The Hungry Chum: Harvest pop-up restaurant is a foraged feast
We sat beneath a chandelier made of wine bottles in the middle of the bar. I was eagerly awaiting our eight-course feast. I was skeptical. The tickets sport a $110 price tag, yet I reserved judgment.
Harvest restaurant is a pop-up, which by nature is temporary. It’s part of a worldwide dining trend that focuses on exclusive offerings from seasoned chefs, who cook up unique cuisine to tell stories that highlight the best of the harvest at that time.
People are willing to pay top dollar for a more intimate experience. At Harvest, the server explains where each wine came from and what characteristics made them decide to pair it with the course. The chef explains his inspiration, trials and tribulations.
Elaborate, 12-seat dinners are served by the chef himself, Nathan Dolphin-Chavie. Crush part-owner Chad Culley assists by serving and hand-picking wine for nearly every course.
Without his former partner Josh, Dolphin-Chavie single-handedly makes all the food in house at Crush, where he said he’s been working for the past year and a half. Culley said he got behind the chef in making season three happen.
“Nothing like this could be executed in a [traditional] restaurant setting,” Culley told guests. “It’s very experimental.”
It truly is a wholly different restaurant within a restaurant — the chef even imported handmade plates from Thailand for the season.
Each week’s menu is unique and tells a different tale. On a simple black and white menu printed on expensive stock, the chef listed out the main ingredients in the dish, but left plenty for the guest to anticipate and imagine.
For the opening week of Harvest, Dolphin-Chavie’s story consisted of hand-foraged herbs and locally-sourced produce.
A Feast in Chapters
This year’s first courses are all canapés, small and typically handheld hors d’oeuvres prized for strikingly beautiful presentations.
Ours were served on a wood plank — fried shisho leaf with an oyster and white wine emulsion, chicharron (aka pork rind) topped with curry yogurt, and puffed beet filled with hazelnut creme.
The theme was crisp and light.
The leaf was expertly fried with a burst of flavor from the drizzled emulsion on top, and the chicharron followed suit, but the biggest surprise for me was the puffed beet. Mainly because I dislike beets, so much so that after being forced to eat one as a child I promptly threw it up on my grandfather. Dolphin-Chavie, you made me like something made from beets. I tip my hat to you, sir.
The second course featured an unusual salad of green tomatoes, syrup made from foraged wild pineapple weed (a member of the chamomile family), shavings of frozen foie gras, and greens. The chef explained that the syrup actually chemically changes the texture of the green tomatoes, to make them softer, while retaining their bright, early season flavor. Paired with a buttery white wine, I was settling into the idea of having my expectations far exceeded.
Next up was a dish featuring a savory sabayon (an airy sauce made from whipped egg yolks) radish sprouts, charred wild fiddlehead ferns, rolled cucumbers, topped with puffed rice. On its own the sabayon would have been too rich and tangy, but the ferns and cukes elevated the flavor. The ingredients never married together, staying separate players in the plate.
The fourth and sixth courses featured Alaska seafood: salmon and halibut respectively. Both were prepared by a low, slow cooking technique that Dolphin-Chavie swears by. He said he thinks most fish out here is overcooked.
The salmon was paired with thinly-sliced apple, smoked olive oil, and a wonderful purée of peas, apple and horseradish.
The halibut was poached in olive oil and served with a variation of a posole, featuring hominy. Wanderer commented that both were the most moist pieces of fish she’d ever eaten while dining out and the presentation of each dish was on point.
I can’t forget the fifth course that featured carrots two ways. Old carrots, left in the ground from last season, were salted and cooked. New carrots were roasted and plated on a bed of carrot puree alongside their kin and crumbled, toasted walnuts with whipped goat’s milk.
I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about the dessert course of chocolate pave, which is a middle ground between a ganache and a mousse. Nestled around the pave swirl were candied mandarin rinds, filled with orange sorbet, along with basil oil, sesame crisps and whipped coconut cream. Served with SteamDot espresso, it was a symphony of temperature and texture.
A showstopping number ended our meal — a palate cleanser in the style of molecular gastronomy, where chefs experiment with surface tension and viscosity among others. A mainstay of the sub-discipline is the spherification of liquids, where a chef creates edible globes that open once eaten. It was the first time I’d seen molecular gastronomy practiced in Alaska, but it’s a popular high-end type of cooking that also goes by deconstructionist and multi-sensory cuisine.
In a spoon sat an emerald orb of parsley and spruce atop a lemon granita. Granita is a semi-frozen dessert made from sugar, water and a flavoring of choice. Cold, astringent and herbal, the spoon is to be taken all at once to reset your tastebuds and act as a digestif. It was the perfect end to the spring Harvest story.
The chef was 21 years old when he decided to pursue food as a career, and said he’s worked his way up through the industry since then. Dolphin-Chavie talked about his grand plan to take his hyper-focused, planned food forward after summer. He said it’s a ton of work for the chef, so right now it’s a labor of love rather than a money-making machine. He’s working to create a longevity plan for the concept, which he said would benefit Anchorage as a whole.
“When you think of Paris, people go there for the food,” he said to guests. “Anchorage doesn’t really have any destination restaurants. Alaska needs that.”
It’s expensive, $110 for a seat, and nearly all of those seats have been spoken for. As we left, a group of four women were already reserving the next nearest spot in August. But I can say from experience, it’s worth it. Eight courses, six wine pairings, SteamDot espresso and story behind each dish.
So here’s hoping Harvest finds a permanent home soon, so many more can enjoy this visual and exquisite feast.
Always in search of the next great meal, The Hungry Chum brings you regular restaurant reviews with honest opinions. The views expressed are the writer’s, not necessarily those of Denali Media or its employees.
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