Last night, I attended a special farm to table dinner put together by the people who run All Over Albany and White Management, operators of Creo in Stuyvesant Plaza in Albany, NY. What was really special about the dinner was that some of the producers were present and able to mingle. The dinner was $50, and an optional wine or beer pairing was $25, and the pours for this were larger than a standard pour, let alone a tasting pour. I skipped the pairing and focused on the dinner.
AOA’s Mary introduced the evening, and that led into a quick introduction by Brian White, a member of senior management at White Management.
The menu certainly looked impressive, and I was ecstatic that the cauliflower from the draft of the menu that AOA posted didn’t make it into the final version. I do hate cauliflower. Actually, it was this and a history of mediocre experiences at Creo that fueled my initial reluctance to partake in the dinner. But it’s AOA, and their functions are pretty much guaranteed to be a good time, regardless of the details, so I said, “what the hell?” Creo’s chef, Brian Bowden, seems to be moving in the direction of sourcing more local goods, so I was eager to see how the dinner would be; I was also curious to see how they’d pull off a tasting dinner for over 30 people simultaneously.
In between courses, the local provider whose ingredients would be in the next dish would give a short introduction to their operation and what we would be tasting.
The first course was “Poached farm egg, Goats and Gourmet chevre and creamy wild hive farm polenta, carrot puree, pork cracklins.”
This dish was very tasty. The polenta was creamy and rich, and the carrot puree brought an almost unnecessary sweetness to the dish. My egg was slightly hard, but I did have some yolk to distribute through the dish; other diners at my table had eggs that were almost fully cooked. The star on the dish was the chevre, and I got to meet the people responsible for it. They were very nice and took lots of pride in hearing my thoughts. The textures were all very similar, and the cracklins helped to break it up.
The next dish, “Heirloom tomato, ricotta mousse, basil puree, fire-roasted heirloom tomato vinaigrette, mache,” was a fair bit smaller.
To give a scale reference, it was served on a plate the size of a coffee saucer. The flavor was nice, and the texture of the ricotta was silky. Once I cut into my tomato, the juices ran into the other sauces, and it was impossible to taste everything with the fork I was given. That’s when I grabbed a slice of bread and sopped up the delicious purees. It wasn’t a bad dish, but it was dainty.
I was most looking forward to the next dish, “Savory roasted butternut squash panna cotta, Maplebrook Farms burrata, Meadowbrook brown butter, toasted squash seeds.”
I absolutely adore Maplebrook’s burrata, it’s normally a soft pillow of creamy goodness. The cheese that was on top of this dish was unfortunately not Maplebrook’s burrata, and I spotted it the second I tried to poke at it with the little gelato spoon they provided. In speaking with the chef, he indicated that they made their own burrata using Maplebrook’s curd but that the prolonged storage in a less than ideal location allowed the cheese to toughen up. The panna cotta, which reminded me more of a puree and didn’t have the gelatinous texture I’d associate with panna cotta, was very good, and I thought was more sweet than savory, which can be the nature of butternut squash. The seeds really helped bring some crunch, and the brown butter really elevated the flavors of everything.
I’m not aware that I’ve ever had beef from White Clover farms, so I was looking forward to the main course, “White Clover Farm ‘Sous Vide’ beef, roasted garlic-sage ‘chimichurri,’ roasted corn pudding, braised chard empanada.”
I wasn’t quite sure how to use the beautiful bulb of roasted garlic on the plate, so I squeezed out the cloves and distributed the sweet jewels throughout my bites. My beef was tough, but it was flavorful. 100% Grass fed beef is tricky to cook; I appreciate that. The corn pudding was interesting but much better with the roasted garlic. I didn’t get much from the chimichurri, but the (half of an) empanada was awesome. That’s one of those doughs that, if done right, will make anything great, but the braised chard inside was absolutely delicious.
By the last course, most of the people at my table and I pretty much conceded to the fact that the meal was small, but I wasn’t as annoyed with the size of any course as much as I was with the last, “Pan roasted apple gelee, puff pastry, brown sugar powder, apple chip.”
It was just one or two bites, and it was probably the most seasonal dish of the bunch. I thought it was delicious, but to say I wanted more was a bit of an understatement.
It definitely was a fun evening. I finally got to meet some of the people behind From Scratch Club, Farmie Market, and also some local producers that were new to me. It was also really cool to finally meet Chef Bowden, even though the first thing I said to him was how disappointed I was in the burrata. In our brief discussion, hearing some of the other things he’s done with fresh mozzarella at Creo really makes me want to go back when they’re doing such stuff (they did an heirloom tomato “carpaccio” with fresh burrata and topped with herb flowers at the height of tomato season — sounds incredible!).
While there are lots of local restaurants already incorporating local foods and seasonal concepts into their menus, it’s nice to see a place like Creo do something like this. It’s also really cool that we have a local beacon like All Over Albany that is able to bring people together and assemble meaningful events. Even though I provided some critical technical feedback above, I value the experience because it’s not everyday you get to eat with the people who produce what you’re eating.