Sunday, March 9, 2014
Consider the chef’s arsenal--foie gras, caviar, truffles, quail, lobster, lamb saddle and copious amounts of butter--and what you have is the all-star trappings of Chef David Turin’s ambitious citadel of taste, Opus 10.
Opened since late last year, I finally I dined there earlier this week on the divine merits of Turin’s cuisine: a show-stopper 9-course tasting menu of exquisitely complex preparations meant to wow, which they did, and tantalize, mission accomplished.
The dining room is a felicitous space where the dining flight takes off very well tended
Tasting menus can be tiresome, long-drawn out affairs--too much food from chefs indulging their egos.
There’s certainly a touch of that going on at Opus 10 with this difference: You want more—and more. Unquestionably, I was very impressed by the range of dishes and fusion of flavors that were devised; some were truly extraordinary while others merely amazing.
Sous chef Brett Cary (left) and chef de cuisine Bo Byrne work as a cohesive team in the open kitchen where Turin pops in and out if he's not visiting in the dining room with patrons
It’s hard to classify Turin's style of cooking. Certainly he relies on the tenets of French haute cuisine except that he flexes a modern American muscle that’s no less rich or classic.
Even the hors d'oeuvre presentation segued into exalted territory. The dining room’s major domo, David Muise, expertly performs table-side service from a classic captain’s rolling cart, which we rarely see in our neck of the woods. Ready to be carved was the leg of pork house-cured prosciutto, along with Manchego cheese and these incredible crostini made with almonds, dried cranberries, sunflower and flax seeds dabbed with a dusting of garlic powder.
The cocktails of lemon-rhubarb liqueur made quite a statement for our savory beginning that my dinner partner and I enjoyed tremendously
With it all was a magical aperitif prepared table-side, too. Into the Champagne flutes went several jiggers of lemon-rhubarb liqueur muddled with raspberry, balsamic vinegar infused with white-peach essence and a gentle drop of bacon-spiked olive oil. The mixture was whizzed in the glass with a sort of miniature mechanized whirling dervish until emulsified. What a lavish and brilliant brew to accompany the earthy, salty tidbits that whet our appetite so breezily.
Even the bread selection was not left to chance as with this alder-wood baked bread stick; other choices included miniature croissants and olive-studded rolls
If I had any qualms so far it had to do more with the physical layout of the restaurant than anything else. The small, highly stylized room--very gracious and comfortable-- that’s carved out of his eponymous restaurant, David’s, is an incongruous confection--a jewel box tucked behind the modest trappings of his Monument Square neighborhood eatery. It’s like entering a barnyard of hobbledehoys before adjourning to the ballroom.
In a perfect world Opus 10 should command its own kingdom-- perhaps in a splendid setting somewhere in Portland, overlooking the city lights and harbor beyond.
The room holds 18 diners overseen by Muise. In the kitchen is chef de cuisine, Bo Byrne, who’s been with David’s 388 for a decade along with Brett Cary, second in command who also hailed from that South Portland outpost and recently back from a stint in Europe before joining David, et al, at Opus 10.
This is not casual dining by any means. Pop a few extra statins or spend more time on the treadmill before going and you’ll be in excellent condition to travel on this exceedingly satisfying culinary odyssey.
The meal began with a gratin of morels and exotic mushrooms formed into a mushroom-cap size serving. The gratin was intense, if not a tad salty for my taste, but tamed by the sweet billowy froth of the Madeira cream shooter. Down the hatch and it was a perfect first course.
First course. The mushroom gratin and Madeira shooter was a perfect beginning
The accompanying wine was an Austrian Gruner Veltliner-Gobelsburger, a beautifully acidic white mellowed by its sweet, fruity finish-- an ideal choice to stand up to this bracing first course.
With 8 courses to go anticipation of each dish was an adventure itself. Before we knew it we were presented with one of his glorious signature devises, butter-poached lobster. It was set atop a risotto cake in a tantalizing citrus-truffle cream. The risotto melted in your mouth along with the lobster perfumed with lemon and truffles. A bigger wine than the workmanlike Pouilly-Fuisse that was served might have been a better choice such as a chateau-bottled Chablis or Sancerre.
One of two fish courses served was carefully done: seared local scallops with smoked salmon and bowfin caviar, the American fish eggs from Louisiana. It was a nice touch atop the scallops served with Murrieta’s Well, “The Whip” from Livermore Valley, a pleasant California wine.
Second course. The butter-poached lobster was a standout dish amongst so many
The pasta course that followed was a good textural break from the preceding dishes. But what hath no limits in this extraordinary creation of angel hair pasta in a bath of brown butter, shirred quail egg, pepper bacon and the final touch of a nutty, sweet brown-butter nage? Oh my word, this was over the top. We had a very pleasant red California wine from the Livermore Valley; anything more intense would have been too much.
It was time for a break aptly arranged by the serving of a lemon raspberry sorbet with frozen basil infused vodka. Wow!
The remaining courses unfolded in brilliant succession, and what follows is a pictorial essay of this magical dinner.
Third course. seared local scallops with bowfin caviar and smoked salmon was the first of two fish courses
Fourth course. Here angel-hair pasta is swathed in a luxurious blend of shirred quail egg, pepper bacon and a double dose of brown butter nage
Fifth course. The perfect intermezzo was a lemon raspberry sorbet with crisp wands of tart apple and frozen basil-infused vodka
Sixth course. The grilled quail was one of the standout courses that we enjoyed. With a foie gras medallion on buttered toast with cranberry-pear gastrique it had all the essential elements: savory, sweet and saltiness
Seventh course. The boned saddle or noisette of lamb was a spectacular dish served with a sweet potato hash, braised kale and a 2006 Prunotto Barbaresco Classico
Eighth course. The dessert finale was Turin's prize winning dessert that recently won the people's reward at the Restaurant Week Celebration fete, a feuilletage "beignets" with peppered strawberry, Grand Marnier and creme chantilly. It was served with a Vigneto Saetti Rosaro dell'Emilia, Italy
Ninth course. Gilding the lily, the final parting of sundry sweet kickshaws to end a stupendous meal : Horchata and chocolate truffles, caramel nut bark, pecan orange and cranberry sandy
John Golden has written about food, dining and lifestyle subjects for Downeast magazine, the Boston Globe, Cottages and Gardens magazine, Gourmet magazine, Cuisine magazine, the New York Times and the New York Post.
In his highly opinionated blog, John reports on his experiences dining out all over Maine and his visits with food personalities, farmers and farmers’ markets throughout the state.