Thursday, October 9, 2014

Chef Greene debuts elegant fall menu for Herons at The Umstead

Just a few months after he returned to the kitchen as executive chef, Steven Deveraux Greene debuted his fall menu at Herons at the Umstead Hotel for a group of local food writers Wednesday evening. His stunning creations, partnered with a quartet of desserts from new Pastry Chef Evan Sheridan, left little doubt that he is up to the challenge of running one of the state's most elegant and acclaimed dining rooms.

Sommelier Hai Tran got the evening started outdoors on the expansive terrace with a round of fall-friendly drinks, including twists on classics like the Manhattan and the Dark and Stormy -- the latter of which, dubbed the Dark and Stormier, was an especially smooth sip. 

The Umstead's outstanding service was in evidence as suited servers deftly delivered platters of Greene's artfully plated tasting courses. Most are featured on the new harvest-themed fall menu, albeit in larger portions.

Greene said he was particularly pleased with this dish, which was served in a fantastical glass bowl that emphasized its spare beauty. An arrangement of king crab and grape gazpacho relish was doused with a delicate broth of vanilla scented Iberico ham broth poured from small tea pots.  (On the menu, the crab is replaced with Scottish langostines.)

Greene showed good humor with his Poussin Corn Dog, a savory bite of battered, deep-fried chicken set atop a dollop of truffled mustard and peppery yellow arugula blossoms. He said the dish dated back to his first stint at Heron's, before he became executive chef across the street at the stellar An Cuisines.

The beef tartare's bite of fresh horseradish was tempered with lemon confit and tarragon and polished to a glossy sheen with what was described as a beet-dashi veil. A round of buttery brioche cleverly concealed PB, FG and J -- a decadent blend of peanut butter, foie gras and muscadine jelly.

The Lobster Agnolotti was a pocket of squid ink pasta warmed in browned butter and served atop creamed sunchoke. The curiously named Beet Toast was revealed as a moist slice of sorghum bread with a wedge of roasted beet lacquered with a dressing that included vinegar infused with long-leaf pine needles gathered from the hotel grounds.

The showstopper of the evening was the still-warm Calvander Custard, in which Greene mellowed the aged, raw milk Chapel Hill Creamery cheese with more truffle and topped it with slivers of celery and cubes of roasted apple. Lucky guests congratulated Greene on the triumph, which should not be missed when choosing from the menu.

Four bite-sized desserts followed, starting with a creamy persimmon pudding framed with pine nut brittle, candy cap sabayon and date glaze.  It was accompanied by a single macaron shell garnished with a chocolate filled with a luscious calamansi citrus gel, a curl of pomegranate molasses and dusting of edible gold leaf.

The tasting concluded with a creamy chestnut custard with fig jam and toasted milk, and the beautifully plated Autumnal Cake, an appealingly light square of pear cake with roasted pear and walnut powder. If you took your time and savored the latter in small spoonfuls, you were rewarded with the discovery of a golden scoop of caramelina mousse on the bottom.

Guests were sent home with a harvest basket filled with a pair of butternut squash and fresh herbs from the SAS Farm, a mini loaf of Autumnal Squash Bread, and Sheridan's recipe to recreate at home. 

Autumn Squash Bread
By Pastry Chef Evan Sheridan

4 oz/111g maple syrup
2.5 oz/75g sugar
1 whole egg
1.6 oz/46g vegetable oil
6.75 oz/190g pureed roasted butternut squash
1/4 tsp/2g baking soda
1/8th tsp/4g ground clove
1/8th tsp/4g nutmeg
1/8th tsp/4g fresh sage, minced
1/8th tsp/4g fresh rosemary, minced

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cream the egg with the sugar, oil and maple syrup. Add in the roasted squash.

Sift the dry ingredients, then mix into the batter until just combined. Fold in the fresh minced herbs.

Bake in loaf pan coated with butter or cooking spray for 30-45 minutes or until the bread is firm on the top and an inserted toothpick comes out clean.

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