Slideshow: Chef Nugent Puts His Best Goosefoot Forward

amuse-bouche (beet/citrus mignonette/goat cheese)
amuse-bouche (beet/citrus mignonette/goat cheese)

The amuse-bouche is a nod to the plant family that gave Goosefoot its name. Many tasty ingredients are among the goosefoots, including this golden roasted beet. Mild, with tempered earthiness, the beet sits in a citrus and cucumber mignonette and wears a marigold petal. A tiny dab of goat cheese hides beneath the spoon, adding its tang to the light sweetness of what’s on top.

scallop/maitake/crab/lemongrass
scallop/maitake/crab/lemongrass

A scallop, toasted on the outside, huddles on the plate above a warm spoonful of crab and asparagus risotto and maitake ragout. The maitake surprised me by taking the background, while the herbal licorice notes of the fennel puree, dotted at left and right, and a sweet lemongrass gelée holding miniature edible flowers aloft, make for a few powerful fresh notes.

shrimp/preserved garlic/rosemary
shrimp/preserved garlic/rosemary

A hollowed farm egg holds a few rich, steaming spoonfuls of comfort food. You have salty preserved garlic and Parmesan custard inside, with speckles of a shrimp, tomato, and rosemary ragout. The technique is perfectly French, but the peppery rich flavor and crumbled topping took me straight back to my Midwest farmtown—where our casseroles are topped with corn flakes instead of salty-sweet dehydrated parsnips.

toothfish/espelette/crawfish/coriander
toothfish/espelette/crawfish/coriander

On the toothfish, powdered espelette chili is mystifyingly spicy and tangy, like a union of sumac and gochugaru. That, and because the bright fennel puree makes another appearance as a comet swipe sprinkled with pollen, made this my favorite savory dish of the evening.

duck breast/cardamom/hubbard squash/tapioca/acorn
duck breast/cardamom/hubbard squash/tapioca/acorn

One of the most memorable restaurants I’ve ever been to was famous for a chef who would smoke duck, stuff it into a squash, and roast it, oh so slowly, for hours before you arrived to dine. The presentation was fantastic—a pumpkin broken open like a cornucopia, the smoky meat spilling out.

This dish, albeit much more composed, achieved the same harmony between squash and duck. Despite only appearing in a dab here and there, the hubbard squash puree was a powerful player, with a slight spiced pie flavor complementing a slightly gamey duck breast and sherry-acorn gastrique. On top, a tapioca crisp sprinkled with powdered fois gras sat on a dab of thick apple butter, providing some sweetness and crunch.

angus beef/spiced beluga lentils/cumin/compressed apple
angus beef/spiced beluga lentils/cumin/compressed apple

The tender Angus filet arrived with an aromatic gust of the truffle oil with which it was finished. But that nearly overwhelmed the far more intriguing base of beluga lentils, which were spiced with ginger and cumin, and reminiscent of a daal. On the side, little compressed apple globes packed all the tartness of a Granny Smith in one nibble.

palate cleanser (beet/pomegranate/yuzu tonic)
palate cleanser (beet/pomegranate/yuzu tonic)

Perhaps because of its sheer brightness and simplicity, the palate cleanser was another favorite of mine. The tonic’s color comes from beet; its sweetness, pomegranate; and its bitter-citrus flavor, yuzu. One or two floating droplets of citrus olive oil are difficult to see in the photo, but lend a nice touch.

cinderella pumpkin/turkish coffee/persimmons/cassia
cinderella pumpkin/turkish coffee/persimmons/cassia

Chef Nugent has an artisanal chocolate line in the works, and the desserts are an apt sample of what we’ll be seeing from him soon.

In the first, a vanilla-scented white chocolate ganache encases an airy mousse of Cinderella pumpkin. A smear of rich, sweet mandarin orange cremeux keeps the truffle in place; while a line of purple basil and mint flowers march across the plate, perched in persimmon gelée. On the side, a Turkish coffee-infused cream provides a nice bitter balance.

chocolate/passion fruit/coconut/ice wine
chocolate/passion fruit/coconut/ice wine

The second dessert is a darker riff on the first theme. A shell of milk chocolate hides a rich whipped chocolate mousse, and is accompanied by an inventive melee of coconut—coconut tower; coconut ribbon; coconut cream; coconut gelée.

The milky fattiness of both together was too much for me, so I would have taken the chocolate with just the minor accompaniments. I loved the toasty, melt-in-your-mouth powdered praline in the corner, a few hidden crunchy cacao nibs, the tart passion fruit element like a gumdrop not quite set, and stunning ruby ice wine reduction.