Sunday, July 10, 2011

A Dinner Party with Strangers & the Best Egg Ever

L and I take Dartmouth Street to the South End and then walk along Tremont, until we find Barbara Lynch’s enclave at the corner of Tremont and Waltham. Tonight, we’re eating at the Chef’s Table at Stir.

But, before we go in, we have to change our shoes. I’m in flip flops and L is wearing sneakers. We’re right outside Stir, leaning against the building, and we change back to our high heels (red patent leather peep-toe heels for me, classy nude pumps for L). Shoes matter. 

What I notice first: the huge wall of books and all of the stainless steel. Stir is small and intimate – but modern and sleek at the same time – and I wish my kitchen looked just like it. And our “hosts” for the evening, Stir manager Elle and Chef Kristen, tell us that it’s almost an exact replica of Barbara Lynch’s kitchen. Lucky, lucky Barbara.

The Chef’s Table is not a traditional class. The ten of us around the square table are forgoing the Friday night rush at every other Boston restaurant and, for $145, we have the opportunity to watch dinner be prepared, to talk with Kristen and Elle, and to ask them every question we can dream up. And to eat some really good food.

Our first course is summery: wedges of chilled cantaloupe, orange segments pickled in white balsamic vinegar (a great pairing of sweetness and acidity), and baby beets. Elle and Kristen are very into fresh, local produce and it shows. My favorite part is the sear on the cantaloupe, which, from a distance, looks like grilled sweet potato. Grilled fruit should really happen more often.

For me, the seared Day Boat scallops are a page right out of the B&G Oysters book. What’s most interesting is Kristen’s attention to technique. The sous-vide carrots are razor thin and add a delicate touch to the dish.

Everyone’s enjoying their food and the wine pairings. But we all get real jazzed when the entrée is served: a small beef tenderloin served with a potato puree (equal parts potato and butter, flavored with a little white truffle oil and vanilla bean) and the eagerly-anticipated 1 ½ hour egg.  I'll call the egg the best soft-boiled egg ever. 

Steak, meet egg. Egg, meet steak. 

I puncture the egg with my fork tines and my plate is flooded with creamy, yellow yolk. I make sure that each bite of steak gets dredged in egg. 

And the wine pairing, a 2007 Qupe Syrah "BobCat Cuvee," is so smooth, so drinkable. It’s a hugely successful course.

L and I are thinking we should try to re-create this dish. It’s a simple concept: As the incredibly articulate Kristen points out, it’s steak, eggs, and potatoes. And we all love steak. When a gentleman to our left asks where tenderloin comes from, Elle has Kristen be the cow, drawing a line down Kristen's back to identify the source of the tenderloin.

Dessert is a chocolate mousse tablet, with mascarpone replacing the usual cream. I'm not thrilled with the passion fruit gelee (a matter of personal taste, that's all), but the hazelnut-butter crumble is a winner – it'd be the ultimate ice cream topping. The pairing, the 2010 Marenco Brachetto d’Acqui, is a sparkling, red dessert wine. It’s sweet (obviously) and I smell strawberries. I do like it, but my taste buds are absolutely overwhelmed with the sugar. 

The mousse, with hazelnut-butter crumble... butter is always a good idea. 
When we finish our dessert, we all look a little confused. There’s no bill to pay, no official end to the evening. And, though the atmosphere is friendly and intimate, we’re not at a friend’s dinner party. So what do we do?

There are a few more questions asked, a little debate about dark chocolate versus milk chocolate, a little talk about food bloggers in Boston. And then we begin to drift out.

After this lovely dinner, it’s hard to complain. But, if I have one criticism, it’s that the experience is anti-climatic. One delicious dish after another... and then you leave.  I think Stir has the opportunity to wrap up the evening with something small and witty – like a printed recipe for the 1 ½ hour egg and one egg from a local producer.  A dinner at Craft in New York last December ended with strudel-topped muffins (“For tomorrow!” the hostess told me). I ate my muffin the next morning in bed (my sheets were totally covered in strudel, but that’s okay).

Elle and Kristen tell anecdotes about Barbara Lynch throughout the evening and they tempt us with a run-through of Stir’s upcoming classes. All good marketing. But one little touch at the end of the evening would, for sure, bring us all into the fold.

We leave the perfect foodie bubble that is Stir. Back to the real world. L and I head back the way we came (changing shoes, of course – we're practical city girls).

We’re at The Met Back Bay, sipping martinis, when Papi charges Baltimore Orioles reliever Kevin Gregg like a bull. He throws the first punch; the field at Fenway explodes into a fistfight. Everyone at the bar swivels and watches the pile-up (and the five or six instant replays).

And then Friday night continues.


  1. I totally agree--Stir needs to share that 1-1/2 hour egg recipe. Was it cooked sous-vide? I can almost taste all that runny yellow deliciousness right now. Craft was so smart to give those little muffins as a parting gift!

  2. The egg was fantastic! I'm getting the recipe... but I think it will take me a few tries to get it right.