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Monday, November 10, 2014

Sojourn in NOLA: A Tasting Menu Pop-Up

A couple weeks ago, Chef Jeff Williams with the New Orleans based pop-up Sojourn, invited me to attend his first dinner. Intrigued, I agreed to go and brought my Chief Confusion Coordinator, Blair Loup, along for the ride. Speculations about our impending dining experience weaseled their way into the business strategy talks and pop culture debates that are the typical Jay and Blair conversations. While we were optimistic about the menu, what the 21 year old Massachusetts native who came to New Orleans via Indiana presented wound up being one of the most inspired meals I've eaten this year.

Sojourn plans to occupy kitchens in small spaces like The Tasting Room, a cozy wine bar on Magazine St., where our dinner was held. The concept is to present a variable tasting menu on a weekly basis to 10-12 guests. Sojourn pops up, creates a magical meal, and then they are gone, updating you via social media as to when and where the next dinner might be. After the dishes I enjoyed during Chef Jeff's first dinner, I hope Sojourn stays around for a while.

Radish, Tarragon, Oyster
Radish, Tarragon, Oyster

The first dish represented a bold and interesting plate of raw radishes surrounding a tarragon and oyster emulsion. The radish is mild in flavor, but very crisp in texture, which paired well with the velvety tarragon puree. 

Pig Ear, Arugula, Herbs, Horseradish
Pig Ear, Arugula, Herbs, Horseradish

The second course has ruined every other salad for me. I think I could eat it everyday. Coming from somebody like me, that's a huge statement. The horseradish vinaigrette added just enough kick to the peppery arugula to make a savory salad come to life. The fresh baby carrots added a playfully delightful component and I'm not sure that I can use anything other than salty, crispy pig ear instead of croutons in a salad ever again. This was truly a remarkable dish.

Chicken Skin, Andouille
Chicken Skin, Andouille

Thin chicken skins with andouille spice gave us a nice salty crisp before the soup course. The plating throughout the dinner was on point. The chicken skins were served on sealed slices of wood that Jeff made from a fallen tree limb.

Celeriac, Stems
Celeriac, Stems

The soup only worked if you can appreciate celery, so fortunately growing up in Louisiana where celery replaces the carrot in the Holy Trinity of Cajun Cooking, I didn't mind. A strong flavor of celery cut with a slight creaminess made for an earthy, cozy soup.

Cracker, Brown Butter
Cracker, Brown Butter

Another snack plated on pieces of a fallen tree limb, this stump held a homemade cracker with a hand-churned brown butter. Simple, sure, but also really well executed and a great bite between the other courses.

Grains, Smoked Yolk, Scallion
Grains, Smoked Yolk, Scallion

Blair's favorite dish smelled like coffee and smoke upon arrival. Dehydrated corn puff-esque morsels adorned with a smoked egg yolk crowned a bed of other grains. The smokiness of the yolk made it smell heartier than I expected a grain-focused dish to be. It's important in dinners like these to not fill up too quickly, so I appreciated the lightness of the menu items up to this point.

Purple Potato, Dill, Fennel
Purple Potato, Dill, Fennel

A warm, crushed purple potato wading in dill oil came out to the table next. Once again Sojourn showed that simplicity can be as delicious as complexity. Sometimes letting ingredients speak for themselves truly allows them to shine.

Butter, Bread
Butter, Bread

While we waited for the next course, Chef Jeff brought out some sliced bread with a hand-churned, cultured butter. Thick in consistency, the fresh butter had a hint of bleu cheese in flavor.

Butter, Bread
Pork Belly, Fennel, Rutabaga

I haven't met any pork belly I didn't like. The slow-cooked meat and rendered fat creates a flavorful and punch of pig that nobody can resist. Beautifully plated with charred fennel and rutabaga puree, the fork-tender pork belly gave us a nice savory lead into dessert.

Apple, Honeydew, Yogurt
Apple, Honeydew, Yogurt

An icy green apple granita sprinkled atop a dollop of homemade yogurt accentuated by medallions of honeydew melon put it's tart foot forward. The ensemble of flavors gracefully walked that fine line between tart and puckering so well that I couldn't stop eating until every drop danced on my taste buds.

French Butter Pastry
French Butter Pastry

Chef Jeff Williams doesn't consider himself much of a pastry chef, but these warm, buttery French pastries were downright delectable. I look forward to seeing what dishes he puts on his next menu. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook to catch the next Sojourn journey.