Words By Marcus Dowling, Photos By Tam Sackman
Ardeo + Bardeo’s new menu, courtesy of new head chef Matt Kuhn, blends notes of Southern cuisine, farm-to-table heartiness and a whimsical nature borne of an awareness of how to use global staples in traditional domestic dishes. Dishes that sound avant garde deliver as comfort food with an edge, and succeed in creating meals as culinary journeys into delicious new spaces.
Wednesday evening’s five-course meal started with a maple-braised pork cheek. The savory pork fell apart with a fork alone, caught by a bed of spaghetti squash that was subdued enough to ensure the pork took center stage. A bright purple beet-grain mustard puree added a sweet counterpart to the salt of the rest of the dish.
Dish two was a grano orrecchiette, the Italian dish combining a series of standout ingredients – duck confit ragu, cipplolinis, craisins, chestnuts and a house ricotta chesse – that if not combined in the proper balance would create a dish erring on the side of sweetness or an earthier flavor. However, this was not the case here, as the array of flavors awoke various senses on the palate to create a course that challenged cautious expectations but delivered in spades.
The true star of the meal was course three, a “Carolina Gold Rice ‘Congee’” that served as Kuhn’s ode to both his Charleston, South Carolina home and his diverse culinary inspirations. The nine-year veteran chef showed his seasoning here, as in daring to create grits-as-congee to accompany a explosively spicy house-made andouille sausage, a well-seasoned and slightly fried head-on salt-pepper shrimp, spiced octopus pieces that erred on the side of red pepper heat, it delivered. Using traditional chinese dashi broth alongside starchy Carolina gold rice to create the course’s base – and then topping that off with a perfectly cooked Japanese egg more in tune with eating at a ramen shop (complete with thick orange yolk and hearty whites) – Kuhn yet again proved to be a chef that in trusting, steers diners towards a meal-as-comforting culinary spectacle.
Boudin blanc stuffed quail was the meal’s only course featuring fowl, and showed Kuhn a still more than able French cuisine chef. The quail itself benefitted from the course’s only truly progressive concept. Being stuffed with the savory Louisiana boudin blanc white sausage and farro risotto, the quail was able to retain a moist quality that showcased an expected succulence. Joined on the plate by firm lobster mushrooms, baby fall vegetables and a one-of-a-kind jus given the ingredients, it delivered the most accustomed presentation of the evening.
As it should always be, dessert delivered contentment. Buttermilk doughnuts are a lighter-feeling homage to beignets in the French Quarter sans the powdered sugar, while the pumpkin-polenta cake gives a unique, pie-like mouth feel, but delivers fall’s favorite sweet squash taste. The pear-butterscotch cremoiux is the dessert menu standout though, as the ice cream-style dessert is presented as a thick and creamy, and has a smooth aftertaste with tart and savory notes.
When paired with a series of wines and cocktails (the use of an apple cider with dessert was an unexpected knockout of an idea) that all fall at less than $20 a bottle, the unexpected delight of Ardeo+Bardeo’s new spate of offerings is completed with yet another comforting, yet unexpected note. If wanting all of the hearty flavor of home with the flash of fine dining, Matt Kuhn’s veteran, unique take on cuisine is well worth the time.