The problem with Charcuterie
Charcuterie -- the branch of cooking concerned with preserved meats -- has a long history. Before refrigeration, it was an important way to preserve meats.
The problem today is that charcuterie plates are rarely exciting. So often, processed meats -- no matter how fine -- taste like ordinary lunch meat. I had enough lunch meat in elementary school to last a lifetime.
Worse, charcuterie plates are often served with nothing other than bread and mustard. That sort of dish suffers the same problem as a plate of just sashimi or just cheese -- too much sameness.
Fortunately, many contemporary chefs make cheese plates and sashimi plates more interesting by adding touches of other ingredients. Cheese benefits from nuts, honey, and fruit-based sides. Sashimi benefits from greens, fruits, and mild sauces that highlight the flavor of the fish.
Why not do the same thing with charcuterie?
Charcuterie - Benjy's "Meat Plate" special
The "meat plate" on special at Benjy's last Sunday was something special indeed:
On the the top right was a slice of summer sausage topped with an onion jelly or compote. In the middle was a slice of duck terrine topped with a cold salad of fennel, pear, and mint. On the lower left was lamb sausage served with sweet, spicy mustard.
Benjy's chef processed all the meats himself.
The meats were of the highest quality. But what interested me most was the additional flavorings that went far beyond mustard and crackers. For instance, the onion jelly had a sweet, bulbous flavor that offset the salty, vinegary flavors of the processed meat. And the strongly flavored spicy and sweet mustard stood up to the spicy, gamy flavor of the lamb sausage.
Best of all, the duck terrine was a complex, tasty creation, combining the licorice flavor of fennel and sour sweetness of pear with the slightly gamy flavor of duck.
Benjy's meat plate was a whirl of flavors -- sweet, spicy, sour, salty. It is far beyond the average charcuterie plate.
No meat here -- Benjy's ggadashi
Benjy's sesame crusted agadashi has made appearances on the menu for well over a decade. Recently, the dish had a face lift. Rather than a large bowl that mixes everything together, now the tofu and mushrooms are served alone, with separate sides of baby bok choy and rice topped with thin slices of pickled ginger and Japanese cucumber.
This may be the best tofu dish in town. Each cube of tofu is has a crispy exterior. Shitake mushrooms add an earthyness and texture contrast. But the highlight of the dish is the spicy, sweet orange-chili sauce. The sauce is highly addictive.
A lot of hardcore meat eaters refuse to even try tofu. They need to try this dish.
On one hand, I would like to see Benjy's menu change more often. I would like to see more new dishes like the meat plate. Benjy's kitchen can be quite creative. On the other hand, I hope Benjy's never removes some of my favorite dishes from the menu. I never tire of Benjy's agadashi.