Sunday, November 20, 2011

Journeyman, Somerville: Fifty flavors in two hours

I'd been battling a cold all week, which left me lumpen and miserable. By Saturday, I was starting to feel more human, so The Boy decided to lift my spirits with a trip to Journeyman in Union Square, Somerville.

Our last dinner at Journeyman was back in February; interestingly, it was also a cheer-up respite from illness. Not that I want this to become a habit, but if poor health ends with food like this, I may start paying small children to cough on me.

We had a six o'clock reservation, so the place was almost empty, which was lovely. And we were seated at the counter, looking into the tiny kitchen, which was perfect.

Kitchen at Journeyman, Somerville

I love watching the dynamics between people in a kitchen. Here, the four chefs worked almost in silence, leaning close to talk (no loud voices), moving around each other in a fluid dance. The motion was constant and focused, calm and confident.

We started with cocktails: for The Boy, an Old-Fashioned made with his choice of spirit. He went with genever, which came nicely finished with citrusy Bittermens' Boston Bittahs. I chose the Dartmoor, a milk punch infused with heather and lapsang souchong tea. The result was so extraordinarily good, it made me misty; it was light, slightly citrusy, with complex floral and smoky notes.

Dartmoor milk punch, Journeyman, Somerville

We got to chat with Meg, who made this incredible drink, and she gave us a quick history of the milk punch.

Not to be confused with the New Orleans-style milk punch, which is essentially a boozy milkshake, the (very) old-school version involves curdling milk with lemon juice, scooping out the curds, and combining the remaining liquid whey with spirits and botanicals.

And then she came back with the recipe for the Dartmoor. I might have told her I love her.

Milk punch recipe

But wait, it gets better: there was food as well.

Journeyman offers three prix-fixe options: three, five, and seven courses. We went for the three-course; The Boy took the "omnivore" version and I took the vegetarian, so we could try each others' entrées.

First, an amuse-bouche of smoked bluefish rillettes,

Bluefish rillettes, Journeyman, Somerville

and white bean consommé with a tiny biscuit stuffed with an amazing miso butter. The former was light and refreshing. The latter, unfortunately, was eated before it could be photographed.

White bean consomme, Journeyman, Somerville

We'd decided to add a charcuterie plate to the three courses, because meat. There was a choice of six options: you could order one for $5 or four for $15. Which meant we had to decide which two not to get. We ended up nixing the lardo (regretfully) and the bluefish, which we got to try anyway. So it all worked out.

And then came the charcuterie: quail galantine, oxtail scrapple, duck liver pâté, and a terrine of lamb tenderloin.

Charcuterie plate, Journeyman, Somerville

Everything was beautifully made, but we decided the winners were the rich, creamy, duck liver pâté:

Duck liver pate, Journeyman, Somerville

and the warm, earthy, beef-hash-like scrapple:

Oxtail scrapple, Journeyman, Somerville

Next came what was described on the menu as "salad." Which is like calling the Sistine Chapel "painting."

Salad, Journeyman, Somerville

Each ingredient stood on its own, and each also added to an overall harmony of tastes and textures: cubes of sweet root vegetables, a single, warm Brussels sprout, paper-thin slices of pear and black radish, wilted leeks, a marinated mushroom, crunchy red cabbage, swirls of creamy caulflower and celeriac sauce, drops of vibrant red pepper purée, and my favorite: a rolled red carpet of beet leather.

Beet red carpet, Journeyman, Somerville

And then the mains: for The Boy, Chinese roasted duck leg and seared duck breast, served with black rice on a ribbon of huckleberry sauce.

Duck with black rice and huckleberry sauce, Journeyman, Somerville

(The next shot is a little NSFW.)

Duck with black rice and huckleberry sauce, Journeyman, Somerville

The main reason I chose the vegetarian option was that the entree was described like this:

SWEET POTATO
cheese, coffee, hazelnut

How could I not?

Pasta, sweet potato, coffee foam, Journeyman, Somerville

The tortellini were filled with tangy, melting taleggio. The potato was a sweet, creamy swoosh of sauce. The foam and the croutons held varying intensities of coffee. And there was a single, perfectly roasted shallot.

It's hard to explain how — or why — these flavors worked together. But they did, unexpectedly and yet completely naturally. I'm not sure how easy it would be to replicate it at home. It was a delicate balance that probably took a lot of work to refine; too much coffee could overwhelm the milder flavors, but too little could make the whole thing seem insipid. This was perfect.

Of course, we weren't done yet. Next was a palate-cleanser of cat-mint ice cream garnished with Sichuan pepper leaves. It was —

Wait. Cat mint?

Yes.

As in cat mint?

Yes!

Catmint ice cream, Journeyman, Somerville

The flavor was distinctly catnip; a muted, almost sagey mint. I was a little concerned about the pepper leaves; chef Diana explained they would "leave a tingle on the tongue," which to my (now-teenaged) tastebuds could have meant "carpet-bomb the forest floor." But actually the leaves were light and fresh, with just the slightest buzz. So maybe my 'buds are all grown up now?

Then came dessert, described on the menu as:

CARAMEL-APPLE
brioche, scotch

What this actually meant was fresh brioche roll, sliced and filled with a smoky bourbon cream, served with a bright, fresh apple sorbet and a hunk of caramelized apple.

Brioche with bourbon cream, apple sorbet, caramel apple, Journeyman, Somerville

Again, flavors balanced each other, and variations in texture and temperature made every mouthful different: cold and hot, tart and sweet, creamy and spongy. A lovely fall dessert.

But wait, there's more: a final plate of sweetness. This one had chocolate brownie bites, pumpkin spice-filled eclairs, and chipotle marshmallows.

Dessert, Journeyman, Somerville

Oh yeah.

Chipotle marshmallows, Journeyman, Somerville

As we made our way home, we tried counting up how many different flavors we'd tasted over the course of the two-hour meal. We decided it was close to 50.

Fifty distinct, individual flavor types. How often can you say that?

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