Station 220 Chef’s Tasting Menu, or “The Family that Eats Together Stays Together”
September 29, 2011
“Drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis on which the world revolves – slowly, evenly, without rushing towards the future. Live the actual moment. Only this moment is life.” —Thich Nhat Hanh
Tonight, I may have had the best meal of my life.
Let me back up. You know those important, defining moments in your life that you remember in vivid detail? Those times when something so momentous has occurred that your mind soaks up every detail and indelibly stamps them on your mind? I’m talking about your first day of college, or that first date that you’re sure is going to be your last first date, things like that.
I have, as I’m sure all serious foodies do, a few meals that affected me that strongly. Meals I can still taste, lingering on my tongue when I think back to them. They’re rare and very special. I can count on one hand the number of such meals I’ve had, and tonight, I had one that surpassed them all. The meal was truly perfect, and taught me a lot, not all of which was about cooking.
To preface, two coworkers and I went to Station 220, a local farm-to-fork restaurant, and spent an incredible evening in real, live, face-to-face conversation, while enjoying Station 220’s 5-course Chef’s Tasting Menu. The tasting menu is separate from their regular daily menu, and changes each night (Thursday-Saturday) based on the creative whim of the maestro heading the kitchen that night. Tonight’s was as follows:
1st: warm heirloom cherry tomatoes on a bed of freshly pulled mozzarella, lavender, and basil puree
2nd: poached pullet egg in a nest of crispy batter atop fresh herbs (mint and fennel most prominently)
3rd: pumpkin bisque with rabbit confit, celery, and rum raisins
4th: pork loin cooked sous vide with crisp potatoes, topped with hand-cut pasta rolls, and a side of pork belly with an eggplant-zucchini tapenade and carrot puree
5th: Compressed melon rolled around almond-honey tapioca pearls, spiced shortbread, and a Moscato d’Asti zabaglione
It’s an impressive menu in its own right, but it really comes alive in the details. The artisans behind this meal take everything into account, and I mean everything. Each flavor is, of course, delicately balanced with all the others, but what really makes 220 stand out is the complete sensory experience of it all. Each course is visually stunning. The pullet egg, for instance, is encased in a light, crispy batter that has extruded in the poaching liquid to look like the twigs of a nest, and there, sitting in the nest, is a perfect egg. A small sculpture, so beautiful you almost don’t want to cut into it. When you do cut into it and take a bite, there’s an array of textures – the yolk is thick, but still liquid, the white tender, and the nest around it crackling and crisp, all balanced to create a physical, textural sensation in addition to the blend of flavors. The smell of the fresh herbs garnishing the plate is impossible to miss. There’s even sound: the light, crisp crunching of the “nest.” Taste, smell, sight, feel, and sound all working in tandem to create a single, rich experience.
Outside of the food itself, 220 shines equally brightly: the atmosphere is low-key, the music is soft, and the servers are attentive but unobtrusive, all of which left me and my coworkers free to talk and laugh and enjoy each other’s company. The food, delicious and perfectly prepared, also got the conversation going. It offered a jumping off point – our collective experience of the meal – to talk about our pasts, learn about each other’s likes and dislikes, recount memorable experiences, and so on. We’ve all been told about the importance of a meal spent together, free of distraction, in building family and community, yet we rarely carve out time for this most fundamental of social rituals.
So do yourself a favor: take a leaf out of Station 220’s book and get together with friends, family, or coworkers to share a meal. Turn off your cellphones, your TV, all of the distractions, and just lose yourself in the pleasures of good food shared with good company. This is the best of what a meal has to offer: a complete, social experience that engages all of your senses at once. It is the reason that food is so powerful, so fundamental, and, ultimately, so important. Food should be pleasurable, not just functional. It can, and should, overwhelm us. It has the power to make us grateful, to remind us of the bounty of the earth, and that our place in it always exists in relationship to other living things. The chefs at Station 220 clearly understand this, and what’s more, they are doing something noble by reconnecting us with this amazing, visceral interaction with our family, our community, our earth, and ourselves:
They’re reminding us that food can change lives, one plate at a time.