Strolling down 12th Street in New York City’s West Village, you’d be hard-pressed to know that you were actually at the epicenter of culinary cool. Then you peer closely up at a small brass plaque embedded in the wall of a well appointed brick building near the western end of the block and see the phrase James Beard House. The former home to one of the country’s greatest culinary champions, it has been transformed into a pop-up dining space where the best chefs from around the world come to showcase their talents and pay homage to Beard’s legacy.
Tonight, Elisir chef-owner Enzo Fargione and his four-person crew have taken over the compact, white tiled kitchen to give New Yorkers (and a few lucky Washingtonians) a taste of his fashion forward Italian cuisine that keeps its core firmly grounded in centuries-old tradition. Though many chefs spend their entire careers striving for the chance to cook in this venerable venue, this is familiar ground for Fargione. This dinner marks the ninth time (yes, you read that correctly) that he has been invited to cook here, either as the starring toque or as a supporting team member.
The evening begins in the modest back garden, where glasses of chilled Bellavista Franciacorta prosecco help minglers recover from temperatures that hovered just under triple digits all afternoon. Wait staff circulate with silver platters of canapés, including shots of cooling honeydew gazpacho imbued with a pocket of deep richness courtesy of poppy caviar rounds and a smidge of sour cream. There are tiny cornets mimicking ice cream cones, too, but the Parmigiano-Reggiano and crunchy artichoke hearts inside them deliver the flavors of a summery salad instead. Both are fine ways to pique one’s appetite, so no one dawdles when the call comes to take our seats inside.
Roasted sweet baby onions with licorice, California caviar, smoked Sicilian tuna shavings, grappa, and crunchy polenta–caper cracker
Sections of onions crisscrossed atop each other form an ivory tower that recalls an elegant Japanese pagoda. The flavors are all Mediterranean though – briny caper, hazy tuna, and a whiff of grappa. It’s the licorice that lingers the longest though; a pleasant memento of an elegant commencement.
Raw tomato risotto with cracked black peppercorns, crunchy basil, Sicilian frantoio olive oil, and burrata-filled baby zucchini blossom
A single flash-fried basil leaf stands tall alongside a tempura battered zucchini blossom stuffed with creamy burrata and a few half moons of tiny tomatoes. The perfectly set risotto wasn’t cooked in chicken broth, but in the fragrant juice of several cases of tomatoes instead. Black pepper swoops in at the end to add a pop to this delectable dish.
Cold-smoked and polenta-crusted turbot fillet with fava bean–white asparagus ragù and carrot, thyme, and Riesling reduction
The fish balances deftly atop a scattering of fava beans and snippets of white asparagus. Along with the smattering of sauce that manages to be rooty, herbaceous and vinous all at once, it’s a light celebration of the season.
Roasted veal fillet and sweetbreads with maitake mushroom tempura, port wine jus, pancetta, summer truffles, and crispy sage
There’s a nutty earthiness to this star secondi courtesy of the truffles and the freshly fried fungi. This elemental quality offsets the dish’s inherent richness, which allows the flavors to take their proper place at center stage.
Deep chocolate eggshell – gianduja chocolate custard–filled eggshell with pistachio crunch
A beheaded eggshell balances on a small hillock, filled partway with hazelnutty custard. Pistachio pebbles scattered across the sweet surface add crunch to the creamy dessert.
Cigar in an ashtray – modern-style ricotta cheese cannolo with spun sugar smoke
If you had finished every glass of wine offered this evening, you might well believe that the server had put down an actual cigar for the final course. It’s especially deceptive, because a real cigar label from Fargione’s collection is wrapped around the tubular treat. A smoky wisp of lemony spun sugar rises up from the end of the sweet stogie, which is filled with a fluffy pistachio cream.
The evening ends with a platter of one-bite sweets, including petite pistachio biscotti that are perfect for dunking in a cup of decaf. As I head back out into the breezy midnight darkness, I already can’t wait for organizers to invite Fargione back for a tenth time.
Want to try this menu yourself? Chef Fargione is bringing this James Beard House Dinner home to Elisir in D.C. Get in on the action between now and August 4th by booking your table now.