Locale Profile: Mysteries and More at Metacom Kitchen

IMG_2393A friend recently posted a link to my Facebook wall for a travel company that creates mystery weekend vacations; guests give their budget and the types of activities they like, and the company arranges the flights and hotel without telling travelers where they’re going. They simply show up and receive tickets to a surprise destination. Their motto? Be adventurous. Be spontaneous. Embrace the unknown.

This, to me, sounds like the perfect vacation, so it’s little surprise that when I saw an advertisement for Metacom Kitchen’s “Mystery Monday” dinner, I promptly forwarded it to my friends and said, “We’re doing this.”

The premise is similar to the Pack Up and Go travel site: Guests who opt in notify the chef of any dietary restrictions, and then wait expectantly for a three-course surprise dinner, all for the reasonable (almost unheard of) price of $30. Guests are given a unique and exciting experience — the menus change every Monday — while allowing the kitchen to experiment with new dishes or revisit favorite dishes from the past. Ironically, while the chefs are looking to the past or planning into the future, guests are able to engage fully in the present in a way they might not otherwise, actually paying attention to the food and flavors in front of them, expanding their palate with diversity.

image2Metacom Kitchen is located in Warren and defines itself as a Modern American Bistro, but I would classify it as a made-from-scratch, farm-to-table concept that debuted when this type of restaurant was just on the rise in Rhode Island. It opened three years ago, and I had the sad realization that I had not visited in nearly three years. At that time I was filming food videos for a phone app called TasteMade, and this place was all abuzz with the Warren crowd — only people in the know knew about it. I remember sitting at one of the bar seats facing the open kitchen, and my friend and I immediately fell under a food trance because of their bread and butter: made in house, sprinkled with a secret salt blend.

Ironically, when my friend Jeremy and I arrived, we were again seated at those same bar seats facing the kitchen, and when the waiter, Steve, whipped out a plate of perfectly cylindrical butter and crumbly, soft bread, the memories came rushing back. I know this butter. I love this butter! I thought. And that was, both chronologically and qualitatively, only the beginning.

image3 (1)Jeremy and I told Steve we would be having the mystery dinner. Jeremy had no dietary restrictions; I asked for no almonds (an allergy), no cilantro (because I’m one of those “soap” people), and pescetarian. As we handed over our menus — the only time we’ve ever managed to order dinner in under 20 minutes — Steve delivered our drinks, a bourbon barrel stout on draft and a French malbec. We cheers’d and watched intently as one of the chefs, wearing a camo bandana around his head like the Karate Kid, poured a smoking substance from a tightly sealed barrel into a bowl.

It turned out to be liquid nitrogen, and he was making blueberry yogurt ice cream to accompany one of the desserts. We were mesmerized. I took a video. I later learned that one of the strengths of Chef Richard Allaire — the executive chef and owner — is using technology in the kitchen. He also happens to be one of the kindest and most humble people I’ve ever met, referring to his role in hosting a James Beard Foundation event as “no big deal, really.” I was shocked when he remembered me, asking if I was the person who’d sat in the same seat three years ago and shot an iPhone video of my meal. He said he was glad to have me back.

IMG_2413As the mystery dinner rolled out, we were surprised not only by the ingredients, but that the quality, creativity and flavor of each was unsurprisingly delicious. The appetizers we received were (for Jeremy) a Togarashi Malanga Root Chip, topped with pickled shallots, eggyolk and a sirloin tartare. Even though I’d requested no meat, I adamantly requested Jeremy give me one and I loved the diversity of textures and flavors: sweet crisp chips, smooth tartare a touch of tang. This might have been Jeremy’s favorite, largely for those reasons because, as he said, the entire dish was so unexpected.

I received, adored and devoured a marinated mushroom crostini on torn focaccia with an herbed cloumage. Jeremy hates mushrooms, but all of my “mmms” made him adventurously try one, and even he approved.

For the entrees, we received (for me) an Atlantic Salmon with Togarashi over a bed of edamame, pioppino mushrooms, butter lettuce and radish. It was one of the best prepared salmon filets I’ve ever had, cooked perfectly, locking in the flavor without over-drying it. Jeremy’s main was a Potato and Agnolotti — like a small ravioli — filled with glazed shortrib in a bordelaise sauce. I decided to throw caution to the wind, and we split both dishes. It was a good choice, even though it meant I had to share my salmon.

We waited for dessert with anticipation, having watched Chris the Karate Kid make magical ice cream all night. Thank heavens we got to sample it! Blueberry yogurt ice cream with frozen fruit leather (a fruit roll up that they made, also using liquid nitrogen), yogurt crumble, whipped waffle cream and crystallized maple. Our second dessert was a deconstructed carrot cake of sorts: carrot cake ice cream, deep freeze cream cheese and walnut powder. Although I’d been eyeing the blueberry ice cream all night, I was taken aback by how much the carrot cake ice cream actually tasted like carrot cake. Unfathomably delicious.

The knowledge of molecular gastronomy that goes into Chef Allaire’s menus — mystery or otherwise — is evident in the presentation and execution of each dish: not only are they meant to be eaten, but to be mindfully eaten, especially after having seen the work and thought that went into each one.

So, I invite you to pack up and go to Metacom Kitchen. Be adventurous. Be spontaneous. Embrace the unknown.

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