A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of attending “A Useable Feast,” the 2010 version of Buy Fresh Buy Local’s signature “Down to Earth” event. Each year, BFBL-volunteers Lyla Kaplan and Claire Murray pull together an amazing selection of handmade pottery to match with different courses of locally made dishes. Last year’s meal was at Restaurant Alba in Malvern and was both decadent and divine, but I have to admit, the team at Philly’s Noble American Cookery really stepped up to the proverbial plate with their four-course meal.
I missed the pottery preview/cocktail hour, which was disappointing more for the fact that not all of the artists’ plates were utilized during the meal, so I didn’t get to see every piece. Of course, being the Philadelphia Distilling fan that I am, I was only slightly less disheartened that I had to forego the served creative concoctions that fell in line with the keep-it-local theme and had some twists on Philly-bred spirits like Root and Bluecoat gin.
At $85 per person, this night out was pricey for me—but well worth it on multiple levels. Plus, the meal included a complimentary cocktail, wine and beer.
Because I was flying solo, I bravely joined a large table of friendly women who hailed from Minnesota and a few other faraway places (one fellow was among them). All were in town for the 44th National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts conference in Philadelphia and had plenty of interesting stories to share. In many ways, the meal felt like Thanksgiving, not only due to the rustic, home-style fare, but also because of the warmth emanating up and down the long table. The atmosphere was truly laid back.
And let me say, those ladies could throw down! I can’t imagine having eaten anything prior to dinner, as the portions were incredibly generous for a tasting. First up was a lovely touch of spring: peeled asparagus with Serrano ham and poached egg brioche crumbs—indeed a soft-poached egg coated in light but crisp bread crumbs—with hints of coffee and Root liquor.
The wine selection—two from Ravines in New York, one white, one red—were surprisingly rich and robust. Both the Pinot and the dry Riesling were from 2007, and though I didn’t (and still don’t) know much about the winery, they left me impressed.
On the heels of that came a sizable piece of fluke—tender, flaky, napped in a shrimp-Root jus, and served along luscious butter poached shrimp that left my taste buds dancing. Several plates of insanely well-seasoned and prepared spring vegetables were served family style. We all took portions far larger than the kitchen had likely planned for. We had a hot debate over one of the veggies; the majority took it for zucchini, but the texture and overall flavor matched more closely to a cucumber. But, none of us believed that for sure until we dissected a piece. Sure enough, it was wonderfully supple but not mushy sauté-braised chunks of cucumber. Yum.
As if we needed more food, out came a more tempered, though still generous, portion of roasted Lancaster County Duroc pork loin, seasoned with hints of Indian spices and served with a lovely combination of pureed parsnips, kale and sour oranges. For the family-style accompaniment, the chef prepared an aromatic and pleasingly al dente chickpea stew with hints of saffron.
For the grand finale, we were privy to a very unique, texturally enticing semolina dumpling, which looked a lot like a pineapple slice. It was spongy and sweet, but not too much so, and served alongside a compote of marinated blackberries, house-made vanilla ice cream and a to-die-for, lick-your-spoon-clean Nutella cream. Talk about decadent. I was so stuffed afterward that I practically made myself fast for the entire day after. But I’d love the dumpling recipe; it would be great heated on the grill in summertime and served with your own version of locally grown fruit compote.
With regard to the pottery, this year offered up another intriguing portfolio of functional pottery, all for sale with proceeds benefiting BFBL. On display were pieces by Jim Dugan, a resident artist of Baltimore Clayworks (baltimoreclayworks.org), Mel Griffin (accessceramics.org), Ayumi Horie (ayumihorie.com) and Gwendolyn Yoppolo (gwendolynyoppolo.com). One neat piece from Yappolo was what I would call a funky soup tureen, with four ceramic spoons that go into “holders” fixed to the side of a larger serving bowl. I’m not sure if the individual bowls came with or as a separate set but, combined, this would make a fantabulous wedding present!
It’s also worth noting that Noble American Cookery’s interior was interesting and hip enough visually, though not overdone with too much glitz—lots of warm woods, low lighting and simple décor throughout. I definitely will be going back.
Though attendance was down from past years for this event, the intimate crowd appreciated the purpose of the evening, which was to celebrate the symbiotic relationships between pottery, food, cooking and people—and of course, to support one of Chester County’s and Philadelphia’s best socially and culinary-conscious nonprofit organizations. For more on Buy Fresh Buy Local, visit buylocalpa.org.
Noble American Cookery, 2025 Sansom St., Philadelphia; (215) 568-7000, noblecookery.com.