Thursday, February 03, 2011

Journeyman is a good place for a last meal

Given last week's unexpected dance with mucositis that led to a liquid-only diet, and knowing that worse is to come, it's hardly surprising that I've started counting my chances to eat good food. Not that I'm on death row, of course, but I'm definitely aware that each dish could be my Last Meal — at least for a while.

Yesterday, my mouth was 90 percent back to full working order and cabin fever was setting in. So when I read a message on Journeyman's Facebook page noting that the night's special was cassoulet, I knew there was only one thing to do.

I've been wanting to visit Journeyman in Somerville since before it opened, following the progress of the chef-owners (a historian and an IT guy who just really enjoy cooking) as they got permits, struggled with utility companies, and solicited haiku to replace the mundane "Employees must wash hands" restroom signs.

So the early evening saw us bundled up in a cab, headed for Union Square.

Journeyman is in a high-ceilinged space that manages to be spare and industrial and yet warm and inviting. It's also tiny, with fewer than 30 seats. The boxes on shelves in the window are for growing herbs and edible flowers to use in the kitchen.

And best of all: no music. The room was quiet and peaceful.

How often does that happen? Maybe it was just last night, because so few people were in, but it was refreshing to be able to have a conversation without overhearing other people and without being subjected to whatever music is supposed to enhance the ambiance. The only noticeable sound was the fan in the open kitchen, and that acted more as white noise. Other restaurants should take note.

Because snowstorms have been making life hard (for all restaurants, let's face it), Journeyman wasn't doing the usual menu last night — though as the dishes change weekly, if not daily, there really is no "usual" menu. Instead, it was "chef's whim": a three-, five-, or seven-course menu, or the cassoulet.

We were able to compromise by asking for the five-courser with cassoulet as one dish.

I've been avoiding wine as directed by my medical crew, but the idea of not having a glass with this dinner was just wrong. And when I explained my dilemma to the hostess (who was delightful and attentive all evening), she suggested another compromise: "How about I bring you a half-glass of white and a half of red?"

Oh, you doll. (And those were really more than half-glasses, I think.)

So there was a crisp French Sauvignon Blanc and a dry, fruity Italian Dolcetta d'Alba.

And there was a fabulous brioche-like bread with good butter served on a stone.

And then an amuse-gueule of carrot-miso soup, finished with pickled carrot.

We eat a lot of carrot soup; it would never have occurred to me to blend it with miso. But the flavor was unexpected and lovely, subtle and sophisticated, with the pickled veggie providing a bright contrast.

Next, a salad of diced and mashed root veggies (Japanese sweet potato, turnip, sunchoke, beets) with spinach, each one a reminder that roots can be sweet and full of flavor.

The brown crumbs are onion crumble, which tasted like really good onion-ring batter reduced to powder. It melted in the mouth and would, I think, sell by the bagful.

Next up, a creamy roasted cauliflower soup with housemade mortadella, garnished with pickled cauliflower.

The mortadella made me realize I hadn't had a decent pork product since an Anna's carnitas burrito three weeks previously. This meat was a lovely thing.

And then some beautiful duck breast, the fat crispy on top and sweet and melty, served with Gilfeather turnip and pickled watermelon radish. Duck often comes with an overly sweet, fruity foil; the turnip was just sweet enough to balance the meat without overwhelming it.

The cassoulet came in a pan in a cloud of porky fragrance. There was coffee-rubbed pork, perfectly fatty confit, just-right cannelini beans, hints of coffee and — genius touch — Meyer lemon, which gave this often dense and heavy dish an unexpected ... I want to say youthfulness. Does that make sense?

Then came a palate-cleansing tiny bowl of lime jelly, rice granita and elderflower, light and refreshing — again, an unexpected combination that worked beautifully.

And then dessert: a dense coconut pound cake, coconut panna cotta (much like tembleque), a deeply flavorful coffee mousse, a bright lemon-rose sorbet, and some chewy, tasty tapioca balls.

But wait, there's more: a final snacky of very good walnut bread with cardamom, a light spice cake, and some cookie that sadly was too hard for me to eat.

We left happy. Very happy. And if that was indeed my last really good meal for a while (some sources say it can take up to a year for the mouth to fully recover from radiation), then it was absolutely the right way to go.

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Blogger fringe benefit said...

OMG. If I leave North Carolina right now, don't stop at any traffic lights, do 85MPH on 95, and don't run into any slow-downs, I just might be able to make it before they close tonight. ktl

10:43 AM  
Anonymous Cindi said...

Yum! Those are some really inventive combinations. I have been hesitant to go there as I heard a less-than-gushing review from someone who went with a party who knew the owners. But you may have convinced me.
That is a LOT of dessert though.
AND - so glad you were feeling up for a feast!

12:26 PM  
Anonymous Anne Doerr said...

Only YOU could make this topic fun reading!!! Keep up the good work Miss Carolyn. I'll send chocolate. Hope you can eat it! Love ya!

1:23 PM  
Blogger rsaltus said...

Too much fun! Not sure this is what Stacy Kennedy means by fighting cancer with your fork, but I think it's just what the doctor should have ordered!
richard saltus

12:39 PM  
Blogger Melissa said...

Whoa! I want to go there!
I hope you can enjoy all the food you want whenever you want as soon as possible (or sooner)

2:13 PM  
Blogger rachiegirl said...

we're heading there tomorrow night. The reviews on Yelp are basically 1s or 5s. After reading you review, I think that the 1s are not real foodies and need to control every bit of their dining experience.

Looking VERY forward to my meal.

6:26 PM  

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