Wednesday, October 20, 2010

neighborhood recommendation #17: organic fine dining.

you know when you hear about a new restaurant and think "we should go there" and never end up booking a table? it's happened to me more often than i'd like to remember.

the most extreme and aggravating result of my procrastination being the news early last spring that i'll never eat at el bulli...

this time we were clever enough to call right away when we heard about a cancellation on the second night of a mind-tingling new place. i usually do not recommend places after just one visit, but i wanted to give these guys a shoutout.

how lucky we ended up to be.

restaurant chef & sommelier started serving their organic fine craftmanship last friday a few blocks away, on a quiet residential street. dog-walkers were eyeballing the patrons inside and people returning from their weekend shopping seemed genuinely surprised to see a new restaurant just pop open in the middle of their neighborhood.

a small place with seats for only 20 people, i was at first a little startled when i entered – "this is it?" the atmosphere got more relaxed instantly when you were greeted attentively. ultimately, the small room felt actually quite cosy with airily set tables to provide privacy. additionally, the clientele was more casual than at your usual fine dining establishment which added to the comfort level.

their menu consists of seasonal ingredient listings without elaborate explanations of what you'll get. i had their fish menu, but was positively surprised by the fact that they openly offered a menu vert as a vegetarian (and if i'm not mistaken, possibly vegan) option. more often than i care to remember, my dining experience at a finer venue has been tarnished by the chef's arrogance over cruelty-free options and, thus, i still cannot take for granted that vegetarians are equally served in restaurants.

to start off, we received an amuse-bouche of aubergine. what their consistency with seasonal, organic and local ingredients wins, my menu somewhat lacked in coherence: my first course, a deconstructed interpretation of ratatouille, suggested a more experimental approach than i usually go for and was the least successful part of my meal. don't get me wrong, the dish was pure in taste – especially the iced ratatouille itself that charmed with the strong flavor of bell pepper was incredible – and approachable, but did not prepare me for the follow-up.

because what came after was quite spectacular.

my second course "artichoke and gnocchi" was a four-way of the root before which the chef entered the dining room to offer the scent of a gnocchi cooking in olive oil and thyme. the fragrance of thyme filled the room several times during the night and every single time it was as intoxicating as the first.

my main consisted of zander (pike-perch) and a heavenly (did i say it yet? i mean divine) purée of parsnip. after i sent my greetings to the kitchen, the chef showed up to tell me how to prepare it.

and that's the charm of feeling welcome. you get lovingly prepared, intricately thought out dishes without secrecy or pretentiousness – just pure, shareable joy about the love of food. even the usual gimmicks of telling whose garden the fruit and veggies came from felt genuine and fit the service beautifully.

my sweetie was pleased with the meat menu, and we both received excellent recommendations for wine throughout the meal. the nervousness of the first days was tangible, but we were handled with such grace and enthusiasm that you could easily ignore minute discrepancies.

i am eager to visit again and hope they have a very prosperous start. the combination of eco and fine in one dining experience is truly invigorating and finally welcome in helsinki.

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