Kitchen Artist: Charles Draghi of Erbaluce
Fine dining is a rare splurge on my meager salary, so when I go out to eat, it needs to be worth it. I’m sorry to say that quite often I’m disappointed with fancy restaurants and “haute cuisine.” Their menus are often pretentious, with artfully arranged pieces of stuff, and overpriced wine lists ($85 for a bottle that retails for $19.99 at the local wine shop), served in a room as quiet as a morgue.
My husband and I recently dined at a highly-touted fine dining restaurant in New York City, left hungry, and stopped for a slice of pizza at Patsy’s in East Harlem on our way home.
So I came to the conclusion I didn’t like fine dining or haute cuisine. It had to be me. Like Tinkerbell, I was just a coarse girl. Comfort food was more my style — restaurants like Balthazar in New York City, where it’s loud, crowded, and you can get great onion soup, steak frites, profiteroles and mojitos. I figured my palate preferred simple, straightforward food.
But I was wrong!
On a trip to Boston, my husband, daughter and I had dinner at Erbaluce restaurant. Our meal was so good, so gobsmackingly creative and delicious, that I finally understood the magic of what fine dining can be. And I like it!
I have a new appreciation for haute cuisine thanks to the artistry and vision of Erbaluce’s Chef Charles Draghi. Without using butter or cream, he makes fantastic sauces, wrenching flavor out of fruits, vegetables, and herbs, giving his dishes a creative spin. He’s also a bit of a locavore, using farm fresh ingredients from New England. I like that too.
In a million years, I never thought I would enjoy a dish of “stinging nettles.” At Erbaluce, a mound of the green herb is served with a lightly poached duck egg and Parmesan cheese. A mouthful of deliciousness. After devouring them, my husband licked his plate clean.
My daughter fought for the last spear of asparagus with lemon and thyme sabione. Perfectly cooked asparagus with just the right amount of luscious sauce to enhance its freshness.
Erbaluce’s signature dish is roasted rack of wild boar with concord grape and lavender mosto. Ever had concord grape and lavender mosto before? Me either. Their unique flavors worked well together to make a comforting, yet unique, main course.
Chef Draghi also freely tosses herbs and spices in his desserts. Mace in chocolate truffles, a poached pear in a pool of lavender-caramel sauce, and citrus sorbets with saffron and rosewater.
Our meal ended on a delicious note featuring complimentary chocolate truffles spiked with aged balsamic vinegar.
Thank you Chef Draghi for your virtuosity and boldness in the kitchen. You’ve made fine dining perfectly fine with me.