The Dining Alternative

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Supper Club? Not exactly . . . way too refined for that.

Underground restaurant? Hmmm, maybe a bit closer.

Bryan and I had a unique opportunity to enjoy a delightful evening at the home of Chef Peter Ungár and his wife, Ginhee. This wasn’t just an ordinary dinner party. Instead, Chef Ungár is a private chef with a pretty impressive background. He recently returned from Paris, where he worked for a year as a poissonnier at the two-star Michelin restaurant Le Grand Véfour.

Chef Ungár’s past experience includes spending several years in Boston with the Four Seasons, gaining experience at restaurants such as Aujourd’hui and The Bristol Lounge. More recently, he has worked as a private chef for his own company, The Dining Alternative, which includes these 9-course “Chef’s Table” dinners at his home.

One a chilly January evening, Bryan and I receive an email with a location in Somerville and a time of arrival.

It is a bit unnerving, but we drive up to the house, ring the doorbell, and enter Peter and Ginhee’s warm and inviting home.
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We are immediately greeted personally by Chef Peter, his wife Ginhee, and the sommelier who is helping out with the wines that evening. In a matter of minutes, our coats are whisked away and we are holding glasses of biodynamic champagne from France.

There is a flurry of activity in Chef Ungár’s kitchen, where multiple chefs work feverishly to plate the first course, a series of “amuses” for the guests to enjoy with their bubblies.
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Chef Ungár personally presents each individual platter to the guests, explaining how each bite was made. We try Rice Smoked Ocean Trout with Lime (top left) , Paprika Thyme Puff (top right), and the Black Olive and Edamame Mousse with Speck (bottom left). My favorite is the Paprika Thyme Puff, which reminds me of a gougere.

WINE: CHATEAU LA TOUR GRISE 2001 SAUMUR, BRUT NON DOSE
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Soon after we finish the pre-dinner bites, we sit down at our “assigned” seats. We soon get to know the people who sit around us, which is fun. On my left side is a chef who works in a high-end Japanese restaurant in Portland and totally shares my love of food. On my right is a couple who loves to travel as much as we do. I am totally soaking up information about all sorts of interesting trip ideas, such as visiting Alba during white truffle season (can you imagine??!). I like how the dinner brings together people with similar interests over excellent food and wine.
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Chef Ungár takes great care of us, carefully explaining each dish as he brings them out. Chef Ungár is fanatic about trying his hardest to use locally sourced, sustainable, and high quality product. More than once he emphasizes how he only picks out the best parts of a particular cut of meat for the courses he prepared.
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Just one look at his kitchen and you can tell that he’s extremely organized and meticulous about his work.
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Our first course is Sea Urchin, a delicately presented Japanese-style “chawanmushi” (egg custard) served with black trumpet mushrooms and shaved black winter truffles. Bryan loves the strong uni flavor in the dish, which works nicely with the delicate egg custard and the mushrooms. I love the presentation and the delicate egg custard, but I find the pungent uni flavor a bit too strong for me.

WINE: VIGNOBLE REVEILLE 2011 BLANC DE POT COTES CATALANES ROUSILLION, CARIGNAN BLANC
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One of my favorite dishes of the evening is the Sea Scallop, served in a gorgeous scallop shell on top of a velvety sauce with flavor elements of yuzu, pomelo, preserved lemon, and avocado oil cream. I already love yuzu (a Japanese citrus), so it’s no surprise that I love this zesty combination of flavors. Of course, the fresh scallops, which are nearly raw, are incredibly fresh and sweet.

WINE: PASCAL PIBALEAU 2011 TOURAINE, CHENIN BLANCDiningAlternativePasta
One of Bryan’s favorite dishes is the Hand rolled Seaweed Pasta (painstakingly rolled out one by one!), which comes with Hen of the Woods Mushrooms (also known as maitake in Japan) and anchovies in a flavorful kelp broth poured table side. I love the Japanese influence in this – everything from the maitake mushrooms to the kelp flavored broth. Of course Bryan loves the texture of the homemade noodles, but more than that, he really appreciates the complex mix of umami in the flavors, contributed by the crunchy anchovies, earthy mushrooms, and kelp broth.

WINE: CHATEAU LA TOUR GRISE 2011 ZEC ROSE, CABERNET FRANC
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The lovely, delicate Sea Bream is served on top of a bright red rhubarb sauce and served alongside beetroot “roses” and a gorgeous “roll” that incorporated elements of pomegranate, campari, and sake.

WINE: PASCAL PIBALEAU 2009 CREMANT DE LOIRE ROSE, GROLLEAU
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The meatier Monkfish comes with fennel braised in milk jam, an intense parsley sauce, and micro-diced cucumbers served with browned butter.

WINE: CHATEAU DE RONTETS 2009 CLOS VARAMBON POUILLY FUISSE
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We pause for a palate cleansing “course” called Schisandra Berry, inspired by a Korean drink called omija cha, so called because this tea is supposed to embody all five flavors in one drink: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and “pungent”. Chef Ungar’s version comes with a pine nut cookie on top.
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We try to taste all five flavors, but frankly, I’m not sure if I can taste all five.
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Chef Ungár makes good use of sous vide as a cooking technique. Here you can see him using a blowtorch to char a piece of duck that was cooked under sous vide.
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This Miso Cured Duck is one of the most time-consuming dishes to make. Chef Ungár prepares and cures this duck for over a week. It is then served with various “sheets” of flavor, such as pear, daikon, and celery, along with smoked sea salt and an edamame foam.

Bryan and I both love this dish. I don’t usually love duck, but I have to admit that this miso-cured duck is fantastic. The miso adds a lovely umami depth to the duck. Furthermore, the sous vide treatment results in gorgeously tender and juicy pieces. This is definitely another highlight of the evening.

WINE: VALENTIN ZUSSLIN 2010 CLOS LIEBENBERG RIESLING ORSCHWIHR, ALSACE
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The Dry Aged Rib Eye & Cap of Beef comes with a red curry foam and dots of an intense cilantro sauce. The presentation for this dish is creative: Chef Ungár served two different pieces of beef but tried to make them look the same. I can’t remember the details, but he somehow cut the rib-eye and shapes it in such a way so that it resembles a cap of beef. It is interesting to eat these side by side.

WINE: VIGNOBLE REVEILLE 2010 FRANC TIREUR COTES CATALANES, 100+YEAR OLD CARIGNAN
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For our first dessert, we again are influenced by Japan with this Green Tea Meringue which has been browned with a blowtorch (and thus smells like fire-toasted marshmallows!).  This comes with a mango lime “pudding” (more like a thick sauce) and homemade ginger ice cream.

WINE: VALENTIN ZUSSLIN 2008 BOLLENBERG, VENDANGE TARDIVE GEWURTZTRAMINER
_DSC0955-2The next dessert is Guava + Chocolate. This gorgeous plate consists of a deep, intense chocolate “cake” (I would almost call it a fudge!) topped with a macadamia nut “crust” and served with rings of guava sauce.

WINE: BRUNO VERDI 2010 SANGUE DI GIUDA OLTREPO PAVESE, BONARDA / BARBERA
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Finally, we are given Parting Morsels, which include rose beet marshmallow, chocolate almond shell, and pear lemongrass “chew” (like a pate fruit).
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At this point, people are chatting as if they have known each other for years. The atmosphere is noticeably livelier. I’m sure the wine didn’t hurt either!

I am surprised at what a lovely time I had. Seriously, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Would most people enjoy going to a dinner party with strangers? It’s surprisingly enjoyable.

Chef Ungár still has these tastings a couple times a month. You buy tickets beforehand ($150 all-inclusive of wine pairing, tax, and gratuity). Seating is only limited to 12 guests per dinner, so the environment is most definitely intimate and cozy. In fact, more often than not, by the time you leave the place, you’ve made more than a few friends. It’s a fun and unique dining experience, for sure.

Chef Ungár is planning to open a restaurant with this dining concept soon (he’s currently looking at locations in Boston). Diners will sit in a bar-like setting where chefs cook right in front of their eyes. This allows them to hand food to the diners the moment it’s done. It’s a chance to taste food at its freshest, it’s best. It sort of reminds me of one of my favorite restaurants in Las Vegas.
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I’m really excited about this. Bryan and I *really* enjoyed the cozy evening we had at Chef Ungár’s home. Chef Ungár and his staff know how to create a warm and inviting atmosphere in which guests can enjoy stunning food, great conversation, and excellent service.

Bryan especially loved the ambiance of eating in a home setting and seeing the chefs cooking up close. He even said, “if he [Chef Ungár] can recreate that same type of experience in a restaurant setting, I would totally go.”
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I personally really admired Chef Ungár’s devotion to food itself. He is fanatic about everything local and seasonal, going out of his way to carefully source his ingredients. He is also very interested in biodynamic wines. In fact, almost every single one of our wines that evening were biodynamic wines from France.

Frankly, even though $150 sounds like a lot, it’s really quite a great value when you consider that you’re getting 9 courses, 10 different (smaller) glasses of wine, tax and gratuity all-inclusive. At our meal, we had 12 guests and 6 people working in the kitchen. That’s a 2:1 guest: staff ratio – seriously pampered!

Let’s hope the best for Chef Ungár as he continues to seek out a space and (hopefully) make this restaurant a reality. I can’t wait!

The Dining Alternative
Somerville, MA
The Dining Alternative on Urbanspoon

Disclaimer: Bryan and I did not pay for this meal. All opinions are my own.

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Comments

  1. Tanya says

    It has been more than two years since I last tasted Chef Ungar’s food. His creations are my all-time favorite (yes, even more than Joel Robuchon). You did it such justice that I am DYING as I read this account from Taiwan.

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