WELLINGTON, WELL DONE Forum takes apart the classic beef Wellington, drawing attention to the varied tastes of filet mignon, foie gras, and puff pastry.
Forum took over the Back Bay space that used to be Vox Populi, and sticks with the general VP design of sports bar downstairs and fine dining — in this case, somewhat futuristic food — upstairs. On the menu I sampled in September, the futurism (flavored foams, deconstruction of formerly composed dishes) sat lightly on a core of familiar big-night favorites. The new menu is more adventurous (skate wings in; striped bass out) but keeps up the style.
The deconstructed beef "Wellington" ($36) is all over the plate, where the classic beef Wellington is a steak, topped with foie gras, baked in pastry like a free-form pie.
Why would one deconstruct a dish hardly anyone orders anymore? One immediate advantage would be that the filet mignon can be cooked medium rare to order. The foie gras (liver so fattened it becomes like meat-flavored cream cheese) can be eaten as a few rich bites. The puff pastry, done as an empty purse and a rounded knot, is even more wonderful when not soggy with meat juices. Add wild mushrooms (chanterelles and oysters on our order), and you have a splendid platter. If you want the old-fashioned experience, just make up your own canapés of pastry, liver, and beef slices.
Chef Jared Chianciola shows a sure hand from the opening breadbasket, which comes with a trio of spreads. This column has discussed the "trio trap" in the past: why doesn't the chef just pick the best one? But here the subtlety of his honey butter (so easy to overdo the honey) is perfect with a mild sourdough slice; the just-enough-chili-infused extra-virgin olive oil (to slightly enhance EVOO's natural bite) is terrific with slices of a French "batard"; and white-bean paste (with not too much pepper) is a surprise match with raisin-nut bread.
A BLT soup (old menu, $10), however, showed the hazards of deconstruction. The base is a cold puree of heirloom tomatoes (inefficient but good), with a scoop of lettuce mousse (cool), cubes of toasted white bread as croutons (okay), tiny cubes of underdone slab bacon (nope, the abstract of bacon in this context is crunch). Summer vegetable salad ($13) was a clever combination of fresh fava beans, raw peas, micro carrots in yellow and white, pea tendrils, and field greens. The molecular touch was a topping of lemon foam. An autumn version goes to bitter greens and pears. Green salad ($12) in the "summer version" was accented with mandarin sections and peas; for fall, it is pomegranate seeds.
The striped bass ($25) was not an unusual design, but everything was done wisely and having the waiter ask how a diner wants his fish cooked is a new and good idea. I want mine done to just before it flakes, and it came about there, under some more lemon foam, with a foundation of cut-up black cherry tomatoes, green favas, and fresh peas.
The summer pappardelle ($23) was outstanding chewy house-made pasta, with a lemon flavor worked in, and a sauce of shreds of pork and wild mushrooms. (The fall version of the same ribbon pasta goes over the shrimp, clams, olives, and pine nuts.)
For a guest's birthday, I skipped over the moderately expensive wines and modern cocktails to a bottle of 2008 Patricia Green Cellars "Dundee Hills" Eason Vineyard pinot noir ($95). Green is one of the very best winemakers in Oregon, and most of her work is bought up in advance there. I knew something of her style from tasting at the winery and a friend's home in Portland, but if you want to find out what the Oregon pinot noir madness is all about, this is a bottle to splurge on. It has the light color and powerful flavor (fruit and vegetable aromas massed into a dark, long, complex impression on the palate, with the oak blending into the background) of the best French Burgundy.