Friday, April 25, 2014

A Splurge Dinner If You Love Dessert: Wit & Wisdom Starts A Monthly Tasting Special

The "Lemon" course with avocado sherbet and a perfect meringue
Dyan Ng's food doesn't taste like Baltimore, but I think that she'll fit in quite beautifully.

Ng is the new pastry chef at the Four Seasons in Baltimore, and she is the star of a new monthly special at the hotel's Wit & Wisdom restaurant.  It's a splurge night.  A five- or six-course dinner that calls itself "progressive dessert" and comes across as imaginative, delicious fun.

Dyan Ng
Envision four courses -- plus a special cocktail to start -- where Ng and her team take ingredients that you'd see in dessert and create a real meal.  No hard line between sweet and savory.  Dishes instead that play with that line, sometimes skipping across bite to bite.

Start off with the cocktail.  Strawberries with rhubarb, swimming in gin with diced cucumber.  Icy, refreshing and bursting with flavor.  We sipped a bit and then scooped out the dessert-y remains.  We learned the strawberries were injected with basil-filled syringes.  Pretty cool.

Two courses in, Mrs. HowChow said she was leaving me to live in Harbor East -- Handbags in the City, great food, and an easier commute to work.  That was the avocado sherbet talking.  Creamy.  Like a lighter fruit.  Taste of cilantro, grapefruit, crunch of almonds, and the crispiest, lightest meringue that I have ever tasted.

Again, the "progressive dessert" is a splurge meal.  The tasting menu -- offered on the third Tuesday of every month -- costs $69 for four courses with an optional wine pairing that runs another $40.  But you're not going for a quick Tuesday dinner.  You're going for adventure.

The "Olive" course
And you're getting something genuine.  Ng's food tastes like she is really excited.  We played with our food -- cracking through a sugary lid on the "olive" course into a bowl that mixed white chocolate and olive, pine nuts and golden raisins.  The entire atmosphere is classy without being haughty.  It's infectious fun to be served something like a chocolate risotto touched with foie gras.  It made us think of DC food, or New York food, a surprise for Baltimore.

Of course, we had an unexpected advantage.  I was invited to Wit & Wisdom last month as a representative of the DonRockwell site.  I misunderstood and thought we were going to a reception.  It turned out to be the four-course dinner at our own table, which Wit & Wisdom gave us for free.

So I have to admit that I didn't pay when I say you should really get the wines.  I'm neither a big drinker nor a wine expert, but the paired wines boosted the night.  Ask about each glass.  The sommelier has an enthusiastic explanation for each choice, and the wines really provided the contrast that she predicted -- sweet to a course that with salty olives, acid to a course that was rich.  Dishes had one flavor on their own, then something different when I followed the food with wine.  The last wine was actually bitter.  I would not drink a bottle on its own, but a small pour contrasted beautifully against the earthiness of the "tomato" course.

The "Strawberry" cocktail
Back to that food.  That final course plate could have looked just like ice cream.  But the ice cream was made of blue cheese, and the dish rounded out with dried tomatoes, goat cheese, and ketchup crisps.

That's the test.  You'll love Ng's "progressive dessert" if you're the kind of diner who is intrigued by the idea of crunching ketchup crisps.  This dish wasn't "sweet and savory" like salt on oatmeal cookies.  We literally couldn't tell if the dish was sweet or savory.  Tomato is sweet.  Goat cheese is savory.  Blue cheese sounds savory, but the ice cream was probably the sweetest part.  Each bite was different.

Wit & Wisdom's fun reminds us of a splurge dinner years ago at Minibar.   Minibar's game is structure.  The flavors are clear and accessible -- it's just that the form is surprising and one course made "smoke" come out our noses.

Ng's table displayed all kinds of modern technique, but her game emphasizes flavors.  New combinations that made us more active than I remember being at a meal.  Amazed by how a dish looked, then talking about how it tasted.  As we ate the "risotto" course, Mrs. HowChow wondered aloud if she really liked the chocolate-pate taste.  The flavors are so unusual that it felt natural to question each bite.  But Ng pulled off the adventure.  It was really delicious and unique, so the spoon kept going back for more.

To try Dylan Ng's "Progressive Dessert," you should make reservations through Wit & Wisdom's Web site.  Make plans now for Tuesday, May 20.  They serve from 6:30 to 8, and Wit & Wisdom will just get more beautiful as the days extend and dinner comes with a sunset over Baltimore.  You can also try Ng's work throughout at the Four Seasons -- in pastries of the Lamill coffee shop or desserts at Pabu.

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