By Helen Mitternight
If you want to belly up to the six-seat chef’s bar at Sorghum & Salt and get up close and personal with chef Tres Jackson, the new tasting menu offered Tuesday through Thursday and Sundays, is exactly what you’re looking for.
The restaurant, which prides itself on being “hyper-local” is offering a tasting menu that changes weekly and is paired with wines for each course. I was lucky enough to be invited to the six-course premier.
The first course was crispy potatoes with candied salmon and house-made kewpie-pickled collards. It’s the restaurant’s take on fish & chips, potatoes pounded and then fried into crisp balls, with salmon and bits of crispy collard atop a homemade mayonnaise full of umami. Kewpie, I found out, is not the doll of carnival fame but rather a Japanese mayo traditionally made with rice vinegar that the restaurant makes onsite. Paired with a honey-flavored 2016 Sass Willamette Pinot Gris, the dish had more complexity than any fish and chips I’ve ever tasted.
The second course was a risotto made with Anson Mills’ rice grit and topped with a red cabbage. The 2016 Paul Cluver Elgin Gewurtzimaner’s sweet taste pairs well with the smoky charred red cabbage.
Next up were mushrooms from City Roots and Tamari with a salty broth and frizzled leeks on top. There wasn’t quite enough broth for this to count as a soup, but rather too much to comfortably eat it without a spoon. It was delicious.
A bowlful of collards brought the dinner back to earth, with parmesan, bean paste and garlic and enough heat from chiles that the surprise pour of Miller High Life was a welcome tongue-cooler.
The standout course – at least, for me – was the local shrimp with crispy Brussels leaves. The rich, earthy crisped Brussels sprouts leaves contrasted with a bright herb swirl that was puckeringly fresh. A lovely Pinot Noir (2015 Lundeen Dundee) balanced the dish.
Rainbow trout almost had a sweet taste with tomato honey -- never would have thought of combining those flavors -- and a shishito pepper. A 2016 Jean-Claude Chanudet Cuvee du Chat Gamay didn't overpower the delicate flavors of the fish or the sauce, but definitely stood up to the pepper.
Keegan Filion pork was the foundation for a dish of sausage, pears and fennel cream topped, surprisingly, by tiny popped Sorghum berries. Who knew that sorghum had tiny berries, and who knew that, heated in oil, they become miniature popcorn? In fact, that’s the only way to do it, Jackson says.
“If you try to make popcorn out of that in an air popper, it’ll explode right in your face,” he warns.
Finally, dessert was cheese, but not just any cheese.
Burden Creek goat cheese was made into a tart pana cotta, topped with cashews, blackberries and a Muscadine-Pappy Van Winkle-maple sauce. You might question using the pricey Pappy in a sauce, but that’s only because you weren’t the one scraping your silverware against the plate to get every last drop. I might have been that one. Although, I was certainly not the only one.
The only suitable finish the meal was a toast with the delicious Cava Brut Reserve.
The chef’s tasting menu is $75 a person and the wine pairings are $50 a person. For more information on Sorghum & Salt, click here.
Sorghum & Salt is at 186 Coming Street.