Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Uncle Jimmy Has Been Reborn

Oh sweet sweet gentle baby Jebus.

My socks have officially been rocked. Picture socks and then picture socks rocking out with little tiny guitars, and little tiny rock and roll attitudes, and that is me.

It takes a lot... I mean a LOT to rock Uncle Jimmy. Ironically a 5 foot-nothing whirlwind of cuteness and her soft spoken dream of a husband were the ones to get me.

I'm talking James, and I'm talking good stuff.

Walk with me...

In this world there are people that "get it", and there are people that don't "get it". The James owners, Jim and Kristina Burke, reside safely within the "get it" category.

I could run you through all the accolades, the awards, the impressive statistics... I could tell you about the years they spent living and cooking together in Italy, and how they trained in Philadelphia's best kitchens. I could describe how they worship food like some worship gods, that they know more about a cut of meat or a bottle of Barbaresco than some know about the back of their own hand... but what does it matter? What you really need to know is that they "get it" and the "it" is food and wine.

As of late, our mutual food obsession has us becoming fast friends and the other night I was invited over for dinner... an event that moved mountains in Jimmyland.

Let's start with the place, the space, the terroir if you will. First, I have never seen better restaurant lighting. Yay James. You nailed one of the most important things. Good job (me=patting you on the back).

Next, candles... There are a lot of them. Another good job. This detail falls within the category of really-good-seemingly-elementary-but-totally-underutilized details. Double yay.

Oh, and flowers. Check. Yay yay yay.

I can't forget about those big ol' lazy fans. How I love them. They just drowsily twirl about whispering things like... "Relax. Really, have another glass. It's fine, you deserve it."

My final point on ambiance. It isn't what you notice. It's what you DON'T notice. You don't notice spots on the perfect vases, full of perfect flowers, set on perfect tables. You don't notice toilet paper on the floor or a missing spoon when you order soup. You don't have to notice these things because they have already noticed for you.

Right. Now the food.

We ate in the interior room all cozy and private. It's the perfect place for a par-tay.

The meal started off on the very best foot. I have two words for you...

Plugrá Butter

If you're not familiar, this is butter that is actually better than butter. That's right. It's better then itself. Ha ha.

Miraculously, Plugrá butter actually contains more butter then its doppelgänger, butter... 82% butter fat compared to your run-of-the-mill 80%.

Did you just pee in your pants a little bit? I know. Seems too good to be true, like bacon that's more bacony, but it IS true. Not only that, but it comes in a beautiful little dish, with a beautiful little sprinkle of sea salt ready to be slathered on one of three bread choices.

The selection of three is generous but I went right for the Italian bread with its gaping air pockets and a crisp brown crust. I will simply say that it's probably one of the finest Italian breads you can get your American hands on.

Now my palate was re' ta' go. The anticipation and excitement were building.

The chef had prepared a special menu for the evening, and to set the culinary scene he prepared an amuse bouche of honeydew melon, whipped vanilla ricotta, locally sourced black walnut, and a honeydew melon gelee. The perfect little bite was crowned with one single chervil leaf all perky green and moist with freshness.

The earthy hint of black walnut was so distinct that I felt as if directly transported to the lonely hill where the black walnut first grew ripe with age. It was a perfect opening.

Next came house-cured and pressed foie gras with fresh local sugar plums. Served atop a crispy house-made rosemary brioche there was a perfect snap to juxtapose the smoothness of the foie and plum.

The drizzle of freshly reduced sweet-sour elderberry syrup was so rich that it was almost savory and nothing could have elevated the flavors of the dish more then the sprinkle of Fleur De Sel. I've never had foie gras so delicate and I don't know if I can ever go back. It's so mouth-melty to begin with but this mousse-like consistency made me want to shed tears of joy and contentment.

At this point I was literally giddy with the frivolity of it all and my eyes turned into saucers as Kristina kept ordering more and more delicious wines to pair with the meal.

Through the course of the evening we indulged in:

A musky - Cuvée 732 Brut Jacquesson n.v. Champagne, France
A sweet and stout - Domaine de la Motte Coteaux du Layon 2005 Rochefort, France
A balanced - Rosé ChâteauCalissanne 2007 Provence, France
A mind-numbingly good - Pomerol, Grand Vin Château Rouget 1995 Bordeaux, France - which I swear to god, when paired with the fresh English pea purée, tasted of sweet coconut cake
Plus a - Monbazillac Domaine Grange Neuve 2001 Monbazillac, France - that a friend so aptly described as tasting like a glass of a million little droplets of the juice from a honey suckle flower.

The evening was moving from incredible to once-in-a-lifetime, and I was only pulled from my state of euphoric delirium when out of the kitchen came our next dish. Gently warmed big eye tuna 'cubes' (grade ++) had been poached in fine Italian olive oil and served alongside cucumbers, warmed by their time spent sautéing in duck fat. Fennel confit was tossed in a light fresh lemon dressing and accompanied the dish. The trio was simply delicious that it perfectly highlighted the fundamental commitment of James - preparing new school local ingredients in an old world style. Mwa!

Next came the mother load. The dish that I personally will be telling stories about when I'm 90 years old and sitting on my front porch crapping my pants... One for the memory books is an understatement.

It was the Sweetbreads that had me seeing stars. Still steaming from the kitchen it rested on my plate just waiting to be devoured... each edge perfectly crisp and perfectly golden.

What was that it sat on warming like a freshly laid egg? Ahh! A squash blossom tenderly browned and stuffed with zucchini and pancetta. Bravo.

As if that wasn't enough... accompanying this vision were two Herculean shavings of fresh Umbrian summer truffles whose circumference rivaled that of my fist. I could barely keep my jaw off the floor. Kristina must have found my look of shock amusing so she shouted "Pick that truffle up and slap it on your tongue like communion!" I melted. Those words were like sweet angelic voices to the ear. I was overwhelmed with emotion.

Just then Chef came out. I prodded until he told me the secrets of this dish. The sweetbreads had been breaded in rice flower and sautéed in Pellegrino (is that what heaven is like?). He described the squash blossom as being stuffed with green and golden zucchini, ricotta cheese and pancetta. The piece (and I say piece intentionally as it was a piece of artwork) was prepared with such care that the innards of the zucchini had been pureed to use as a sauce which garnished the plate. The care that had been put into the preparation of each bite of this dish touched and amazed me.

Just when I thought it couldn't get any better out came the Breton Lobster. It was the most tender tail of lobster I had ever witnessed. The tail delicately hugged itself atop a bed of brilliant green basil risotto worthy of nothing less then it's very own portrait be painted.

I looked around the table eager to grab a knife to dig in. "WELL!" I thought. "I caught them on their first mistake. No knife! Ha!" I knew this meal was moving along too flawlessly. I waited patiently for the waiter but soon my patience wore thin. I decided to attack this beauty with my fork. I was prepared for a fight but was shocked when the meat gave way with no resistance. It was like someone had played a magic trick on me. Touché! They had made no mistake with the knife. The lobster had been poached in butter and was cooked so perfectly that no knife was necessary. Ha! Another point for James.

The lobster's tenderness in the mouth was sensual. Its likeness to a bone marrow or succulent piece of butterfat prompted us to deduce that it was "like a little baby's bottom that just melts in your mouth." I couldn't believe what I was experiencing. Along with the pronounced lobster flavor was smoke and earth and barn yard... so complex.

Next I took a big fork full of the risotto. The surprising take away was not that the risotto was perfectly cooked, it was, (a notoriously difficult dish to nail, but one that James is known for) but that the dish had an overwhelmingly fresh basil taste. The basil had obviously been cooked in the risotto, as no evidence of fresh leaves existed, but it tasted as if it was fresh out of the earth. Incredible.

And there was more... Next came Wild Holland Turbot with butter braised chanterelles and a minted English pea puree. The Turbot was roasted on the bone for a strikingly rich flavor. Each piece meticulously cut to match your dining partners, each mushroom exactly so on the plate.

I was high. High off my ass. I couldn't resist the urge to clap like a child, and the shitty grin on my face was now becoming more of a relaxed perma-smile.

I thought I must have died and gone to heaven and I couldn't begin to imagine what baby I had kissed or old lady I had helped cross the street to deserve such riches.

I could have died happy at that very moment. If a blow dart would have taken me out I would have gone down with my thumbs up.

BUT, that would have been a grave misfortune since just then I spotted - from the corner of my eye - a triumphant, gorgeous, and masculine looker in the form of Four Story Hill Farm Cote du Boeuf.

That's right. Cote du Boeuf. If it had been that kind of party I would have stuck my dick in it. Holy hell. I could have just given the f up right there... Save yourself. I will be here drowning in my Cote du Boeuf. Please. Just let me go. It was meant to be... there is no where else I would rather expire....

It was a prime 28-day aged cut of meat. It was perfectly cooked and served atop Tarbais beans, the only true cassoulet bean, all rich and white and meaty in their own right.

Waiting patiently on the side of the plate were 'purple haze' heirloom carrots from Green Meadow Farm. Each perfectly bite sized batonette was tie dyed by nature, purple and golden They had been cooked in a truffled glaze. Holy f. They were nothing short of succulent.

I had been carried to an all-time cataclysmic height. After this crescendo I would need to be let down gently... lowered back down to earth slowly and gradually.

Luckily for me the meal had been designed just so, and the gentle release came in the form of a due of Jasper Hill Farms cheese - Constant Bliss with Green Meadow Farms peaches, and Winnemere with house made apple honey. Kristina informed me that James only carries domestic cheeses and I thought that just dandy.

Next, an intoxicating lemon verbena 'water ice' came with local blueberries. It provided the perfect bridge to one of the most enjoyable desserts I have had in a very long time. A dense chocolate mousse was served with Fleur De Sel and pine nut praline. Its bitter chocolate and intense salt flavor were perfectly checked in a deep burgundy black pepper poached cherry sauce.

Oh. And that was it. I could stand it no longer. I was stuffed to the gills with the most succulent treasures a person could imagine. I don't know if I have ever been treated to such an expanse of riches.

I felt like a million American dollars. The hour was getting late. We were by far the only diners left in the house. I was having such a wonderful time, but I felt that it was time I get our of their hypothetical hair.

At the mere mention of this notion I was told to 'sit right there' as Kristina went to grab another bottle of Pomerol. Sigh... The perfect end to a perfect evening.

At the end of it all I took flight and walked on air back to my bed where I think I wore a smile all night long as I slept... like a baby... a baby on wine, foie gras, and truffles.

Wow. I can never again deny that I have truly been blessed.

JAMES - 824 South 8th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19147
(215) 629-4980


1 comment:

Tyler Prime said...

Excellent write up, I have only been for drinks but will drop in for dinner after your review!