Embracing our roots (and stems)

12 Jan

There are inklings of a shift toward more conscious eating, that chefs and restaurant owners are reaching out more to local producers and growers to stock their pantries with the freshest ingredients possible. Fruits and vegetables, it seems, are getting more limelight and publicity through this. Maybe not in a sense that we’re eating them more, unfortunately. But food makers are at least trying to give them the attention they’re due. It makes sense that this emphasis on produce-friendliness is prevalent in California, where some of the best produce grows. One restaurant that embraces the importance of letting fruits and vegetables shine is Plum, in downtown Oakland.

Plum’s M.O. is serving small-portions, and each diner should order at least 2 or more dishes, sort of pre-fixe style. The menu is separated by “snacks,” “to start,” “vegetables and grains,” “animal,” “cheese” and “sweet.” The snacks are good to share with the entire table, while everything else is small and to be eaten solo, in succession. I started with Leeks Vinaigrette, a very simple salad of leeks, radish, and watercress in a light dressing, sitting on top a spread of goat cheese. I’m in love with the combination of vegetables and cheese, so this was a perfect start for me. I love goat cheese’s creaminess and tartness, and the light vinaigrette added to that, giving the leeks and radishes a more powerful flavor than they naturally have.

I followed with the Young Carrots, which, I don’t know if it’s their youth or the fact that they were sautéed in brown butter, but these had to have been the best carrots I’ve ever tasted. I hadn’t realized until then that carrots can taste quite sweet, that it just takes the right touch to bring the best of their flavors out (I have since successfully roasted carrots at home to achieve some of the same effect on my own). And the creamy, garlicky sauce beneath the carrots mixed wonderfully with that sweetness, while the breadcrumbs topping everything added an extra crunch.

My “main” course was Slow-cooked Farm Egg, which was really Plum’s version of fried rice (that’s what it seemed like to me, but maybe it’s just because I’m Asian). It included fried farro, which I had never eaten before; I wouldn’t say I’d now choose farro over rice any day, but I did like that it was soft yet chewy, and it made the small dish very filling. There were also small bits of vegetables in this (celery, sprouts, etc.) but I happily welcomed the little bits of chicken, because after all the previous vegetables I was still craving a bit of protein.  (I think that’s evidence that I could never go full vegetarian.) And I love eggs, especially runny eggs, so I enjoyed breaking the egg over its bed of rice and mixing the yolk into everything. That made it creamier than your average fried rice but I thought it was an inventive touch.

For dessert, as much as I was tempted to get a chocolate-based dish, I was really intrigued by the olive oil ice cream that’s included with the Goat Cheesecake. I’ve had goat cheese cheesecake before, and it’s amazing, but I’ve never had anything sweet with olive oil. So, I said to myself, “When in Rome,” and shared the cheesecake with the Boyfriend. Let me tell you, I’m officially convinced now that olive oil works in anything. The ice cream had a very, very subtle sweetness, which I’m surprised I liked because I usually go for rich, chocolate-based sweets. The juices of the poached quince pooled out onto the rest of the dessert, adding more sugar to balance the creamy and piquant goat cheese in the cheesecake. I had realized upon polishing off the dish that I ought to break away from chocolate and eat fruity desserts more often. For a restaurant to successfully do that to me, well, then I have to say that they’re doing something right.



2 Responses to “Embracing our roots (and stems)”

  1. Lauren January 12, 2011 at 8:04 pm #

    Wow, looks amazing! Especially the dessert. Olive oil ice cream? So unusual!

    • TheNoviceNosher January 13, 2011 at 2:57 pm #

      Seriously, everything tasted as pretty as it looks. If I get an ice cream maker anytime soon, I am definitely learning how to do olive oil first!

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