A few weeks ago Meg and I went to dinner for our two-year anniversary. We don’t know the date we actually got serious so we just go with the day we met on Tinder and I went to her house and supplied her with hours of endless pleasure. Our love has evolved into something I’ve never before experienced and I wanted to make this day special, and also thank her for dealing with someone that may be the most insane person she’s ever met. I had seen that my chef friend Matt Wick had visited a restaurant in Northampton, Massachusetts called Seven Strong Avenue and after that he went to the East Heaven Hot Tubs. I’d wanted to go to the hot tub spa for some time so I pretty much stole Matt’s whole idea. Meg and I ate a BEAUTIFUL dinner and then went to the hot tubs directly after. The night itself was so loving and special but it would not have been that way if it weren’t for the excellent staff at Seven Strong Avenue and Chef Jon Adler. I had no idea the culinary treasures that lay before me when I breached the threshold of their front door, shall we?
So as soon as we sat down we were greeted by a server that was the epitome of what a server should be; attentive, alert, personable, funny and engaging. We ordered cocks and mocks and got down to brass tacks, it would be a pair of nine-course tasting menus for the both of us. I did not expect to see what happened next. First thing to arrive wasn’t even technically a course, but a little extra something we ordered off the bar menu. This anomaly looked like a brioche roll topped with sea salt, but when it hit the table and was explained to me, my mind was blown. This small dinner roll looking thing was in fact a pork bun! The pork was inside, like a damn doughnut, pure genius. Next was a small piece of kohlrabi wrapped around a green strawberry and spruce tips served on rock. This was a tasty bite and really got my mind churning about what would come next. Second course was a good size house chicharron topped with rose petal, cured egg yolk and wakame. Wakame for those that don’t know is a sea vegetable, or edible seaweed. It has a subtly sweet flavor and is most often served in soups and salads. Sea-farmers have grown wakame in Japan since the Nara period. Next was also a non-tasting menu plate, house made potato chips. Sound’s boring right? Think again. These chips were somehow air-popped or fried, I don’t know how the hell they got them like this but they were exactly like Munchos, as white trash as that sounds, shit, I LOVE MUNCHOS! Third course was a beautiful looking asparagus dish served with sorrel, cattail and cranberry. The way the flavors in this dish unfolded in your mouth was something of magic or ancient alchemy, totally insane and awesome. Up next was a dish I was very pleased to consume, the five-month coppa. It was so good that I had to ask Chef Jon about it. He said that they had gotten it from a local farm but it was cured in house. I then mentioned to Chef Jon that I was instructed to ask for the “basement tour” by Chef Matt Wick. I can’t begin to tell you how captivated I was for about the next ten minutes. The tour consisted of showing us around the kitchen, a garden in back of the building and then the basement where Chef Jon had some sick setups going. This guy cures his own meat, makes vinegar, brews spirits for the cocktails in the bar menu, ferments and pickles EVERYTHING and best of all does not waste a single thing. Chef Jon grinds up the paper-like skin of an onion and turns it to powder to be used in future dishes, he is that dedicated.
Ok, back to our excellent meal. Next was a vegetable dish; squash, miso, nasturtium and brown butter. This was one of my favorites, no meat, yet satisfying like protein would be, so very weird. The brown butter broth in the bottom of the bowl was the kicker. The layers of squash were stacked reminiscent to a log cabin almost, very cool. Next was probably one of the cooler takes on a dish that I’ve seen. So, we all know what a dolma is, so imagine a thin dolma, green leaf, almost like a thin cigar, because that is where the term “Moroccan Cigar” comes from. So thin turmeric leaf filled with dry aged beef and fermented green tomatoes. The thing is probably no bigger than a woman’s pinkie finger, I say woman's because mine is huge. This was one bite for me. The taste and intensity that came from this bite was insane. It tasted like I had eaten a whole hamburger, a good hamburger. Next was the last savory course and it was a beautiful one. Pork grilled over spruce, cabbage and strawberry broth. The taste that came out of these couple small pieces of pork was nothing short of impossible. When Chef Jon brought me back to the kitchen he showed me this small grill that he said is popular in Japanese cooking. It was like a box that had red embers and coals in the bottom with branches of spruce burning on top of those and then the grates of the grill on top of those. So cool to see something so strange being applied in an American kitchen, these are the little nuances that made this meal so special.
Now it was time for dessert and I was very excited. The first dessert was nothing that I had ever had before. Maple, milk, grains, shaved whey granita. So imagine a bowl of puffy whipped milk, light consistency, topped with grains that were reminiscent to grape nuts, with a tasty shaved ice on top of that. I slurped the whole damn bowl and then snatched Meg’s away from her, I don’t care if it was our anniversary or not! While we were waiting for the final dessert, a small box was delivered to the table. There were small openings at the top; on top of those were small toasted meringue tartlets made with rose gelee. The box opened to reveal small flowers, a small cardstock that read “happy anniversary”, and a hand written poem. This was the most sentimental thing that has ever happened to me in a restaurant, even topping my experience at Chef Dan Barber’s Stone Barns. This was intimate and personal and meant something. Meg definitely cried and I was very happy. We paid our check, said goodbye to Chef Jon and the staff and went about the rest of our anniversary night. This was the best restaurant experience I’ve had in 2017 and it was the best example of hospitality I’ve ever experienced. Chef Jon is no longer at Seven Strong Ave but I will be sure to inform you all as to his new endeavors.
Also, Chef Jon will join me on an upcoming episode of my podcast, Breaking Bread with Benn Grim so stay tuned!