It was great fun to revisit Damon Baehrel for Teresa's birthday, with a number of others in tow. I wasn't sure that our previous visit could be improved upon (see below). But somehow, it was. The experience was even longer - we were welcomed in at 3:45pm and left at midnight. The food was even better! Many of the same (or similar) dishes, some of which were greatly improved (such as the prawns) and new dishes that blew us away.
If you're unfamiliar (or haven't read below), Damon Baehrel welcomes you into his home and he is the only employee. There is no server, no dishwasher, etc. - there is only Chef Baehrel. His enthusiasm and excitement is contagious and generous in every way, from the time you arrive until the moment you leave. As we walked to our cars at midnight, it was as if he didn't want us to leave. (And truthfully, we didn't want to!)
Every inch of what you are served is sourced from his own property, with the exception of the meat and fish. He presses his own oils, makes his own flours, creates his own vinegars. Each dish is preceded by a 5 minute description of the various components, how they are made the various plants and trees and roots and branches he uses to create them. It is a spectacularly special meal to sit (and eat) through. The food is 3 Michelin star quality throughout. Gorgeous. Delicious. Interesting. Diverse.
The opening hour was spent in the entryway with appetizer style bites presented throughout. The crab was incredible but the scallop dish was the winner of the night! As before, I am not posting the food pictures to honor Damon's request for no photos. (Even the ones below are "illegal".)
We enjoyed the juice pairing this time, which he of course makes himself as well. They were stellar, eclipsing even the juice pairings I enjoyed in Copenhagen last month.
Dinner was leisurely, fun, light-hearted and stupendous. At one point, he brought out the acorn cones - a dish Teresa has craved again for 4.5 years since our last visit. I gave her mine so she could enjoy two of them. Damon, seeing that I had done that, brought me an additional one to be sure I had my own. Then joked that he would go hungry that evening because I was eating his only available dinner. It was that type of friendly, light-hearted banter that immediately endears you to him and his generosity.
I maintain that the story he tells is not possibly true. We each received a custom-whittled spoon, a new addition to his offering. "I make 12o0 of them each year now." That's 4 each day, every single day of the year. Just for the spoons. There is no way. "I was up at 5:45am starting the dinner for tonight." Given that we left at midnight, it is a 24 hour day for him (after cleaning up). And he does 3-4 of these each week? And has time to do all of the gleaning, pruning, crafting, pressing, etc? Nope. He had two hip replacements recently. "They sent me home same day from one of them, and I went right to work making flours." No. No, you didn't.
But it doesn't matter. If the entire thing is fabricated soup to nuts, the experience and food are worth however it is created. His uber-generous hospitality deserves every penny. If it is one big show, what an incredible show it is. To whatever degree it is true, it is jaw-dropping in its uniqueness.
Where it falls on that scale is inconsequential. We will remember this dinner for years to come.
Damon Baehrel is not easily described, nor easily believed. The restaurant he runs from his home supposedly has a 10-year waitlist and he no longer takes reservations. Everything you eat is grown and/or sourced by him alone from his own property (with the exceptions of meat and fish). He mills his own flours. Presses his own oils. Makes his own cheese and honey. Even the water is actually sap from his sycamore trees. He is the sole employee - chef, waiter, maitre'd, busser, dishwasher...everything.
It's impossible to believe the entire story. Are we really so fortunate that we jumped in front of the thousands of others waiting for a table? (I received one within about 6 months of learning about the place.) Had he really done a lunch for 14 people prior to our dinner, as he claimed? Does he really have the time and skill to produce every ingredient and source it from his own land?
Whatever the true story, our experience was masterful. We arrived at 4pm for dinner. There was one other couple - 4 of us were served that evening. At the top of the driveway, Damon stood in the doorway with an ear to ear smile and a gregarious, welcoming manner that added energy and excitement to the evening. He was clearly delighted beyond belief that we were there.
We left 28 courses and 7.5 hours later - at 11:30pm - and his enthusiasm and excitement never waned. He stood in that same doorway and eagerly waved as we drove back down his driveway after being the sole provider of our hospitality for what seemed like forever.
The food was at an extraordinarily high level, as well - a 3 Michelin star equivalent without question. The courses ranged from an opening bite (acorn crisp with cured goose with lightly charred corn husks on top) to a gorgeous charcuterie (with carrot top hay cheese), salmon, duck, crab, goat and more. He does not use sugar, butter or cream in any preparation. Each dish was refined, visually beautiful, showed an extremely high degree of execution and was just plain delicious.
What stole the show were his palate cleansers and level of service, gleefully describing each dish down to the techniques used to create each separate element and earnestly asking (as he cleared the plates) about your enjoyment of them. The incredible food was somehow surpassed by his generous hospitality, which is what you really come away remembering.
Food pictures are not shared to honor Mr. Baehrel's request to keep his dishes private. But rest assured, they are gorgeous. (If you must take a peek, you can look at this review. Our dinner was almost identical.)
There is only one way to describe our experience: generous. Damon is generous in manner, in food and in appreciation. It was an honor to sit at his table and eat his food. To whatever degree the story he tells is true or not, the experience he provides is, without question, at the highest level.
I would attend again in a heartbeat.
Replying to Steven Smith