Masterpiece Edition: Chef David Turin's Opus Ten in Portland

May 15, 2013 | By: John Golden

Consider the chef’s arsenal–foie gras, caviar, truffles, quail, lobster, lamb saddle and copious amounts of butter–and what you have is the all-star trappings of Chef David Turin’s ambitious citadel of taste, Opus 10.

Opened since late last year, I finally I dined there earlier this week on the divine merits of Turin’s cuisine: a show-stopper 9-course tasting menu of exquisitely complex preparations meant to wow, which they did, and tantalize, mission accomplished.

Tasting menus can be tiresome, long-drawn out affairs–too much food from chefs indulging their egos.

There’s certainly a touch of that going on at Opus 10 with this difference: You want more—and more. Unquestionably, I was very impressed by the range of dishes and fusion of flavors that were devised; some  were truly extraordinary while others merely amazing.

It’s hard to classify Turin’s style of cooking.  Certainly he relies on the tenets of French haute cuisine except that he flexes a modern American muscle that’s no less rich or classic.

Even the hors d’oeuvre presentation segued into exalted territory. The dining room’s major domo, David Muise, expertly performs table-side service from a classic captain’s rolling cart, which we rarely see in our neck of the woods.   Ready to be carved was the leg of pork house-cured prosciutto, along with Manchego cheese and these incredible crostini made with almonds, dried cranberries, sunflower and flax seeds dabbed with a dusting of garlic powder.

With it all was a magical aperitif prepared table-side, too. Into the Champagne flutes went several jiggers of lemon-rhubarb liqueur muddled with raspberry, balsamic vinegar infused with white-peach essence and a gentle drop of bacon-spiked olive oil.  The mixture was whizzed in the glass with a sort of miniature  mechanized whirling dervish until emulsified.  What a lavish and brilliant brew to accompany the earthy, salty tidbits that whet our appetite so breezily.

If I had any qualms so far it had to do more with the physical layout of the restaurant than anything else.  The small, highly stylized room–very gracious and comfortable– that’s carved out of his eponymous restaurant, David’s, is an incongruous confection–a jewel box tucked behind the modest trappings of his Monument Square neighborhood eatery. It’s like entering a barnyard of hobbledehoys before adjourning to the ballroom.

In a perfect world Opus 10 should command its own kingdom– perhaps in a splendid setting somewhere in Portland, overlooking the city lights and harbor beyond.

The room holds 18 diners overseen by Muise. In the kitchen is chef de cuisine, Bo Byrne, who’s been with David’s 388 for a decade along with Brett Cary, second in command who also hailed from that South Portland outpost and recently back from a stint in Europe before joining David, et al, at Opus 10.

This is not casual dining by any means.  Pop a few extra statins or spend more time on the treadmill before going and you’ll be in excellent condition to travel on this exceedingly satisfying culinary odyssey.

The meal began with a gratin of morels and exotic mushrooms formed into a mushroom-cap size serving.  The gratin was intense, if not a tad salty for my taste, but tamed by the sweet billowy froth of the Madeira cream shooter.  Down the hatch and it was a perfect first course.

The accompanying wine was an Austrian  Gruner Veltliner-Gobelsburger, a beautifully acidic white mellowed by its sweet, fruity finish– an ideal choice to stand up to this bracing first course.

With 8 courses to go anticipation of each dish was an adventure itself.  Before we knew it we were presented with one of his glorious signature devises, butter-poached lobster.  It was set atop a risotto cake in a tantalizing citrus-truffle cream.  The risotto melted in your mouth along with the lobster perfumed with lemon and  truffles.  A bigger wine than the workmanlike Pouilly-Fuisse that was served might have been a better choice such as a chateau-bottled  Chablis or Sancerre.

One of two fish courses served was carefully done: seared local scallops with smoked salmon and bowfin caviar, the American  fish eggs from  Louisiana.  It was a nice touch atop the scallops served with Murrieta’s Well, “The Whip” from Livermore Valley, a pleasant California wine.

The pasta course that followed was a good textural break from the preceding dishes. But what hath no limits in this extraordinary creation of angel hair pasta in a bath of brown butter, shirred quail egg, pepper bacon and the final touch of a nutty, sweet brown-butter nage?  Oh my word, this was over the top.  We had a very pleasant red California wine from the Livermore Valley; anything more intense would have been too much.

It was time for a break aptly arranged by the serving of a lemon raspberry sorbet with frozen basil infused vodka.  Wow!

The remaining courses unfolded in brilliant  succession, and what follows is a pictorial essay of this magical dinner.

Mali Welch