Thursday, January 3, 2008

New Year's Eve at La Morra

This year (well, last year, technically), we spent a memorable New Year's Eve at La Morra in Brookline, where we enjoyed a four-course meal complete with well-chosen wine flight. The meal was fabulous, as always, and we had a fun time with the chef, waitstaff, and other diners. I don't know what it is about holidays that makes people especially warm and friendly, but I like it! Alas, I didn't take pictures- I was too busy savouring the food!

To start, Chef Josh Ziskin sent out an amuse bouche- a shot of the most incredible, elegant, light, creamy parsnip soup I have ever tasted. He topped it with celery oil and a celery leaf, and oh man, it was scrumptious. L doesn't even like parsnips (crazy, I know), and he really enjoyed it.

For the first course, I chose the the Fried Oysters (with microgreen salad)- it seems that the clams that were on the original menu weren't available, or weren't good enough to make the cut that day- and L had the Seared Foie Gras (with short rib bomboloni and mostarda di frutta), accompanied by a light, white 2006 Vietti Roero Arneis.

If you are a vegetarian, you might want to skip this paragraph. We'd recently happened upon an episode of Chef Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations (so we are now experts, of course!) that showed some of the duck feeding techniques for fois gras, and even though it makes me uncomfortable, it wasn't nearly as gruesome-looking as I'd imagined, though I do admit that people could easily abuse the process and animals on their own farms. Yes, the way fois gras is cultivated still bothers me a bit, and I don't know if I would order it regularly- I prefer to choose meat from local farms that I am 100% sure has been humanely raised and slaughtered, I will not eat veal, and I usually pass up the fois gras on principle- but I have to admit that L's dish was handled and cooked beautifully, and it really was incredibly tasty. I do see why some chefs will fight tooth and nail for the right to serve it! As for my dish, the oysters were plump and juicy, coated with a very thin, crisp tempura-like batter, fried to perfection, and served very hot atop a small, refreshing microgreen salad dressed with a foamy vinaigrette.

For the second course, we both chose the Timballo, which came with a light red 2005 J. Hofstatter Pinot Nero “Mezcan”. When I looked at the menu the day before- yes, I am that kind of food freak- I was wavering between that and the risotto with clams on the original menu, but since the clams had bowed out for the evening, it was an easy choice.

If you've never seen Big Night, you should run out and (at least) rent it this instant, and you will know why we both picked the timballo! Chef Ziskin's recipe didn't seem quite as complicated as the version in the movie, though it was clear that it took a lot of work to make. The pastry dough encasing each individual timballo, which resembled muffin-shaped, sealed meat pies, was sweet but surprisingly complementary, though it was a bit on the dry side; this could have been remedied by the addition of a bit more tasty bolognese- we found only trace amounts of the deliciously rich, fresh sauce in both timballos. Generously-sized pieces of braised meat and fabulous homemade pasta, however, were wonderfully flavoured, tender, and cooked with interesting spices that neither of us could identify. I loved the light and airy texture of the tiny, beautifully pan-fried meatballs, though L sweetly insisted that he prefers the meatballs that I make at home. They're also tiny, but unlike these, mine contain enough crushed garlic to kill a small mammal, and L swears they taste just like his Italian grandmother's meatballs.

Feeling quite full at this point, we were nevertheless served our third course with a lush red 2000 Colle Dei Venti Barolo- L had the Wood-Oven-Roasted Lamb Sirloin (with braised lamb and pecorino arroncino) and I chose the Pheasant Breast Stuffed with Fennel Sausage and Cavolo Nero (with foie gras and chestnut budino, pheasant and vin santo sugo with kumquat syrup). The lamb was impeccable, with a gorgeous, herbed, woodsmoke flavour that had me- the one person in the world who doesn't like the taste of lamb- happily accepting forkful after forkful. We both agreed that the hot pepper stuffed full of tender, succulent braised lamb was wonderfully flavoured with a great spicy zing, and L was thrilled that the lamb steak was served on the rare side of medium-rare, which is exactly what he thinks medium-rare should be. The pheasant was very juicy and flavourful, topped with its own addictively crisp, savoury skin and a delicious lashing of sweet-tart candied kumquat sauce, and stuffed with a moist, tasty mixture of greens, ground pheasant and fois gras. It was accompanied by a fluffy, custardy chestnut budino, or bread pudding- happily, some crusts were in the mix- that won us both over immediately.

For our dessert course, I wasn't up for anything more than the airy, tart, and sweet Trio di Sorbetti- prickly pear, white peach, and mixed berry sorbets served with fresh berries and a few small biscotti. Somehow, full as I was, it was so refreshing that I ended up eating the entire serving! L went the somewhat light route too, and had a luscious lightly-Baked Apple with a nice caramel sauce and toasted almonds. Desserts were served with a sweet, heady, floral '05 Moscato...

During dessert, out came the party hats, honkers and tiny streamer-firing crackers, and, of course, a dry, fizzy Prosecco for toasting! When midnight arrived, the two of us and two other couples remaining in the ground floor dining room were invited to troop upstairs to the small second floor dining room with the chef, waitstaff, and bar/kitchen crew for a loud and raucous toast (the ONLY way to toast, in my opinion) with the remaining diners, who had already begun to happily belt out all kinds of New Years songs!

After midnight, Chef Ziskin was out and about, pouring Prosecco left and right, and, when I managed to catch him to thank him for yet another fabulous meal, he was nice enough to share the recipe for the parsnip soup (score!). He probably thought I was nuts, but I guess I was feeling a bit bold after all that wine! In any case, he indulged me, which was very kind. The soup turned out to be stunningly easy, which just goes to show that simple dishes are also often the best. I wrote down the recipe as soon as I got home, so I'll be experimenting with it- hopefully I remembered everything correctly- and I'll post it once I've got the flavour and texture right. I could eat huge bowls of that soup each and every cold winter night.

Thanks to Chef Ziskin and his staff, L and I ended the night stuffed full of amazing food, excitedly gabbing about why we love La Morra so much and how we need to go back more often, and happy to start the new year on such a high note.

In fact, we enjoyed ourselves so much that we're going back on January 13th for a 5-course homemade pasta dinner! I'm definitely excited!


lesha said...

petite, you're so chic. I love the vivid description you give of the dishes and of the feeling of enourmous well-being given by it.

actually, after reading about your new year's celebration I feel a bit of a nerdy person ;-)))


la petite gourmande said...

You're so nice! Too nice, really!

If you ever come to Boston, I'd say we'd have to meet up and take you there... but it would be silly to take you out for Italian food, eh?!

Nah, you're not nerdy at all. It sounds like you had a lot of fun (except the morning after ;).