The recent debut of Bread Feast at Bread Furst, a weekly dinner collaboration among chefs Frank Ruta and Aggie Chin of the late Palena and baker Mark Furstenberg of Bread Furst makes one thing abundantly clear: We miss Palena, the Cleveland Park dining destination celebrated for its weave of Italian and French accents. The restaurant shuttered in April.
A familiar, giddy frisson takes over my table when four of us ease into Ruta’s butternut squash and chanterelle bisque, its autumnal flavors nicely punctuated with saffron, hot pepper and lime zest, the last zap in a cap of whipped cream. No one needs to say a word; wide eyes and grins all around confirm the liquid perfection in our cups. A sliver of nutmeg-laced goat cheese tart channels Palena, too. Fennel in the delicate crust and fried artichokes atop the savory pie make for a quiche like no other.
Forgive me for getting ahead of myself. Suffice it to say, if you care about food, you’ll want to make a date with Bread Feast.
Some background: The soup and the tart are part of that evening’s antipasto service that kicks off the four-course, fixed-price dinners, introduced Oct. 24 and staged within Furstenberg’s bakery after it closes for the day. Tickets for the 32 seats are purchased online on the Bread Furst site, which posts a fresh, family-style menu each Sunday at 5 p.m. for the next week’s single-seating dinners. The cost: $85 per diner, including non-alcoholic beverages, tax and tip. A handful of classic cocktails and a small selection of wines are available for extra. Bread Feast starts at 7 p.m. with cocktails and a handful of antipasti, offered at stations around the bakery. Dinner begins around 7:30.
My posse Ubered over for opening night, an event attended by a swath of Washington food bylines and accompanied by a few slips (including one of our own: We arrived half an hour late). Bread Feast could work on its pacing (dishes were slow getting to diners), its wine service (we had to ask for a list), its bright lighting. The concept could also be more mindful of special requests, like the delayed vegetarian plate, composed from among the bakery’s side dishes. Salads of delicious curried lentils, and charred cauliflower with caramelized onions and tahini, helped smooth out that last wrinkle.
Ultimately, the first Feast yielded more to praise than to pick on. A second-course bread bowl hiding grilled peppers, mushrooms, a sunny egg and tomato sauce was as good for the wrap as the filling; and winy stuffed veal breast was presented with bite-size pastries piped with Yukon Gold potatoes and aged Gouda cheese — gougeres of distinction. Our eyes popped again when Chin’s dessert was introduced: plump apples on a veneer of buckwheat crust displayed on a pale green raised cake stand. Martha Stewart, move over. With the bar tab come bonbons, including buttery, melt-in-the-mouth caramels that will fail to make it home. Furstenberg trekked to antiques stores in southwest Virginia and Baltimore to secure some of the dishware, including the fat milk bottles that now serve as water pitchers.
None of the principals know how long they will continue Bread Feast. “I’m hoping forever,” says Furstenberg. Continuing the dinners, he says, depends on diner response and the star chef’s interest. Although Ruta is eager to open a restaurant of his own again, he himself reminds us that he once went to Obelisk to help out temporarily and ended up cooking at the Italian restaurant three years.
Bread Feast — and area food lovers — should be so lucky.
4434 Connecticut Ave NW. 202-765-1200. breadfurst.com. Four-course dinner, $85 a person.