In ancient times, Celtic communities readied for the dark of winter with a harvest festival called Samhain. They gathered produce for drying, brewing, fermenting, and cellar storage. Preparing their winter larders, farmers completed the largest butchering effort of the year. Copious alcohol consumption around Samhain’s requisite bonfires legendarily coincided with a spike in births the following mid-summer. Very festive indeed, those Celts.
Farm-to-table motivated eateries [like Pago, here in SLC] reflect Samhain’s ancient seasonal imperative; sourcing local haunts to draw out summer’s booty for as long as possible. Pago’s Harvest Dinner last weekend was all about strutting out the best that our Salt City brings to the autumn table for 40 very happy guests. Hosted literally at the source of most of the dinner’s produce, Frog Bench Farms [more on that amazing site, and generous stewards, Joe and Paula Sargetakis, to come from the COLLECTIVE soon], the meal showcased RUTH Lewandowski Wines created by local winemaker and Pago’s talented sommelier, Evan Lewandowski.
Harvest-focused foods have bold flavors by their nature: think pungent Brussels sprouts, sweet pumpkin, the tang of turnip, loamy mushrooms, and lush opulence of duck confit. The meal and wines reiterated both autumn’s decadence and color-saturated vegetal drama. Pago’s owner, Scott Evans, Executive Chef Phelix Gardener, and Sous Chef Drew Fuller not only rose to the flavorful challenge, but pulled it up by its collar and gave it a solid arse kicking, for good measure. You can count on Pago’s food to be delicious and conscionably-sourced. That it is also witty, clever, and freaking gorgeous is bonus points, gold stars, gilding the lily, and icing that goddamn cake...all rolled up into one hyperbolic [and dare we say, justified] mixed metaphor.
This latest installment of Pago’s popular wine-driven dinner series featured three 2012 vintage RUTH Lewandowski wines. Evan brought two whites — Mahlon, a fruity and crisp Arneis; and Chilion, a skin-fermented dry Cortese — and premièred his Boaz, a cheeky, supah-fresh 100% Carignan red wine that he called the “Teen Wolf” of his cellar. Bold. Ballsy. Pour us another glass. Oh, it's good enough alone, but even better paired with the stellar plates. Gouda crisps [inspired by the crispy cheese oozing off of and frying hard on the flat-top from the juicy edge of a burger] topped with slivered radish, whipped bacon butter, and crunchy black salt. Crème fraîche-sauced diced potato risotto with fall vegetables. The purple tang of huckleberry gastrique matched with a succulent confit-sausage stuffed duck-breast roulade. Yes, please. More of that. A platter spiked with the kinky subterranean inversion of all things carrot: an in-your-face reminder that these funky Beetlejuice-esque veggies are taproots in all of their twisted glory. It’s about as far from the ubiquitous plastic-bagged uniform ‘baby’ vegetable as you could imagine.
Thanks to Frog Bench Farms’ extensive greenhouse and cold-frame, urban-farming strategy, Pago will be extending the harvest long into winter while still keepin’ it local. Chefs Gardener and Fuller are also up to their elbows pickling, dehydrating, smoking, and canning up the best of summer’s good stuff to keep the menu cranking all winter long. We’ll drink [and eat] to that. #BonfireOptional