Monday, July 16, 2012

A Lesson In Trust: Bring Me Food at Ninety Acres

We don't get out much.

I remember at time when S. and I were dating, when we would eat out (still not often, but more often than we do now), and travel, and even see an occasional movie.  Now, our evenings consist of email and laundry and grocery shopping and cooking and ... did I mention laundry?  Yeah, I thought so.

So it was a wonderful surprise when S. announced to me a few weeks ago that he'd gotten reservations at a place he thought I would really like, and he was going to leave it to me to guess where.

I decided that it had to be somewhere with fresh, organic, ingredients.  Check, he said.  Locally sourced? Check.  Things grown on the premises?  Check.  Personal conversation with the chef?  Oh, boy.

I'd read about Blue Hill at Stone Barns a while back, and was completely enthralled by the idea of showing up at a restaurant where many of the ingredients could be seen on your trip up the driveway, and then sitting down to a meal someone had decided they wanted to cook for you, a tasting menu created around the day's harvest.  It sounded a bit like being friends with a Michelin chef.  I never in a million years thought I'd end up going somewhere like that, though; dinner there is, as far as I'm concerned, way out of our price range, not to mention out of our geographic range, and we don't do overnights away from the kids.  S. said it wasn't Blue Hill, anyway, but that Blue Hill sounded a lot like the place we were going.

I happen to be very good at Google searches, though, and did enough sleuthing that I was able, through some creative Boolean logic, to figure out that there was another restaurant nearby that did something similar, and then remembered that I'd seen it posted on a friend's Facebook profile.  I asked S.: was it Ninety Acres at NATIRAR?  Yes, he admitted, it was.

Of course, then I was struck down by the five day version of the Black Death, and was starting to worry that I wouldn't be better in time for our reservation.  And honestly, I still wasn't completely myself, but I was well enough.  I'd lost enough weight during my enforced starvation to fit into the only Little Black Dress I own (of course I've since gained it back, let's be clear); I slipped it on, feeling very lucky indeed, and off we went.

When I was living in L.A., my then-boyfriend would take me to sushi restaurants, where he would order "Omakase."  The phrase, which basically means "I'll leave it to you," is from the Japanese word entrust, and the meal can be an invitation for the chef to do his most artistic and imaginative work; it also can get you a better deal on the highest quality ingredients.  I remember being impressed with this the first time I heard it (really, it sounded so grown up), and will also never forget the look of pure joy on the face of the sushi chefs who realized that we were not going to ask them to make yet another California roll.

At Ninety Acres, not everyone experiences "omakase"-style dining.  Most of the restaurant is your standard high-end restaurant, and a smaller room in the back, overlooking the open kitchen, is where the diners sit for the Bring Me Food (yes, that's really what it's called) option.  They present you with a list of ingredients (which you can customize according to your dietary restrictions and preferences), and scuttle off to start inventing your dinner.  As we were enjoying drinks (coconut water and lime with gin and curry simple syrup? Holy inspired cocktail, Batman), the chef, David Felton, came to our table and introduced himself, ending with "and my job is to bring you food."

Seriously?  I couldn't think of many better things for someone to say to me.

crappy phone camera picture of my sea bass in
pea shoot puree with braised radishes and nasturtium
We feasted.  First, a light broth of tomato water (who knew there was such a thing?) with an oyster, saltwort, and some other herb whose name I can't remember.  Then, a charcuterie plate with the most outstanding salami I've had in my life--and that's coming from a quasi-vegetarian.  Then, an egg over easy perched atop perfectly toasted potatoes and bacon with purslane (have I told you that one of the few things I won't eat is a segregated egg?  Well, I snarfed that sucker right down).  Fish course: a sea bass with a puree of pea shoots and fresh herbs, with a bit of fennel.  Then: squab, with braised chard and roasted beets in a demiglace.  (Yes, the quasi-vegetarian in me was weeping by now.  I wasn't listening to her.)  A cheese course: a dry aged jack drizzled with honey, served with grilled bread.  Finally, dessert: a ginger scone with fresh peaches, vanilla pastry cream, honey ice cream, and lavender.  And a small plate of hand-rolled ginger truffles and two small chocolate chip cookies.  Chef Felton brought every course, described the ingredients, answered questions.  It was, in short, amazing.

The thing about eating this way is that you have to really trust the chef.   Which isn't necessarily easy, especially if you've never eaten at the restaurant in question before.  It makes one think about trust in general.  Are you a generally trusting person?  What are the limitations or conditions of that trust?

Would you ever be willing to trust someone to prepare a five course meal for you?  Are there circumstances in which that would be the case?
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  1. Oh wow. You lucky thing.

    If anyone wants to make me a five-course dinner, I will eat it. Bring it on.

    (I'm pretty trusting, with a side of healthy scepticism, unless I have a reason to know better.)

  2. Oooh--YUM. Also, great question. I think I would be very trusting of a chef these days. I have found, as I've grown up, that I love all food.

    As a kid, I only ate mac & cheese. Just one of a million reasons I prefer adulthood to kid-dom.

    Food thoughts aside, I'm pretty trusting. Too trusting, according to G! I guess that's what happens when you grow up in a town where nobody locks their doors.

  3. That sounds amazing!! I would love to eat somewhere like that one day. And I will definitely order omakase next time we go for sushi.

    I think I'm still too trusting, even after the many times my trust has been betrayed the past few years. I keep trusting, and I keep being disappointed, for the most part. But I keep trusting.

  4. One of the best eating experiences of my life was omakase-style at a sushi bar in San Fransisco. Seriously, that meal is in the top three of my entire life, and both Charlie Brown and I are foodies who used to deal with our IF by seeking out good restaurants. :)

    I love the idea of trusting someone to make me a meal. Makes it taste better, somehow, where I've ceded all control to someone who has devoted his or her career to making amazing food.

    I'm so glad you enjoyed your dinner, and kudos to S for finding a place that you'd LOVE.


  5. That sounds lovely and delicious (even though I am a picky eater)! I have never heard of, but love the concept of "Omakase." Even though I don't know if I would ever be brave enough to try it.

    I am generally a trusting person, unless or until someone lies to me or does something else to break our trust.

    For a good friend's 40th birthday a few years ago, she hosted a small group of us in her home and it was catered (though cooked on site) by a chef and staff who sound like Ninety Acres. Everyone was made with locally grown food and before each course they would come out and tell us about it. I made myself try everything and liked a lot of it. It was a very cool experience.

  6. P.S. I meant everything, not everyone! ;)

  7. That sounds really cool! I would totally trust a chef to make whatever they wanted. Then again, I will eat anything put in front of me and so will my Hubby. So glad you had a nice time out with your Hubby!

  8. That meal (and that restaurant) sound amazing and yes, with food I'm pretty trusting. I haven't met many foods that I haven't liked. "Bring Me Food" - I love it!

  9. What a fabulous experience! Sounds like my kind of place... My husband, on the other hand, prefers buffets. Hmph.

  10. That sounds like the most divine dining experience.

    I am generally a trusting person until something happens to force me into the skeptical point of view.


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