Following our visits to Cincinnati and Fairfield, our Food and Culture Colloquium field study trip group headed about 40 minutes north to Rue Dumaine in Dayton, where both their Americanised take on regional French (Provençal) cuisine restaurant and their emphasis on seasonal and local ingredients caught my attention.
Concurrently classy and chic while being casual and comfortable, Rue Dumaine immediately invoked memories of eating in French bistros, as well as the pride and energy that I associate with New Orleans. After being seated, Chef Anne came over to greet us and warmly addressed the group and spoke briefly with us individually, building a sense of community and trust with ease, rooted in both hospitality and a shared interest in food. She also explained that when she and her husband Tom (co-proprietor) moved from New Orleans to return home (i.e., Dayton), they wanted to bring a part of their New Orleans lives with them; Rue Dumaine was thus named after the street on which their previous restaurant, Peristyle, was located.
Turning our attention to the menu, Anne affirmed Rue Dumaine's commitment to seasonality and sourcing locally. In fact, whenever possible she'll go out herself to source ingredients-- procuring from the community to share with local and visiting diners. The partnership between producer (the farmers) and consumer (Rue Dumaine, and by extension those who get to enjoy their food) becomes more than an economic transaction; it's a positive and engaging sociocultural relationship building and community endeavour, a shift in the food system. Click here to take a better look at the members of this relationship.
Before Anne headed back to the kitchen, two servers brought out from the kitchen a pair of plates with a lagniappe, an especially southern Louisiana colloquial term for an amuse-bouche. The lagniappe pictured above is a clean-tasting Ohio rabbit and chicken rillette on a piece of crisped bread with a grape shallot compote, the toasty start of which finished with a subtle warmth. Palates sufficiently whetted, our server Molly arrived at our table, ready to guide us through our dining experience and in the process exercised with ease her great knowledge of the menu. As expected, there were just too many great options. I think it's a bit of an understatement to put it this way but we all had some difficulty choosing just one dish per course, especially in my case. In the end, I couldn't decide and so I asked for chef's choice for my appetizer and entrée, and I was beyond elated with both.
For my first course (listed on the menu as La Petite Cuisine), I was presented with a serving of the pissaladière. Undeniably reflective of classic Provençal and southern French (and to an extent, northwestern Italian) gastronomy, the smells of each component of Rue Dumaine's version were well pronounced but not overpowering. Roasted garlic purée, caramelised onions (an automatic win in my book), Niçoise olives, capers, fresh goat cheese and white anchovies adorned the warm puff pastry. The tastes were clean and refined, with no residual oiliness, and the sweet and salty notes merged harmoniously--jiving with the bright pesto--and prepared me for each bite to follow. As I told Molly, my only critique is that there wasn't more on the plate. [An aside: I also tasted the blood orange beurre noisette from someone's pan-seared scallops dish. It was utterly amazing with the citrus cutting through the richness of the nutty-tasting butter.]
My Grand Plat for the evening was a very moist Hill Family Farm chicken breast, pan-seared to perfection. Atop the deliciously crisped skin sat crisped panchetta and confit fingerling potatoes cooked with rendered panchetta fat, under which preserved lemon were hidden. In addition, a serving of asparagus added contrasting colour. But for me, the star of this dish was the insanely delicious leek fondue surrounded by a Chardonnay reduction. Whenever I think of fondue, I think cheese and chocolate; apparently, fondre refers not only to melt (as is the case with cheese and chocolate) but also to sautée. I found an interesting complexity to this dish, principally due to the fact that there were so many ingredients on a single plate that worked together in ever-changing combinations with each bite. And to seal the deal, everything was extremely well-seasoned.
Unsurprisingly, everything was well portioned, to the point that I was ready with room for dessert. Though there weren't too many choices, it was still difficult to choose as each option was equally tempting. This said, I actually made a decision and went with the chocolate hazelnut cake with hazelnut honeycomb and crème fraîche. Each delicate bite collapsed in my mouth the dense-looking-at-first cake melding very well with the textural contrast of the hazelnuts. The crème fraîche was a perfect pairing to the moistness and richness of the cake, transforming into something of a light, whipped cream. [Another aside: I also tasted the Riesling sabayon of the special dessert for the evening, Riesling poached pear. Oh.my.yum. Give me separate bowls of that and the leek fondue and I'm a happy camper.]
To join everyone's dessert course, I also ordered for the table Rue Dumaine's award winning-American Farm House & Artisan Cheese plate. Served with grilled raisin and nut bread, as well as a pile of julienned fuji apple, the four cheeses were presented left to right from mildest to most aromatic: Cowgirl Creamery's signature Mt. Tam, Beehive Cheese Co.'s Seahive Cheddar, Jacobs & Brichford's Everton and Rogue Creamery's Smokey Blue. Note: Especially if you love cheese, it's definitely worth it to try all four (the other option is to order just one).
|Both this photo and the one at the top of the post were taken by Rue Dumaine's co-proprietor Tom.|