David's Opus Ten Experience
In the Am I Hungry? program, we talk about how it can be good to find ways to connect with people that don’t revolve around food. Nor am I much of a believer in trying to justify eating a certain amount or type of food simply because it’s an event that only comes once a year. That being said, sometimes it’s a real treat to splurge a little for a very special occasion and spend it with someone you care about.
The most recent example of this for me was last week when I treated a friend of mine to part of a very fancy dinner as a birthday present. Since she’ll be moving out of Maine later this year, it’s the last birthday that we’ll easily be able to celebrate together. Plus, she’s a foodie, as am I, but she doesn’t get much opportunity to have a truly fine dining experience.
And this was definitely an experience. I’ve been to lots of nice restaurants at this point, both with family and through work, but it’s never been anything quite like our visit to David’s Opus.
The restaurant is brand new, and a unique concept in Portland, ME, since it’s within the regular David’s restaurant, with just 18 seats and one sitting per night. The reason why it’s only one sitting is because it’s a fixed price, multi-course tasting menu – on weeknights it’s seven courses, and on weekends it’s nine courses. We went on Saturday, and we were there for 3 ½ hours, but it didn’t feel like it.
We were seated right away at a table on one side of the small area, cozy with soft lights and fabric streamers over the ceiling. Our waiter told us that we had just one choice to make, whether or not we wanted the wine pairings for the food. (My friend opted for that, I didn’t, although I did sample a couple of her glasses.) After that, we just sat back and enjoyed the parade of delectable treats.
We started off with a small appetizer of house-cured charcuterie, carved right in the room, a little cheese, wonderful crackers with rosemary and cranberries that were crunchy and sweet to contrast with the salt of the ham and the olives served in a warm brine. That was to wake up our palates and whet our appetites (not that they needed much whetting).
Then we got bread (both of us deciding not to worry about being gluten-free or other allergies for the evening) – a selection of small rolls of peasant bread, olive oil roll, a mini croissant (they were so cute!) and a log-shaped roll with a row of salt on top. Along with that was olive oil for dipping, or if we preferred fresh butter with toasted sea salt. The bread continued to come throughout the evening; as soon one was gone, another would take its place. I only had a few, trying to be somewhat mindful of that, knowing we had lots of other goodies coming.
After that was our first course: “morel and chanterelle mushroom gratin and mushroom-Madeira cream shooter.”
This was a delicious start to the meal. The gratin had that wonderful earthly flavor of mushroom, but also a bit of sweetness, and the shooter was simply perfect for the cold evening (in the teens with a high wind). It was warm verging on hot, frothy and delightfully creamy, with the main complaint being it wasn’t a large enough cup to sip all evening.
But soon enough that was cleared away and we got our second course: “butter poached lobster, risotto cake, citrus truffle micro greens.”
Now, I’m not a big lobster fan, but this was cooked beautifully, tender and buttery, and the risotto at the bottom added a fuller texture, giving the dish a more substantial feel than the small bite seemed. The greens on top were a refreshing addition, helping to balance the richness of the cream.
For our third course, we were treated to: “peppered, lightly handled scallop on dates, bacon and brown butter, cucumber-blood orange slaw.”
I was excited about this from the start, simply because I like all the ingredients separately and was excited to try them together. I wasn’t disappointed. The scallop was perfectly cooked, yielding easily as I cut it, contrasting nicely with the saltiness of the bacon, the sweeter chewiness of the dates, and the acidity of the orange. The scallop seemed to melt in my mouth, and each bite was a lovely balance of flavor and texture.
Our fourth course was: “quail egg ravioli, chanterelle mushroom and toscana kale in foie gras butter nage” (and Chef David came out himself to finish it with a sauce that wilted the kale).
This was also delightful, particularly with the creamy sauce added (they gave us a big spoon specifically to scoop it out once the rest of the dish was gone). Everything melded together very well, with the heartiness of the kale standing up well to the cream and richness of the ravioli.
I should also add that between each course, my friend got a new glass for her wine pairing and we generally got new silverware. And when we went to use the restroom, we came back to find our napkins not just folded but tented on our table. The wait staff was constantly attentive, ensuring we always had full glasses of water and that our bread plates were full, but the didn’t hover or interrupt us to ask how things were, just bringing us the different courses as they were available. It was one of the best services I’ve ever had.
I didn’t get a decent picture of the fifth course, a palate cleanser of a raspberry and apple sorbet, finished by Chef David with a splash of frozen basil infused vodka, poured out of a bottle that was kept chilled in a cylinder of ice. I don’t drink much at all (read: practically never) so the vodka was quite strong to me, but it paired well with the sorbet and definitely cleared my palate.
Then we were ready for the more substantial offerings, starting with our sixth course: “grilled quail, fois gras medallion and "buttered'" toasted with cranberry-pear gastrique.”
I’d never had quail before, and while a little tricky to eat with a knife and fork (I did give up and use my fingers for the wing) it was superb. Very tender and juicy, with a delicate flavor (not like chicken, I might add) that went beautifully with the cranberries and gastrique.
For our seventh course we had: “lamb rack (off the lamb), intense lamb jus with beets, sweets, beans and kale.”
I did wish we had more of the greens, since the flavor of the rest of the dish was so intense, but it was still great. The small side of beets and sweet potato was lovely, providing a different texture form the lamb. And the lamb itself I might have preferred cooked a little longer, but it was very good as it was, quite succulent and yielding easily to the knife, with a nice flavor.
Our eighth course was the first of the desserts: “red wine poached pear, sweet ricotta, sweet balsamic reduction.”
This was a more savory dessert, with the pear and the hint of sweetness from the ricotta, but they went very well together – although cutting the pear without a knife also required a little inventiveness.
And finally we concluded with the truly sweet: chocolate caramel bark, chocolate hazelnut truffles, and Sherry brandy Polvorones.
These were delightful. The polvorones were more savory, but the chocolate bark was wonderfully crunchy and sweet, and the truffles had a lovely, liquid center that burst in the mouth. It was a perfect bite to end the meal.
With each course, my friend and I paused our conversation to admire the food and presentation (and take photos!), then savor the first bite to get the full experience of the flavor. Although we were eating more than we necessarily needed, and we didn’t get to choose our food, it was still a wonderful experience of mindful eating for me, of focusing on every aspect of the food and atmosphere, and appreciating even more being able to share it with a friend.