Saturday, August 8, 2009

Fun Playing with Jeff Jarrett's Food at North End, Hudson, Ohio

On June 23, 2009, Chef Jeff Jarrett took over the kitchen at North End in Hudson Ohio. I've known Chef Jeff's cooking since he was sous Chef to Matt Mathlage, first at The Leopard in Aurora, and then at Light Bistro in Ohio City. We last tasted his cooking while he was sous to Chef Dante Boccuzzi at Dante in Valley View. (On a related note, Chef Dante reports that he is looking forward to opening the new Dante in Tremont soon.)

Our friend Kris, haling from Cleveland but resident in Japan, is on her annual visit home - and since she'd enjoyed Jeff's cooking at two of the three prior incarnations, we very much wanted to include her in our first meal at North End under Jeff. Because the menu is still a work-in-progress as Jeff makes it his own, he asked if he could do a five course tasting for us. We were delighted to say yes!

So - seven of us EGullet folks assembled at North End last Thursday to enjoy what Jeff had to offer. Since we were a little early, Bob and I enjoyed a beer at the North End's beer bar, located right by the entrance. Several taps featured brews not commonly seen around these parts, and the coolers house a fabulous bottled beer selection.

North End owner Scott Kuebler is all about playing with food and drink. The tap beers averaged about $5 a pint, and the bottles were also very reasonably priced. As for wine - North End 's trademark is offering a large selection of wines by the bottle at $10 over retail, if enjoyed in-house. In addition, flights of all types are available for a custom tasting experience. I'm sad we haven't gotten to North End more often; we'll need to remedy that!

Scott offered to add wine pairings to our meal for an additional $20, which several of us accepted. As the evening went on, he really got into the "play with your food" spirit, and gave us two selections (one each white and red) per course, to get our feedback on the best choices to pair with Jeff's food. Unfortunately, I did not write them down - but I suspect that Scott kept careful track of what went best, and will expertly pair wine with Jeff's cuisine for all.

First Course:

Tomatoes and Watermelon, Many Accompaniments

Beautiful local tomatoes were served with a smorgasbord of tastes - sweet honeycomb, micro basil, herb de Provence goat cheese, black lava salt, olive oil and, most originally - whipped olive oil, which was almost butter-like.

I especially loved the darker tomatoes, which reminded me of the Black Crim heirloom we grow in our garden every summer (which we are anxiously watching for ripeness). But the best thing about this dish was the whimsy - multiple textures and flavors to pair with each of the watermelon and the various tomatoes. I loved it!

Course 2:

Scallops, Local Corn and Home-Made Bacon Ragout, Candied Hot Peppers

Scott told us that this is the dish that got Chef Jeff this gig - and that it is already on the menu. And rightly so - a simply amazing seasonal dish making the most of the things we love best and topped with a tasty corn sprout!

The scallops were very good quality and cooked perfectly. Below was the sweet/savory melange of corn and bacon and above, the sweet/hot stickiness of candied chilies. Bob was the only one to actually cut his whole chile pepper open and add to the dish - but I found the heat in the candied chilies sufficient.

We all pronounced this dish a winner.

Since the next two courses featured meat, Jeff offered fish options for the mostly non-meat eater at the table (or for any of us who preferred them). However, though he substituted the protein, he kept the remainder of the dishes the same.

Pheasant, Wrapped in House Cured Pancetta, Local Chanterelles, Brussels Sprouts, Pomegranate Sauce

We had some intense discussion about what the heck we'd be eating this course while we were waiting for it (fortunately, Scott had a Blackberry and looked "pheasant" up for us). But once we received it, there was no doubt what it actually was - delicious!

While it is true that pancetta makes everything taste better - the pheasant was farm-raised, and not gamey at all. What a shame that I don't like the texture of mushrooms (though I did taste a bit of the chantrelle - had it been pureed into a sauce, I would have loved it, but I just can't get over that mushroomy texture). The brussels sprouts-hater at the table pronounced the individual leaves most palatable, and everyone enjoyed this course. And the delicate chives, like the corn sprout in the previous dish, were not just for show - nibbling them with the pheasant meat added a whole new tasty dimension of flavor to the dish.

Halibut, with the Brussels Sprout-Chantrelle Treatment

My taste of the fish was terrific - pristine fish, well cooked.

Next course:

Pork Belly, Asian Slaw, Caramelized Peanut and Chile Dressing, Tamarind Caramel

It was a toss-up, we agreed, which dish was better - the scallops or this - and heck, there was no real need to choose! I knew from the first bite that this had to be a Berkshire hog (and Chef Jeff confirmed that it was) - and the belly was perfect - tender, succulent, and the fat just melted in the mouth. It didn't need a thing.

The slaw underneath was very tasty - and tastier yet accompanied by the Tamarind Caramel. I would have eaten as much of the Caramel as was on the plate - heck, I could probably have eaten a whole plate of it, it was that tasty!

Seared Tuna with Asian Slaw and Tamarind Caramel

This photo does not do justice to the meaty tuna, seared perfectly and raw inside, ribboned with lots of fish fat. While I wouldn't trade my pork belly for it - it was a worthy substitute for the non-carnivorous.


Local Peaches and Blackberries, Multiple Forms

The dessert was the only dish that had a swing and a miss, though we all agreed that we liked it (it was not a strike out, just a swing and miss in an otherwise successful at-bat).

The caramelized peach half was loaded with Blackberry Espuma (or foam - Jeff hasn't completely cut his ties with the molecular gastronomy he did with Chef Mathlage!), and perched atop a refreshing ginger vanilla yogurt. Peach Salsa sat atop a spoon, which also held a perfect blackberry, for easy dipping into the yogurt. But the Blackberry Caviar didn't quite do what Jeff was hoping it would - it was actually almost neutral in flavor (a couple of table-mates got a little bitter taste). No harm done, just not as spectacular an ending as Jeff was hoping for. Still, very refreshing and not overwhelming, considering the generous portions of each of the preceding four courses. We pronounced this dinner a tremendous success, and look forward to sampling more of Chef Jeff's goodness soon!

Thursday, August 20, North End will host Chicago's Goose Island Brewery for a beer tasting dinner (at the incredible price of $40) - we hope to be there.

North End has always been a great place to play with wine and beer. The food was always good too - but is now even better with the addition of Chef Jeff Jarrett. Jeff promises to continue to emphasize the locally produced, fresh ingredients he featured in this dinner, and that is what we like to eat! North End is highly recommended for fun playing with local, delicious, creative food.

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