Butternut Squash Polenta and Other Mayhems: Deadpan Restaurant’s Opening Nights

So much has happened in the last few weeks. Amin is now gallivanting in Dresden, and Judy has proven a valuable addition to our kitchen cohort. We at Deadpan Restaurant had our opening debut a few weeks ago, and then a repeat event this past weekend. It was, in a word, insane. Five dishes, 12 guests per event, hours upon hours in the kitchen, and I don’t think I’ll ever look a pot of polenta in the eye again.

Let’s talk about the menu. Since we’re new at this whole restaurant thing, we haven’t really figured out how to simultaneously serve a secret supper and photodocument it, so bear with us on the pictures!

We started with a red wine oxtail and beef tongue stew, served as chilled, jelly hemispheres, with a layer of homemade Momofuku pickles on a toasted baguette round.

Probably the most challenging dish of the evening, our tongue-and-tail amuse bouche was cast in a mold designed and cut by Amin. Pretty cool, huh? We value the use of all parts of the animals we eat, and wanted our guests to do the same. To our surprise and delight, nobody tried to escape the event while we described this dish, and everyone cleaned their plate! On a side note, those pickles are so addictive and delicious – definitely at the top of my these-are-so-easy-to-make-i’ll-never-buy-them-again list.

For our starter, we served the dish that has been our pride, joy, and near-undoing for the last several months: pork belly with butternut squash polenta. Cured for two days in a mix of brown sugar, sea salt, cinnamon, cloves, star anise and black pepper, and then braised for upwards of three hours in a pot of chicken stock and Delirium Tremens (famed as the best beer in the world), this local pork from Autumn’s Harvest Farm is tender, buttery, and melts in your mouth. The butternut squash polenta is cooked on the stovetop and then baked (or is it fried?) on cast iron with a lot of butter. We made our sauce out of a reduction of the braising liquid and some Cornell Orchards cider. This isn’t actually the pork belly we served, but an earlier incarnation that looks mostly alike:

We also served some cider mulled with the same spice mix that we cured the belly with. Still with us, even through the bad flash photography? Our other three dishes, after the jump…

Our third dish was a palate cleanser: quenelles (a.k.a. football shaped lumps, originally and traditionally made of meats or fish, but now just any mushy substance) of fresh grape sorbet. We seeded, peeled, and pureed the grapes, then added lemon juice and simple syrup, and stirred in crushed dry ice. Voila! Sorbet. Pretty cool. Sadly, no pictures this time around, but we’ll do a recipe post soon enough!

Our main was a wilted arugula salad with walnuts and figs, surrounded by brined, pan-fried chicken breast, graced by a quenelle of goat cheese whipped with shallots. I’m never eating normal, non-whipped, no-shallot goat cheese again.

That green puree you see is a mixture of spinach and arugula, and has a wonderful, tangy bite. Did we competitively squeezee-bottle it into our mouths in the kitchen after the dinner was over? Maybe. Here’s a closeup of the entree.

Finally, we served a dessert of chocolate torte over crisp madeleine biscuit with chocolate ganache, raspberry coulis, and earl grey-infused whipped cream. Best at room temperature, torte is flourless and crazy-rich. The photos speak for themselves.

All in all, it was a beautiful two nights. Our guests were gracious and generous, we didn’t have any major disasters in the kitchen, we didn’t break any dishes, and dinner-table conversation didn’t lull once (lulz). Thank you to everyone who joined us. Here are some final action shots!

Irene, interrupted while considering a bed of very green and flavorful arugula while trying to pretend she’s not drinking a milkshake during dinner preparations.

Daniel and Amin, straining cider through a cheesecloth.

Max, performing some classic gesticulations while describing a dish.

Daniel, laughing at the sheer volume of dishes to be done.

Can’t wait for the next event!

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9 thoughts on “Butternut Squash Polenta and Other Mayhems: Deadpan Restaurant’s Opening Nights

  1. Chloe Zelkha says:

    Woah baby.

  2. Dee Myra says:

    Wow, what a beautiful looking dinner!

  3. admin says:

    waaaaa so proud of you! so much to say.
    1. i want that chocolate cake in my mouth immediatemente.
    2. pickles! make me some!
    3. that pork marinade sounds amaaaaaaaaaaazing.
    4. it’s been about 9 months and we still have not quite learned how to simultaneously serve and photodocument a secret supper. it’s a tough beast. well done you.
    5. you guys are awesome. awesome awesome awesome.

  4. LinziMG says:

    This is really impressive, was this your first time? Presentation looks amazing. I second Mei’s comment on the chocolate cake… in my mouth right now!!

  5. Dave says:

    Very impressive work, guys! You clearly put a lot of thought into this menu and its execution and I can almost smell some of these dishes just from the photos 🙂

    I look forward to having you on the podcast soon!

    –Dave

  6. irene says:

    @Linzi – This was indeed our first dinner! We do have leftover torte, but I’m not sure how it would keep in the mail…

    @Mei – The pickles are actually ridiculous. When we’re home in a few weeks they can constitute most of our diet.

    @Dave – Thanks so much! Hoping to have you at one of our events soon.

  7. David says:

    This looks amazing. Let me know if you ever want to throw one in Boston. I can definitely turn out some guests!

  8. Grandma Phyllis says:

    I just finished breakfast, but after reading your descriptions, and carefully checking the pictures, I’m starving. I wish I could join you. Congratulations on all your hard work. Love to all.

  9. Snza says:

    All that looked way toooo fun and way toooo Marvelous

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