Bresca, chinese food, chinese new years, new years, year of the bumble bee, year of the dragon

2012: Year of The Bumble Bee

2012 is suppose to be a very interesting year, what with all the talk of Mayan calender ending and a well attended Zombie Apocalypse event being organized on Facebook. In a few weeks, we will be entering the “Year of the Dragon,” according to the Chinese Zodiac calendar. Though the symbol for “Dragon,” danced above our heads on New Years Eve, The Missus and I celebrated the start to the “Year of the Bumble Bee” at Bresca.

I’ve mentioned Bresca a few times on this blog. My love for the food, and respect for Chef Kern Desjarlais runs deep, but this wasn’t going to be your typical night at Bresca. Much like her recent wine dinners, led by Joe Ricchio, have brought theme meals of Bresca influenced Estonian and Greek dinners, this was going to take the food of Bresca to Hong Kong with a five course menu. And I was more excited about this meal than I was Christmas.

The evening started off with, not bread and oil, but with puffed wheat cakes and salty sweet popcorn served with a sweet chili sauce. To say that the snacks weren’t odd–it wasn’t normal looking popcorn and the wheat cakes weren’t so much that, but rings–would be lying to you. To say that they weren’t addictive would also be a bold face lie, especially when dipped into the house made chili sauce. The dish was a great little reminder that we weren’t in normal Bresca mode.

The first course of the evening was a duo of “Little Jewels,” which were composed of a deep fried quail egg topped with caviar and a steamed lobster dumpling, placed atop a smear of spicy sauce. The tiny, panko breaded egg was the first to go. It exploded a warm, custardy yolk under the crispy breading, the moment I bit into it. The caviar, a fantastic little treat all on its own, added a bit of salt and added richness to the nibble. Its companion was far more delicate, though. I’m not quite sure if anything else was nestled in the supple dumpling skin with the lobster, I just know that it melted quite easily on our tongues. We both looked at each other, kind of nodded our heads and said, “Wow.”

The second course gave us an option of either a “Singapore Salade,” comprised of shaved rare beef, greens, vermicelli, peanuts, herbs and umeboshi dressing or “Black Pearl Hot and Sour Soup,” with cloud ears, white fungus, lily bulb, tofu, egg with a black truffle ‘bun.’ I opted for the soup, with The Missus going for the salad. Hands down, I won. While her salad was beautifully dressed with a rich, salty vinegrette and the marbled beef melted on your tongue, nothing could have beat that soup. Nothing. I actually wanted to lean over to the table next to us and tell them all to order the soup. Full of foreign fungi and tofu, I rationed every spoonful of the clean, earthy broth. Occasionally, though, I did pause to sneak in a bite of it’s accompanying crostini loaded with black truffle shavings. When Corey, our waitress, came over to see how we were enjoying things, I looked up at her and said, “I want to eat this every day of my life.” I had absolutely no issue with picking up my bowl and drinking down every last drop. I was pleased.

The third course, XO noodles, was next. Fresh thin egg noodles, tossed with XO sauce, dried scallops, red wine sausage and scallions. Outside of an accidental eating of a full thai chili pepper on her part, this was one of The Missus’ favorites. Like the previous two courses, the flavors were gently balanced, which is important when dealing with XO sauce and dried scallops as they can come off extremely salty and fishy. Instead, it was a bowl of comfort with familiar flavors like the rich egg noodles and red wine sausage mingling with the not so common flavors of the sauce. I believe it was this course that made me declare that I was ‘ruined’ for Chinese food for life.

Main courses soon followed, though we weren’t quite sure how much room we had left. The Missus, at my poking and prodding, ordered the five spice roasted duck that was served with a scallion pancake, pickled cucumber and hoisin sauce. I managed to snatch away one tiny bite of the duck from her plate and I can tell you that the duck skin was ridiculously crispy and the warming flavor of the star anise in the five spice was front and center. The scallion pancake was crisp, instead of doughy, and reminded more of Roti Cani than any scallion pancake I’d had previously.

I opted for the pork dish, which was a slow roasted shoulder cut served on top of an insanely rich parsnip puree with apples and cippolini onions. Again star anise was the main flavor here, rubbed on the outside of the pork, which was left to marinate to absorb the flavors. The sauce was, I’m guessing, a combination of soy, chinese vinegar with, perhaps, a bit of citrus and ginger. Whatever the components, it was fantastic ladled over the perfectly tender slab of pork shoulder. But, the best component was actually the least asian on the plate: the parsnip puree. Apparently Chef Desjarlais wanted us to be fat and happy going into the new year because there had to be a ridiculous amount of butter and cream mixed into the velvety puree.

Dessert, always the highlight at Bresca, rounded out the already spectacular meal. Truthfully, I had stopped reading after “Buttermilk panna cotta” and didn’t find out, until later, that the other option was an apple beignet with creme fraiche ice cream and spicy walnuts. The Missus and I both ordered the panna cotta which, just when you thought a perfect dish couldn’t be improved upon, you’re proven wrong. Horribly and fantastically wrong. This panna cotta was made into a miniature sized portion and served with a coconut tapioca base, the usual tropical fruits, a puff pastry coconut lime stick, passion fruit caramel raspberry sorbet and raspberry fruit lantern.

Got all of that? Yes, I know… iphone photos suck for food blogging and this photo does absolutely no justice to how beautiful the plate was, but I had to put it up because of how beautiful that fruit lantern was on the plate. Like so many other trips to Bresca, the dessert nearly brought us to tears. While the panna cotta is rightfully the star, it was the coconut tapioca base that had me swooning in my seat and finding room in my belly to finish it down to the last spoonful.

While this may have been a one off menu for Bresca, I hope that Chef Desjarlais considers doing this sort of themed menu every year, perhaps for the celebration of the Chinese New Year. The soup, hands down, was the best dish I’ve had all year and the XO noodles and ‘Little Jewels’ weren’t far behind. Not a bad way to end the year.

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12 days of cheesemas, Bresca, burrata, cheese advent calendar, cheese pairings, counting down my favorite holiday cheeses, holiday cheese plates, maplebrook farms vermont

12 Days of Cheesemas–Day 11


(photo from TheKitchn.com)

One of the best dishes I ate this year had Burrata at the center of it. It was at Bresca, back in March, during Restaurant Week. Dawn and Adam were with The Missus and I, settling in for a four course dinner when the plate arrived. We hadn’t ordered it, mind you, but Chef Krista Desjarlais generously surprised us (she knows my love of cheese) with an antipasto course of Burrata, prosciutto, roasted tomatoes, capers, olive oil, aged balsamic and bread. The table didn’t speak for over the course of the next twenty minutes. We were too focused and our mouths were too full to articulate how wonderful it was at the time. I think I thanked Chef Desjarlais for the month for her kindness and the amazing food we had that night. Burrata is NOT a cooking mozzarella, it’s filled with cream and melty curd, so don’t waste it on a pizza. Make a plate, similar to the one that we were served, and enjoy some comfortable silence with some friends over one of the simplest–yet, exquisite–cheeses in the world.

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Bresca, james beard awards, maine chefs

Bresca up for a JBA

Krista Kern Desjarlais, owner/chef of Bresca, was announced as a finalist for the James Beard FoundationsBest Chef: Northeast.’

Other nominees in this category are:
Tim Cushman
Gerry Hayden
Matt Jennings
Tony Maws
Eric Warnsted

Many, many congratulations to Chef Kern Desjarlais and her small, but solid family at Bresca. Best of luck to her when the awards are handed out May 9th, in NYC.

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best meal..ever, Bresca, eating out, eating too much

33 dishes, 5 restaurants, 3 days, 2 people–Day Two pt. 1

March 5,2010–early reservation

Bresca: This is our first trip in since the summer of 08. Another unofficial participant of Maine Restaurant Week.
3 Courses for $40.10

First Impression: I felt very, very girly walking through the door. The lighting made everything seem like a dreamscape; menus were pink; side table was a gorgeous antique. The banquette seating really opened up the dining area and eliminated the cramped feeling that we had before. The music was varied and the staff nicely controlled the volume as we noticed the music lowered was turned down to a near whisper as the general buzz of the restaurant increased.

1st Course
The Mrs:
Late Winter Salad: Candy Cane Beets, apple, walnuts, endive, lettuce, buttermilk dressing

Me: Foie gras bon bons, winter fruit chutney, toasted almond; pickled Sparrow Arc farm pumpkin; Chorizo and gorgonzola stuffed dates


There wasn’t a bad piece of food on either one of our plates. In fact there could have been a platter of the
Foie Bons on the table and I still would have longed for a bit more. And while the foie was velvet, it was actually the chutney that did it for me. And, for those that know my love of fatty livers, that is a bold statement. But, it was all there: Salt, Sour, Bitter, Savory and Sweet–all perfectly balanced. While I was moved at Boda, I was immediately connecting to the plates that were coming out. The salad the Mrs. ordered had come at a high recommendation from Kate and was greatly enjoyed by both. Everything about the dish was light and refreshing, not to mention just visually stunning.

Split: Sea Urchin Linguini ~ uni, evoo, basil, mint, lemon zest–Add on for $11

Before we went, I had read a recent interview with Erik, Krista’s husband, where he talks very deeply about her cooking and the balance she keeps of masculine/feminine…and I kept that in the back of my mind throughout this dish, as he mentions it specifically in the interview. Having never had Uni, I decided to take a shot at it.
And, as it turned out, it was everything that I had hoped it would be. A co-worker who also had ordered it the previous night called it “Ethereal” and I have to say he’s not far off in his assessment. The level of delicacy and assertiveness that was brought into balance in that half portion, which was a perfect sharing size, is absolutely unmatched. Buttery, lush and surprisingly light this is truly one of the best dishes I have ever eaten in my lifetime.

The Mrs: Honey Glazed Duck Breast: roman trading spices, Amarone poached dried plum, frisee, soft mascarpone polenta

Me: Fish Special:Seared Cod with braised tomatoes, capers, basil, hericot verts

Duck is a rare find in our house as I’ve never gained a great appreciation for it nor the skills to properly cook it. So, when the opportunity arises for the Mrs. to order it when we’re out, she jumps at the chance. Bresca, from reading various reviews, apparently does a mighty fine version of it as it seems to be one of the most reviewed items from her menu (you can include the Panna Cotta on that also). And while I could have gotten fat and happy just sitting there with a bowl full of the polenta the duck was still just a little too gamy for my tastes. The Mrs., however, loved everything about it.
I’m not quite sure if the Cod dish has exactly those components (fuzzy memory and all) but I know that the dish itself was wonderful. This skin on the cod was beautifully crispy, the salt of the capers balanced the sweetness of the cherry tomatoes that popped from the slightest pressure of my fork. Probably the 2
nd best fish entree I’ve had–only to be rivaled by Evangeline’s Halibut and micro-mussels that I had last year.

Dessert: The Mrs.:Strawberry and Banana Creme Brulee Napoleon
Me: Buttermilk Panna Cotta with tropical fruits

By this time, I was drunk on food and the desserts were like doing shots when you know you should have stopped a few tips back. But, honestly not having dessert at Bresca would be foolish and short of an insult. And, just as quickly as we beat back the idea about being able to fit any more food, we were suddenly invigorated and wanting a second round, especially the Napoleon–which Kate does a great job summing up during her own venture out.
But, we needed to go as there was only an hour or so between this meal and our next venture… not to mention that was also ready to repeatedly stab the pretentious local English Professor, who spent the majority of the 2 hours dining next to us and seemed to be slowly torturing her waitress with her wine knowledge and special demands. I’ve got a pretty high threshold for pretension and wine/food snobs–you kind of have to be when it’s your job–but this woman was insane. Ordering for her two friends, completely dominating their conversation with her own verbal diatribes on wine, how she’s been given certain perks at Bresca(1/2 glasses of wine, I guess was her big thing because we heard it overandoverandover again) and why she doesn’t like the new younger professor on staff, but feels he’s good for the students because he can relate more to them. 2 hours of this.

Breakdown:
Ambiance: Stunning. One of my absolute favorite moments of the night was sitting, just beyond the service nook leading to the kitchen, and watching Krista’s shadow kind of dance around on the wall while she plated desserts. I loved the contrast of the softness and feminine feel, while above on the chalkboards is the drawing of a steers head and another drawing, just below the ‘1 cheese’ listing, nudging you to “Eat More Pig”..with a heart over the ‘i’.
Service: Impeccable and welcoming. We were one of the first tables to be seated and we never felt dropped or forgotten about throughout the entire meal, even as they attended to needier customers. Another nice feeling was that there was never a point where we felt rushed, which I heard some friends had experienced during their outings for RW.
Food: There is one quote to best sum it up: “When I am eating, I know nothing. But when I am finished eating, I begin to understand. ” –Don Quioxte During the meal, we were caught up in the lushness and decadence of it all..but, later on that evening I realized that this was simply the best meal that I have ever had the privilege to eat. I can’t believe it took us so long to go back and now it seems I can’t dine there again soon enough.

10/10

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