Saturday, August 8, 2009

The Whole Hog at 51 Lincoln, Newton

When I reflect on our recent meal at 51 Lincoln in Newton, I think about a pig. This is meant in the most positive sense. Chef and owner, Jeffrey Fournier recently invited me and FoodieDaddy to a meal and a conversation about his restaurant and cooking. We were treated to a very good dinner, and stories about art, pork and filo.51 Lincoln is characterized by a few things. First, the menu changes on a daily basis, depending on the daily availability of produce and protein. Second, the food and atmosphere is very creative, reflecting Jeffrey’s background and passion for the arts. In fact, he himself is the painter of the art on the menu and the walls of the restaurant. Finally, you can head to 51 Lincoln 51 weeks of the year, and eat a new 3 course meal for $33 featuring food from 51 states.

So, why a pig? Because, as is typical of Chef Fournier, he had recently had a delivery of a 200 pound (!) pig. Chef Fournier and his team have prepared bacon, head cheese, pork terrine, lardo, zampone (a unique sausage from Modena), proscuitto, ham and chicharonnes (pictured at the top of this post) that will be served over the next few months. In many ways this represents Chef Fournier’s passion for food-that he would be willing to butcher and cure a pig instead of just having the individual elements shipped to him from a local producer. Chef Fournier also told us that he derives many of his recipes from cookbooks that are 50 to 100 years old. He commitment to sustainability, to heritage products and to artisanal food means that eating at his restaurant is the type of experience that makes you pause and reflect on the food you are eating.

Almost everything but the ice cream (from the reknowned Christinas in Cambridge) is homemade here. And, in fact, it was the bread, made by CIA-trained sous-chef Max Burns that was one of the first dishes of the night to entrance us. The bread basket consisted of 4 different breads. The first was a moist and not-to sweet corn bread that was delicious slathered in butter. Next were three styles of focaccia: one with nigella seeds (with a taste reminiscent of onions), one with fresh rosemary and one that was plain. All three were fantastic-so tender, so flavorful and perfectly cooked. The secret that Max revealed, was that it is cooked in a glass pan that is coated with olive oil. As much as I enjoyed the breads on their own, I couldn’t get enough of the chili-tomato jam that was served in a pool of olive oil. It had too much kick for FoodieDaddy but I loved it enough that I may try to recreate it at home. (Stay tuned!)

FoodieDaddy began with one of the special food and alcohol pairings: the mango arancini with the delectable tomato-chili jam and mango vodka. The arancini, fried balls of arbario rice, were decadent even if we could’t detect the mango. The vodka had been infused twice-in rice and again with mango. We are not heavy drinkers, and this produced a powerful punch.

I started with the “Scallop and Bacon Colombia with Chicharronnes, Corn Arepa, Queso Fresco and Ancho Chili Butter.” The scallops were perfectly cooked-seared on the outside and barely cooked inside. But it was the pork that I will remember the most from this dish. One of the first elements from that pig to be featured, this was like a huge slab of bacon that had been air dried, smoked with hickory and then seasoned with the Latino spice, Sazon. It was simultaneously smoky, chewy, crisp and salty. It was so, so good. If 51 Lincoln ever serves this with eggs for brunch, I will be there in a heartbeat!

Chef Fournier then sent out a plate of his “Black and White Risotto.” A traditional Milanese style, it was served with summer truffles, fried parsley, truffle oil and pine cone extract. While we couldn’t taste the pine cone extract, I enjoyed the way the truffles and parsley provided a taste contrast to the dish.My husband loved his main dish: Painted Hills Oven Roasted Sirloin with Sweet Potato Risotto Cake, Green Beans and a Veal Demi glaze. While 51 Lincoln gets many of their items, including their beef from local purveyors, the staff believes that the quality of Painted Hills, a hormone and antibiotic-free meat from in Oregon, is as good as it gets. Having eaten it, both FoodieDaddy and I have to agree. It was so moist and so flavorful. In fact, we were already full enough that we continued to enjoy it for dinner the next night. It was that good.

While I am not a lover of duck as it is usually too gamey, Assistant General Manager, Ben Brenner suggested I try the “Long Island Duck Breast with Goat Cheese Polenta Cake, Mustard Greens and Fig Compote.” It was a good choice as the dish showcased that well cooked duck can be very tasty and very unique. Reminding me of a cross between a light steak and the dark meat of turkey, it was good with the sweet fig compote. The fig compote with the polenta cake was another dish that could double as a delicious brunch item. Unfortunately the mustard greens were so salty that I couldn’t eat them.

Another of our favorite dishes (that also reheated beautifully the next day) were the white polenta fries with truffle Parmesan dip. They were crispy on the outside and creamy inside, perfect with a touch of the truffle dip. While we were stuffed, my husband couldn’t pass up the chance to try Christina’s peanut butter-chocolate ice cream. After Sous Chef Burns recounted his tale of perfecting a recipe of home-made filo dough, I had to try the apple strudel that was featured in this week’s North Dakota 3 course meal. It was gooey, rich but not too sweet. And the filo was very good.

51 Lincoln also has a diverse drink menu, that includes homemade spirits. I had the Scarlet Martini that included Svedka Clementine, blood orange juice and Cointreau. FoodieDaddy’s Pomegrantini was reminiscent of a raspberry lime ricky. It had raspberry vodka, pomegranate juice, a splash of Chambord and lime.

Chef Fournier is a man of so much ambition. He is writing a cookbook. He just launched his own blog (which has a picture of the pig!) He is hoping to create a smoke house and working garden on the grounds of his new home. And he is always thinking, writing, creating, drawing and, of course, cooking.

If you are looking for a creative menu and restaurant without having to brave the parking and traffic of Boston or Cambridge, check out 51 Lincoln.

51 Lincoln, 51 Lincoln Street, Newton (Highlands) 617-965-3100

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