A Time, And Place
Savoring the pleasures of dinner at Tasting TBL
By Jan Walsh
I must admit that Chefs, Tyler and Jennifer Lyne exploded onto the Birmingham culinary scene under my radar. The couple moved to Hoover in 2020 during the pandemic, after 16 years in New York City. And NYC’s loss is Birmingham’s gain. Both chefs are graduates of the CIA and have impressive culinary educations and experience, including stints at the top restaurants in NYC as well as Japan and Paris. Just like many of us, Chef Tyler is a born and bred Southerner. Having been born and raised in Texas, he did not plan to raise his son without a yard. Thus, a move away from NYC was likely inevitable.
When the Lynes moved to Hoover, they had no plans other than to be near family during the crisis. Yet after buying and settling into their Ross Bridge home, they unintentionally started a supper club, Tasting TBL. It all started with accepting a request to cater a dinner party… Word spread, and one thing led to another. In the beginning Tasting TBL provided people, with sophisticated palates, who were starving to get back in chef driven restaurants, a unique, socially distanced remedy of dining in the chefs’ home.
Since that time, the supper club has brought a loyal group of gastronomes and foodies from the Birmingham area and beyond. Some start with the Friday night 5+ course dinner and are so impressed they come back for the Saturday evening for the 10 course chefs tasting menu. There are three seating options for the Saturday evening dinners. A four-seasons, screened-in porch is covered, heated and cooled, the chefs table, where guests are seated around a large table in the open kitchen, and the private dining room, which is perfect for a small group or family who prefer intimacy, privacy, and formality. Various beverage pairings are available with all dinners, as a separate fee. Allergies? No worries as accommodations can be made. For our dinner, in each course with truffles, mushrooms, Chef Tyler made something similar, yet special, just for me.
Both Chef Lynes are CIA educated. Yet this is just the beginning of their expertise and experience. Chef Tyler is a molecular expert, and Chef Jennifer is an artist, whose medium is food, especially pastry arts. And together they push the boundaries of gastronomy and pull together the elements of taste. Each weekend the menus change, in accordance with what’s in season and what’s cooking in the chefs’ intuitions and imaginations. For example, an early spring ramp might be cooked like an onion or charred like a scallion during its two weeks of abundance. But later, as they are phasing out of season, ramps will be pickled, fermented, and used to make ramp butter. And that ramp butter might be used as a glaze, as it is in tonight’s pasta dish.
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There is a time and a place to do such a thing, as this supper club. And the time is now…Tonight, we arrive for the Saturday evening dinner, just in time for cocktails, served by Chef Jennifer. After the cocktail half hour, Chef Tyler begins dinner introducing his team of chefs and shares a quote from the back of the menu. “Poulet de Bresse is the queen of poultry and the poultry of Kings,” which describes our entrée course. The quote is from Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin’s book, The Philosophy of Taste, Or Meditations on Transcendental Gastronomy, translated by M.F.K. Fisher, first published in France in 1825 and has been continuously in print since. Surreal that he is quoting the very book I am reading… started the book in 2020, misplaced it during my pandemic panic, recently found and picked up where I left off.
We are seated in the Dining Room with gourmond friends, Christina and Tom Saab, Martha and Jim Shaw as well as new friends: Jim Anderson, David Rhodes, Mike Dorris and Keith Harrison. Canapes are our first course and the savory portion of the menu. With aesthetical precision each finger food captivates the four senses. From left to right, we start with a whimsical version of ELOTE, which is reminiscent of grilled Mexican street corn. The crunchy top melds into the soft bread pudding like base of the pouding au pain. Yet Chef Tyler juiced the corn and used the juice to replace cream in baking. Tangy, salty, milky, and slightly spicy notes, from the tajin, cotija, crema, and chili elevate this delightful corny tidbit. The second canape is Virtual Black Truffle, with the guise of a chocolate truffle. Puffed with truffle cream inside, this black ball is earthy and musky. Next is Mushroom Wellington. Its smoke screen design temps us to smoke it, rather than eat it. Yet rather than tobacco leaves, the divine mushroom duxelles is meticulously wrapped in thin, French, foie de brick pastry, with an ash of Chantilly cream on bottom and horseradish oil on top. We shall never forget this one! A homage to Chef Tyler’s stint in Japan, and the techniques he brought back with him, Mochi Pomme Aligot completes the course. This chewy Japanese rice cake comforts with mashed potatoes mixed with melted cheese, and beurre noisette, accenting with its toasty, nuttiness.
In the Summer Tomato course, think tomato salad brightening a charcuterie for one. The juiciness and acidity of large and small heirlooms meld with the beautiful, tangy house made burrata sphere, briny basil wakame, and a remarkably rich, well marbled Iberico Ham. This line up is divided by crisp crackers, and is further flavored by its orange sauce of smoked tomato vinaigrette. Both an olive crumble of dehydrated black and kalamata olives and rings of black olive puree, round out the depth of flavors in this dish.
Faux Peach is a dramatic presentation and a divine concoction of foie gras, bavarois, and peach nectar. This marvelous, Bavarian style peach mousse is glazed in peach, and floats on house roasted peach nectar. Accompanying this pretend peach is the Lynes’ signature “Frenchie” bread. The viennoiserie bread is the namesake of their restaurant, Frenchie, coming to Southside soon, in the former location of Historic Rucker Place. Difficult to imagine that a bread could stand up to such a dish. Yet Frenchie bread is fabulously ethereal. The center is soft, light, buttery, and melts in my mouth. And the dark crust scrapes the roof of my palate, perfectly. It is appropriately bien cuit, crusty and caramelized. Chef Tyler humbly describes this dish as the equivalent of toast, butter, and jam.
From The Sea is an atypical dish of fat poached swordfish. The fish is spear caught and dry aged for 10 days in Chef’s poblano spice rub. Its sweet flavors and meaty texture are made Mexican with poblano rice, mole negro, salsa verde. The rice was cooked in the juice of poblano with pork belly. Yellow squash from Belle Meadow Farm shine in the yellow puree. Cantanese roasted sesame seeds and first of the season button chanterelles add depth. Mole negro with a fish? It works.
The Pasta course is symbolic of Chef Tyler’s appreciation for his staff. This behind-the-scenes dish is made with the same scrap, irregular pieces of pasta that do not make the cut for paying customers’ ravioli. Rarely seen in the front of the house, it is cooked with love for his “guys,” where they stand to eat it in the back of the house. The maltagliati resembles ribbons cut with sawtooth pinking shears. The zig zagged pasta strips are richly glazed in ramp butter, imparting oniony flavors and adding heaviness. This extra weight weaves well with the tender pork. And herbs balance the dish with fullness and freshness.
Hunter Chicken is our incredible entrée course. Fit for a king? The story goes that Henry IV, having stopped off at Bresse following an accident with his carriage, tasted a poulet de bresse and commanded it be added to his menu. The meat is high in protein, low in fat, snow white, dense, and the most flavorful of chickens. The bird is presented with its jus and celery root puree with white chocolate. Crudite to the side includes Belle Meadow Farm’s tempest squash, baby eggplants, and asparagus. Also layered on the plate are colorful edamame hummus, chicken sausage stuffed wild morel, golden fried nugget of wild pheasant frisse, and juicy, lacto fermented wild currants from Washington. This amazing array of veggies, fruit, and both animal and plant-based proteins synthesize into a forever food memory.
"Long practice has taught me that one pleasure leads to another, and that once headed along this path, a man loses the power of refusal," explains Brillat-Savarin. And so be it... We finish, just as we started with Chef Jennifer. Dessert is two courses plus. Peaches and Cream is a masterpiece of peach melba, peach mousse, raspberry compote, white chocolate, passionfruit foam, and coconut granita. Smooth, peachy, creamy, with tiny bits of crunch. Lemon Drop might be the most beautiful dessert ever! Unreal, this is not a real lemon half on my plate. Yet not to pretty to eat. This fragrant and tart yuzu meringue tart, with blueberry, candied red currant, and white chocolate ganache lemon balm makes a heavenly end to the evening. This course and all that preceeded it were also well paired with wines and other beverages, which brought forth the flavors of each dish.
“The pleasures of the table are a reflective sensation, which is born from the various circumstances of place, time, things, and people who make up the surroundings of the meal,” Brillat-Savarin describes.
Some Photos Courtsey of Tasting TBL: Peach, Pasta, Chicken, Lemon Drop, Chefs
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