Summer at the farmer's market bring glorious produce. But as summer fades into fall, New England's gifts arrive. Squash in shades of gold, corn so sweet it could be dessert and tomatoes both lush and vibrant fill the farm and table. At Bistro 5 in West Medford, Chef and Owner, Vittore Ettore embraced this notion by cooking up a creative and delicious Heirloom Tomato Celebration and Dinner at a recent food blogger event. The best part? Chef Ettore created this meal relying heavily on produce from both Kimball and Souluna Farms.
I had never been to Bistro 5, but had heard positive reviews of the Italian food created by Tuscan-born Chef Ettore. In addition to the regular menu, the Chef often features a thematic tasting menu. During the month of September, the theme is Heirloom Tomatoes. That meal may change from week to week depending on the what is available at the local markets.
We began with a tender homemade focaccia, served with a chickpea and basil puree. From there the meal unveiled. Each course featured a different tomato from Kimball Farm, as well as a unique basil from the Soluna Garden Farm in Winchester.
The first course featured a pineapple tomato bisque with plump piece of sweet lobster. Buried in the bowl was a bite of brioche, while the bisque itself was topped with lemon basil and saffron bubbles.
Next, my favorite dish of the night: Copia tomatoes fried with panko and served with Buffalo mozzerella (imported from Italy!) and opal basil pesto. The tomatoes were light and crisp, despite being fried.
The tomato risotto was comfort food at its best. Featuring red brandywine tomatoes, the pink risotto was topped with Leonora goat cheese. A piece of crispy jamon serrano stood in as a rich cracker to scoop up the rice. The most eye opening treat? The lime basil that tasted like lime zest and added an acidic balance to the dish.
This was followed by a duck confit strudel. In many ways this was the most ambitious of the night, featuring 3 separate elements. The strudel itself consisted of duck (a bit oversalted for my taste), wrapped in puff pastry. On the side was an amber dish of tomato brulee! (The Chef explained that it was a transition to our dessert course.) The speckled roman tomato was first smoked and then served brulee style with a thin layer of caramelized sugar and sicilian sea salt. Centered in the plate was a port poached seckle pear with Thai basil. The dish was unexpected, and I returned for many bites, cleaning my plate. Yet my favorite element of this dish was the tiny cubes of Kuri squash that were glistening with a touch of agave syrup. Reminiscent of candy, I can see these at a Thanksgiving table or working to convince children that, yes, squash is delicious.
Our final dish was my least favorite, though that may have been because I had the highest of expectations. Titled "Tomato, Sweet Tomato", it consisted of a tomato napoleon and gelato. The gelato itself, made with cinnamon basil and yogurt would work beautifully on gazpacho. Here it was a bit too savory to connect with the napoleon. The napoleon itself was made up of layers of filo with a mousse made with peach tomatoes (after all, a tomato is a fruit!). I wanted it to work...but the flavors didn't quite gel for me.
That being said, the meal was a delight. Chef Vittorio took the time to explain each course to us. His sense of humor and style made it feel like we were dining in his living room. And the atmosphere of Bistro 5, both warm and playful added to that sense. It was clear that for Chef Vittore, food is a passion and creating it is an artform.
I felt lucky to be invited to attend this dinner, in part because it is always a pleasure to share a meal with other food bloggers. This time, I also enjoyed meeting with Sara Ferguson, manager of the Winchester Farmer's Market. Not only did she help me with my photos (thank you, Sara!), but it was a delight to hear about how she helped to create a Farmer's Market that is clearly a destination for many on a Saturday morning.
So to Bistro 5, I will return: for the food of an ambitious chef, for Tuscan treats and to share this gem with others.
Bistro 5, 5 Playstead Road, West Medford
Soluna Farms, Winchester