a favorite, this will likely be too mild, without the heavier taste they're used to, but for a person who's not sure about a chilled coin-shaped slice of a liver terrine, it's a light and creamy introduction into enjoying the benefits of an animal, from rooter to tooter. Liver is one of those great stepladder organ meats that gets people realizing that it's not just the traditional cuts that are the only tasty bits.

The springtime-friendly dishes with a particular nods towards the Pacific Northwest are the gnocchi Parisienne with wild morels, asparagus and pea tendrils, along with the pork belly bowl with noodles, vegetables and a poached egg laid atop. The gnocchi is a lightly seared buttery indulgence with the NW-friendly morels giving it an earthier anchor to balance the richness. The noodle bowl is meant to be more of a lunch item and anticipated to be a popular choice. Taking a nod from the popular Asian flavors that are so prevalent in this area, a bed of buckwheat noodles and vegetables soak in a thin broth with a perfectly poached egg placed on top. While not a typical bistro meal, it addresses Chef Brennan's  goal to craft the menu to fit where those dishes live, and the Asian influence in menus is most certainly prevalent.

Other samplings included an Alaskan halibut with fava beans a la Francais in a lemon-parmesan mousseline that was light and lovely, and the finishing dessert of a rhubarb tart topped with strawberry-balsamic Ice cream was sweet but not overwhelming. There were wine pairings with all the courses, but probably my own personal favorite was the Apex Cellars 2008 Viognier, a light, pleasantly sweet wine that was enjoyable with food and just as tasty on its own.

The biggest takeaway from a meal like this was a reminder to eat with the seasons. Granted, this isn't a new idea in any way, but the meal was a good elbow-nudge to look at menus and grocery produce aisles with an eye for what's new. Sure, we can have hamburgers or spaghetti year-round, with consistency of taste to comfort us, but eating with the seasons makes for a more interesting variety of foods as well as makes for a more active involvement in what to take a bite out of.

Dessert, slicing ham and a tasty bottle of Viognier - Photos by Wasabi Prime

It was a true pleasure meeting so many other bloggers and writers at this luncheon. Much thanks to Chef Brennan and the whole team at Artisanal for crafting such a beautiful meal.

Bookmark and Share

1 comment:

  1. lol @ single sprig of asparagus.


Commentary encouraged. Fresh baked cookies, super-encouraged. (hit the 'post comment' button twice, sometimes it's buggy)