Monday, June 13, 2016

The anatomy of a snack - Upton 43

So, you've just gotten done walking around Lake Harriet with a friend, or playing tennis at Beard's Plaisance. You could get a nice thick hamburger and fries at any number of places nearby ... or, if it happens to be somewhere between 3 and 5, you could stop in at nearby  Upton 43 for an unusual snack.

That's the time frame during which they offer their "lounge menu" though you don't have to eat it in the restaurant's dark and uncomfortable lounge. We took a table right next to the window and watched the world go by as we consumed two most unusual snacks.

I ordered the smorgasbord, which consisted of house cured meats, assorted cheeses, pickles, and  garnishes delivered to the table on a thick oak plank. Our waiter identified  the meats as lamb liverwurst and chicken rillettes served with pickles and a mild fruity mustard; the cheeses were a standard brown goat cheese, a chevre, and something a little richer than a tilsit.

Our waiter was new at the job, and very serious about his work. After he'd brought us our orders he was pleased to inform us that "everything is made in house —except the breads, which we source locally."

"Really? You make your own cheese?" I said, a little surprised.

"Well, we get the cheese from a local cheese maker."

"What are these little orange squares?" I asked.

"Those are cheddar bits," he replied confidently. (They turned out to be pickled carrots.)

"What's with these blueberries?" I asked.

"Those are intensified blueberries. We dry them, then rehydrate them, then dry them, over and again and again. It intensifies the flavor."

Whatever had been done to them, the blueberries were extremely flavorful, and firm like a raisin rather than watery like a blueberry. The toast was also unusually tasty, and a bit of the liverwurst spread on top along with a dollop of chevre and two or three blueberries made for a remarkable taste sensation. The other cheeses were also above average. I would characterize the rillette as a little bland, though the mustard and pickles added interest.

It was too early for cocktails, and we ordered  switchels, a type of drink I'd never heard of. The waiter informed us they were very sour. They consist of soda, house-made vinegar, and natural flavorings. Hilary ordered a pear and honey switchel, I went for the quince and rosehip. They were sour indeed—not the kind of drink you gulp down and ask immediately for a refill. But they were also refreshing, and as the ice in the glass melted, my switchel improved.

 Hilary got the gravlax on toast served with egg butter, truffle, and herbs. ( I didn't see any truffles. Maybe a little truffle oil had been swizzled on top.) It came with a salad that was actually a single clump of very fresh lettuce, lightly dressed. The presentation was impressive. Lots of poise in that leaf, lots of art in the wrinkle in the salmon.

It was the kind of snack that you eat slowly, relishing every bite.  I'd love to go back and try the chicken salad “sandwich,” with gooseberries, walnuts, herbs, and tunnbrod, accompanied maybe by a rose vermouth cocktail (strawberries, clear brandy, rosemary, sage, thyme, orange peel, wormwood root, gentian root, grated ginger, vanilla, garancha, ruby port, orange zest).

At that time in the afternoon, there seemed to be no one in the place.

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