Everybody has a favorite celebrity, whether it be an actress, drummer, or athlete. While I won't deny that I was once a huge fan of a popstar that will remain unnamed, times have changed and my fandom has been funneled elsewhere. The celebrity that inspires me the most is a culinary rockstar: Barbara Lynch.
Chef Barbara Lynch is a James Beard Award-winner that owns seven fine establishments in the Boston area. She is unique in that she has no desire or plans to expand outside of her beloved city. Her story in a nutshell includes growing up in South Boston, or "Southie" and began her cooking career at the age of 13. She eventually worked her way up and today she is the head of an empire. However, having seen her speak in person, I can tell you she is the most down-to-earth chef I have ever met. Moreover, she is a very successful female restauranteur in a male-dominated field. She is an inspiration. Girl power!
As a Boston food fiend, I have made it my mission to make it to all of her establishments: No. 9 Park, her flagship fine dining establishment overlooking the Boston Common, Sportello, a casual handmade pasta heaven, Drink, a cocktail crazy's dream, the Butcher Shop, a must for meat lovers, Menton, her Relais & Chateaux masterpiece, B&G Oysters, an upscale oyster bar with a local feel, and Stir. After last night, B&G Oysters remains the only one I have yet to try.
Regardless of which of Barbara Lynch's restaurants you choose to attend, from the moment you walk in the door and are greeted by the hostess to the time you walk out, you are made to feel special. I actually feel famous when I am a guest in one of her dining rooms. While my admiration of Chef Barbara certainly stems from the delicious food and drink that she provides for her patrons, the hospitality is what takes each and every dining experience to the next level. I think that it was makes a uniquely superb restaurant: amazing food and unwavering hospitality. And that is what keeps me coming back for more.
Stir is different from all of Barbara's other restaurants in that its classified as a "demonstration kitchen" where you have the opportunity to eat the food that we all know and love, but to also learn. The space, just off of Tremont Street in the South End, initially served as the spot where Barbara worked on, photographed for, and produced her cookbook, of the same name, "Stir." Once the cookbook was completed, the beautiful space was opened up to the public to enjoy.
The primary reason I had not yet made it to Stir is because it is just so darn difficult to snag a spot at one of their 10 seat maximum classes. Reservations are made available online on a specific date each month. I have never been able to successfully register as classes fill up very quickly. As a self-proclaimed Open Table expert, Stir continued to evade me. However, to my joy, a Stir newsletter tip offered the chance to obtain admission to a class that had some last minute openings.
Last night I was able to find out firsthand why Stir classes fly off of the internet shelves like hot cakes. The title of our dinner last night was "Chef's Table Tasting." This session differed from some of the other classes offered at Stir in that, we didn't have to get our hands dirty. I truly enjoyed this because it was like dining at a restaurant with an open kitchen, for which I am always a sucker. But this one was different in that we were actually in the kitchen. Myself and eight other guests were seated around a beautifully outfitted kitchen while a highly skilled chef, Chef Andrew, that prepared for us a 5-course meal with wine pairings. *Swoon*
First, the amuse bouche: Beef tartare crostini with cornichon dijonnaise. Amuse bouche literally translates from French to "happy mouth." It is usually presented at the beginning of a meal to get your palate working. And this was certainly a mouth pleaser. Beef tartare is a classic for a reason.
Roasted carrots with saffron yogurt, dates, and mint. The saffron yogurt sauce was my favorite part of this dish. The carrots are seasoned with ras el hanout, which I learned means "house seasoning" and is used as a common spice in middle eastern cooking. Those chickpeas you see there were fried- so good. I propose to fry all of my chickpeas from now on! Once I am gifted a frialator...
Monkfish with celeriac, brown butter, and salsa verde. Monkfish is a white fish that is a cross between lobster and haddock. It has the "meatiness" of lobster and the flakiness of haddock. The base of the salsa verde was chervil, which is an under-utilized herb. It tastes like parsley but with a hint of anise- it provided a lovely fresh hint to the dish.
Crispy polenta with taleggio, egg yolk, and mushroom. This was my favorite dish of the night. I've said it before and I'll say it again, there is nothing sexier than a perfectly poached egg yolk. The polenta was delicious. Polenta is a grain more often used in the northern regions of Italy including rice, bulgur, farro, and cornmeal.
Hangar steak with romesco, charred leeks, and sunchoke. Sunchokes taste like a mix between a potato and an artichoke. I once went through a sunchoke phase (don't judge)- they are tasty just roasted with olive oil, salt, and pepper. This steak was perfectly cooked. All I could say while it eating it was "WOW." I learned that all of the meats that Stir uses comes from Savenor's, an upscale butcher with locations in Boston and Cambridge. So if you want Chef Barbara Lynch-approved meat, go there. The romesco sauce is like the Spanish version of a pesto, in my opinion. The base of this is roasted red peppers and almonds. Very simple to make but the result is delicious.
Graham cake with Italian meringue, chocolate mousse, and cinnamon. I will admit that at first, I was skeptical that a dessert with "graham cake" would live up to be as good as the other courses. But man was I wrong. This dessert is essentially a fancy s'more on steroids. It was nostalgic of that classic summer treat with richer flavors. The chocolate sauce was swoon-worthy and the cinnamon gelato added just the right amount of spice to provide depth to the sweet flavors.
Overall, Stir will definitely be added to the list of reasons why I admire the Barbara Lynch Gruppo. I appreciated the more casual atmosphere but with the same level of warm hospitality and thoughtful, memorable dishes that her restaurants provide. Also, I did indeed find the class to be educational- I actually learned a lot of new information at Stir that I will take back with me to my own kitchen. Reservations at Stir make a great special occasion gift or if you just want to treat yo self. If you are looking for an alternative dining experience that impresses, Stir is the place to go.