The Curmudgeon recently had the opportunity to attend a pop-up dinner hosted by Forage South and cooked by Brandon Frohne & Co., who are
about to open a new place in the Loews Vanderbilt in downtown Nashville. It was a fun evening, new friends were met and old ones caught up with, and a good time was had by all. The Curmudgeon figured this would be a good time to dial back the snark from 11 to maybe 3 or so and offer some honest critique on the relative eve of Mason’s opening. So, without further ado:
1. Cornmeal blinis with country pate, goat cheese mousse, and blackberry thyme mostarda paired with rum, lemon, pomegranate, mint
Conceptually the dish was pretty good. The flavors were nice and the blackberry mostarda on top, once properly distributed, did a pretty good job of adding brightness to otherwise relatively heavy and flat foods. The Curmudgeon would like to note that neither he nor anyone else on the table received anywhere near the number of micro greens as pictured below, however, with The Curmudgeon himself receiving a mere two leaves. Yes, two.
At any rate, The flavors were very nice, but the dish suffered from a slightly dry blini and a lack of texture contrast. Overall, every component on the plate was very soft — it was screaming for some crunchy texture, whether an addition or something as simple as flash-searing one side of the pâté. Some sort of bitterness also would have been appreciated. Perhaps this could have been supplied by the pictured amount of micro greens, but it probably would have been better-supplied by the cocktail.
The first pairing was probably the least successful of the night. This may be because they got switched; at least in the preparatory literature, the 1st and 2nd courses were reversed but the pairings were not. At any rate, the cocktail was good on its own, but definitely could have used a heavy dose of bitterness to anchor itself and pair better with the dish. As it stood it was too similar in profile to the mostarda, aping a single component instead of rounding out and complementing the food on the plate.
2. Wilted spinach with housemade tasso ham vinaigrette, fresh ricotta, duck pastrami and pomegranate paired with whiskey, blackberry shrub, champagne, orange zest
The second course had a good concept and truly wonderful flavors but again suffered somewhat in execution. It was an intensely savory dish that The Curmudgeon thoroughly enjoyed. Ham vinaigrette? This is something others would do well to imitate. The duck was nicely spiced and everything was cut well by the brightness of the pomegranate arils.
However, the duck was not trimmed well. Now, The Curmudgeon is certainly not shy of animal fat, and the stuff was pretty tasty. But it was also nigh-impossible to cut with the supplied silverware. One person at our table tried to cut through the piece of duck and fat in four different locations before finally being able to breach the border. More of the fat probably should have been rendered out prior to service, as it made the dish functionally difficult to handle.
It also suffered from lack of texture play, which in The Curmudgeon’s opinion is a treasonous crime in a duck dish. After all, what is a tastier snack than perfectly-crisped duck skin? Soft and chewy is no way to go through life, son.
The pairing, which again could have been unintentionally swapped, actually worked quite well for this course. The bourbon added a subtle smokiness and vanilla note that tied it into the spiciness of the duck and vinaigrette, and a slightly sweeter note worked well with such a punch of concentrated meat savoriness presented by the plated dish. This was The Curmudgeon’s favorite overall cocktail of the evening.
3. Lamb bacon-wrapped porchetta of tenderloin stuffed with chicken apple sausage with fennel orange relish and rosemary red wine emulsion paired with brandy, ignited applejack, pear syrup, lemon, bitters, scotch rinse
Ah, the lamb. Another delicious concept that suffered from inconsistency and execution across the table. The turducken-esque meat wrap was perfectly delicious, and the acidity and crunch of the fennel salad added just the right contrast. The emulsion was just the icing on the cake. Really, really delicious. So why the somewhat disparaging first sentence?
Well, the amount of salad on the plate was very inconsistent across the table. The Curmudgeon got a real shaft, running out of salad halfway through the meat despite rationing it very judiciously. Others had a veritable garden nestled ‘neath their bacony cylinders. Additionally, most everyone seemed to think that the meat portion was a tad overcooked. Not horribly so, but enough to where everyone agreed it was the case. Again, wonderful concept that perhaps suffered from trying to get 60 plates out at one time.
The Curmudgeon remembers the pairing as being adequate, but not particularly remarkable. The Calvados expressed just enough apple to keep it interesting (and apple/fennel is certainly classic), but otherwise not a lot going on.
4. Bourbon toffee pudding with pork belly marmalade and marscapone bavarois paired with bourbon over molasses cubes, orange zest, espresso bitters (sparkling)
Pork belly and bourbon in a dessert is certainly a good way to catch The Curmudgeon’s attention. The dessert was probably the best course of the evening, execution-wise. It had melted a bit by the time it was served, but was otherwise in great condition. And it was delicious. It’s a shame the pork belly marmalade was left on a plancha and turned to carbon, as it likely would have really elevated the dish to the next level. At any rate, quite delicious. It wins the award for “dish most likely to be licked clean” by everyone at the table.
The pairing was … well, no one is quite sure. There must have been a hiccup of some sort, as the pairing didn’t come out until over 10 minutes after the dish was served, and everyone at the table had long since devoured the plate by then. Seems like it probably would have matched well. It was tasty enough in its own right, and the coffee notes would have gone well with the bourbon and marscapone notes.
Overall it was a very successful meal, with the majority of the missteps likely due to the very cramped conditions in the kitchen and the necessity of getting so many plates out simultaneously. Still, things like inconsistency of amount of components on a plate shouldn’t happen even in those circumstances; that has nothing to do with only having two burners.
The Curmudgeon would have liked to have seen more variety in the dish styles, as well. As much as everyone loves pork, variety is also a nice thing, and all four dishes came from that same “off-white” or light red variety of meat: duck, pork, lamb, etc. Some fish, beef, or even egg/vegetarian in there would have mixed things up; as it was, every course had the same relative “weight” to it, for lack of a better word.
Despite that, everything was seasoned well — as is widely known, The Curmudgeon is a stickler for not over- or under-salting dishes — and everyone in the house seemed to greatly enjoy the meal. The Curmudgeon looks forward to eating at Mr. Frohne’s restaurant at a time in which the chef has more control of his environment and time to perfect his ingredients.