Last weekend we headed up to Maine to spend a few days with dear friends in a cabin by the sea. Our days were full of sun, trees, rocks, ocean and sand, and our evenings with fire and stars. Of course, there was delicious food throughout. Meals cooked together with the bounty of Maine -- the produce found at the farmers market, the seafood procured from local fishermen, and mushrooms foraged from the surrounding forests.
On the night we gave our knives and grill a rest, we headed into the city for a dinner at Fore Street – one of my favorite restaurants in the world.
Nestled prominently within the historic Old Port district of Portland, Fore Street has been cooking up phenomenal Maine fare for over two decades.
Image source: http://www.forestreet.biz/
When you walk through its inviting double wooden doors, the warm interior of brick walls and exposed beams, at once cavernous and cozy, whisks you away from whatever remains outside. The kitchen is not only open, it anchors the space. A heart in its center -- glowing, pulsing. Passing by the kitchen, you might catch a whiff of smoke from the wood burning oven, a sear from grill, or a spit from the open fire rotisserie.
Fore Street is helmed by Sam Hayward, a superstar chef who has won many awards and glowing reviews, but humble guy you'd never catch bragging about, or even acknowledging, his many accomplishments.
Hayward was one of the first farm-to-table chef's in Maine, before farm-to-table was a fashionable thing. It’s just his philosophy, the way he cooks – seasonally and in collaboration with local farmers, fishermen, foragers, cheesemakers, bakers, brewers, and other artisans who supply his ingredients. The ingredients are simple and straightforward, but their expression is complex. Many cooks have been inspired to follow the path he forged.
Standing outside, hungry and eager, we waited in a long line for the doors to swing open. Our early evening seating ran, without notice, long into the night as we coursed out our dishes and paired wines.
Our memorable meal included just-plucked-from-the-ocean-fresh oysters from along the Maine coast that tasted briny and sweet. A dish of Bang's Island mussels cooked in the wood-fired oven and dressed with vermouth, almonds, garlic and copious amounts of butter. A a plate of house-made charcuterie that included lamb heart pastrami, chicken liver pate with a blueberry gelée and pork kielbasa. A tomato salad with fresh corn and foraged chanterelles. And there was a spit-fire roasted local pork chop with cabbage.
The standout dish, created at the perfect time—peak tomato season—was a mini tart with caramelized heirloom tomatoes and a golden puffed pastry crust topped with fresh goat cheese mousse.
Back in NYC, I was missing Maine and daydreaming about that incredible meal at Fore Street, especially the tomato tart. So, I decided to try to recreate it at home. I scaled it up from an individual mini-tart to a full (9-inch) size. I couldn't find the variety of heirloom tomatoes they use, but I found several other beautiful cherry tomatoes at the green market. This tart is similar to a tarte tatin, only with savory tomatoes in lieu of sweet apples. Enjoy it warm out of the oven, topped with a good dollop of goat cheese mousse.
Upside-down Cherry Tomato Tart
Adapted from Fore Street Restaurant
Cherry tomato tart:
2 pints cherry tomatoes
A sprinkle of fresh thyme leaves
One 9-inch-square piece puff pastry, just thawed
Goat cheese mousse:
4 1/2 ounces fresh goat cheese, at room temperature
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons heavy cream
Fresh chives, thinly sliced
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
Cherry tomato tart: Heat a 9-inch cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Coat the bottom with olive oil and add a splash of sherry vinegar. Add the tomatoes to the skillet along with the thyme. Season with salt and pepper. Top the tomatoes with the sheet of puff pastry. Trim the corners and tuck the edges between the tomatoes and the skillet. Bake until the pastry is dark golden brown, about 40 minutes. Let cool 5 minutes. Drain the excess juice by holding the pastry and tipping the skillet. Place a plate on top of the skillet, pray, and then quickly flip the tart out onto the plate.
Goat cheese mousse: Mix the goat cheese with 2 tablespoons of heavy cream and a sprinkle of chives. In another bowl, beat ¼ cup cream until stiff peaks form. Fold the whipped cream into the goat cheese mixture.
Serve slices of tart warm with a dollop of goat cheese mousse. (It’s best to eat this tart right out of the oven, ideally shared among friends or family, because the puff pastry is fragile and isn’t meant to last.)