FireLake chef Paul Lynch will debut his cooking in NYC tonight to members of the James Beard Foundation. The dinner is themed "Celebrating America's Heartland" and features local Minnesota ingredients, many of which are on FireLake's menu.
The menu includes: Heirloom Corn Crusted Star Prairie Crimson Trout with Brussel sprouts, house cured duroc pancetta and cider dressing; Red Oak Hot Smoked Doraisamy Farm Elk Loin with a forest mushroom-barley risotto and a celeriac and crayfish fricassee; Cherry Smoked Lamb Ribs glazed with Alderman plum chutney; Caramel Bock Spice Cake served with a roast parker pear sorbet, red current syrup, pepparkkor tuile
Want to eat what the James Beard aficionados are eating? While these entire dishes aren't currently on FireLake's menu, similar versions are. For instance, there is an Heirloom Corn Crusted Walleye dish on the menu and the mushroom-barley risotto is available as a side dish. Also, ingredients such as the grass-fed elk are available, though the preparation is different.
As my server at FireLake told me, elk tastes somewhere in between venison, bison, and beef.
On a recent visit to FireLake (31 S. 7th St.), I tried the elk steak ($26.95). It was served with Swedish mustard, native wild rice, pear and cranberry pilaf, and a blackberry-onion compote. Chalk it up to much of the kitchen being in NYC for the big James Beard dinner, but my own dinner fell short of expectations. While the elk itself is a tasty meat that is reminiscent of beef, the dish as a whole was too sweet. I'm a big fan of mixing berries with savory foods, but this was like having my meat drenched in jam. The pilaf had great textures in it, crunchy and chewy. It was fun to eat, but again seemed to add to the sweetness of the compote and elk. There didn't seem to be enough sour cranberries or firey mustard to balance out the super-sweet notes of the other elements on the plate.
FireLake's cheesecake is made with ricotta cheese, cherries and almonds.
Sadly, my beauty of a dessert, the ricotta cheesecake also suffered from a similar fate. The dessert comes sitting on zigzags of golden honey. Its shape makes it look like a like a luscious camembert, but unfortunately, its taste was too high on the sweet scale. The texture was fine; it was smooth enough to go over well with a cheesecake-lover, but there was no pluck in the flavor. This is perfectly understandable given the use of ricotta instead of cream cheese or goat cheese; however, what was less understandable was the cloying sweetness present in the dish. Perhaps there was too much honey on the base of the plate that got into the dish, or perhaps there was something in the preparation of the almonds or cherries within the cheesecake that added to the level of sweetness. All I know is when I left FireLake, I was aching for some citrus to compensate for all that sugar.
Like the last bite of a good meal, I like to end on a high note: One highlight of my meal at FireLake was one of the specials, the winter harvest pumpkin bisque. It was perfectly balanced, had just the right amount of mellow pumpkin flavor and rich cream. FireLake offers similarly alluring monthly specials like a pumpkin bread pudding and a Turkey and Pumpkin Dumpling dish -- a new twist on the classic Chicken and Dumplings. Which is to say, many moons from now, once I've downed some lime juice or hot sauce, maybe when the head chef has returned from New York, maybe I'll come back.