Apples and oysters: The Harvest Review
Turns out Harvest in Harvard Square presents a dinner once a month called The Harvest Review. Each dinner is based around a theme: food, mostly (I'm guessing, as no one told me), though chef Mary Dumont did mention a Bob Slate-themed event that somehow involved, yes, pens, ink and paper.
Did I mention that's it's four courses with wine?
Did I mention that it's $39 a person??
So, to recap: A unique meal. At one of the best restaurants in Cambridge. For FORTY BUCKS.
See why I'm miffed to have missed out?
When I heard about January's dinner, I may have squeaked a little: a menu of apples and oysters, hosted by two authors I like: Erin Byers Murray, whose Shucked describes her year working at Island Creek Oysters; and Amy Traverso, whose The Apple Lover's Cookbook makes me want to lick the pages.
So, yeah. We were going.
I'd assumed the event would take over the whole of Harvest; instead, it was in the smaller, separate dining room, with seating for about 40 people. Which meant the kitchen was turning out two separate menus — one for us, one for the main restaurant — and ours had to be coordinated so that everyone was served at the same time. That takes skill.
The dinner was supposed to start at 6pm, but because they were doing synchronized service, we had to wait until the last stragglers showed up. (And that is why you should always be on time, people!)
But it was okay, really, because we were able to quell our hunger with finger sandwiches of cheddar, apple and whole-grain mustard, grilled in butter. Very simple, very sinful.
Once everyone had arrived, Chef Dumont gave a brief introduction, and then both Amy and Erin talked about their books. I felt quite envious, as I always do around people who get to write about food for a living.
And then we began. First, Island Creek oysters two ways: raw, with quick bread-and-butter apple pickles from Amy's book, and pan-fried with a piment d'Espelette sauce.
The first was briny, chilled, with the pickled apple providing just an edge of vinegary sweetness. The second was warm, a little oily, with a slight crunch from the breading, the sauce adding a creamy smokiness. They were almost each other's opposite; I could almost imagine one with wings and a harp, and the other with little horns. Good and evil, both delicious.
Next up, oyster stew, creamy and fragrant with fennel and Pernod. The stew itself was great, but what made the dish, for me, was the squid-ink tagliatelle, deeply flavored but light as a feather, and the single slice of pancetta so thin you could see through it. For real, check it out:
For the third course, we moved back to apples, which came braised with cabbage with a hint of caraway. There might have been something else on the plate ...
Well, hello there ...
That would be the pork shoulder sausage, almost boudin blanc-like in texture, dense and delicious.
We were pretty full by this point. Too full for dessert? Ha! Especially not this: warm apple brownies with caramel ice cream and walnut brittle. A perfect end to the meal.
What do you mean, there's more? Apple donuts, you say? Served warm, coated with sugar? Well, all right, if they're small. Just a couple. After all, apples are good for you.
At the end of the dinner, Erin and Amy stuck around to chat and sign copies of their work, so I'm now the proud owner of both books. Perfect reading (and experimenting) for chilly winter days.
And because I'm nice, I'll mention that upcoming Harvest Review dinners highlight local businesses that work with Harvest: Taza Chocolate (February 15), Hearth Wood-Fired Bread (March 14), and Espresso Express coffee (April 11).