Chefs, Tyler and Jennifer Lyne synthesize magical flavors into culinary art at Tasting TBL.
By Jan Walsh
I first shared the magic of Tasting TBL with a review of the Saturday 10-Course Dinner months ago. And since then, our sons, Jordan and Ross have wanted to attend. With both “boys” home for Mother’s Day weekend, Kev and I treat them to Friday Night Five Course, Tasting TBL’s Supper Club, to celebrate Jordan’s May birthday.
Tonight’s dinner is held in the event space at Dread River Distilling Company, which is a first visit for the four of us. What’s with the name, “Dread River?” It symbolizes “the chasm between us and where we wanted to go, the relentless torrent of issues and roadblocks, and the frigid fear of failure.” Thus, the word, “dread” is juxtaposed with inspiration. “It is a challenge just waiting to be accepted. Our goal is to inspire our friends to face their fears with us.” Thoughts run deep at Dread River.
We arrive early and have a before dinner drink in the bar space, on comfy sofas and a coffee table between, under a large screen television. Our server graciously changes the channel so season ticket holder, Ross can watch his team, Florida Panthers in the play-offs. His dread tonight was missing this game. Now everyone is happy.
Tonight’s Tasting TBL quote, found on the back of the menu is by Will Guidara: “Hospitality gives us the opportunity and responsibility to make magic in a world that desperately needs more of it.” The menu has four savory and one dessert course. Chef Tyler starts and ends the evening’s savory courses with his favorite Wagyu Beef, before Chef Jennifer treats us to her dessert. And sommelier, Ben Reed pairs the courses with handcrafted cocktails made with Dread River spirits.
We start with Chef’s Favorite of Japanese Wagyu Beef Tartare paired with a thirst-quenching watermelon drink. “Beef Tartare is my absolute favorite thing. When I see beef tartare on the menu, I order beef tartare,” Chef Tyler divulges. “If a restaurant has a high pedigree, I can tell if it is legitimate by the tartare.” Oh, my! If I owned a restaurant, his picture would be hung on the kitchen wall and the staff would be alerted, after this revelation. Tonight’s first and last savory courses are a dichotomy of beef, starting with raw and ending with cooked. The patty of beef is mixed with capers and herbs, accompanied by whipped horseradish crème fraiche. I am always intrigued at the ingenuity of the Tasting TBL team, particularly in creating clever uses for byproducts. In this dish, Chef Tyler juices the horseradish and slowly fries its “leftovers.” This spin off, new product of tasty, crunchy bits is then mixed with seaweed. And to this textured topping a spring mix of wild ramps and foraged onions is garnished. We slather the tartare onto Tasting TBL’s signature Frenchie bread, This Viennoiserie bread is the namesake of the Lynes’ restaurant, Frenchie, coming to Southside soon. Fabulously ethereal: soft, light, and buttery inside encased by a laminated, caramelized, flaky crust, which scrapes the roof of my palate. Bien cuit! The bread stands up to the rich, tender, earthy tartare synthesizing its buttery flavors into each bite. Wowed from first bite… highly recommended!
Our first cocktail is an agua fresca, watermelon gin tonic. For this drink, fresh watermelon is peeled, and used as a garnish. The rind was rolled up and vacuum sealed with simple syrup, pulling flavor from something inedible into the cocktail and adding a touch of art atop.
Jennifer reached out to me about my allergies, and I see my placeholder is carefully starred for two dishes that contain truffles and morels, the second and fourth courses, as is my service for these two courses. Tonight’s second course is inspired by geometry: spheres and circles. “You can find inspiration in unordinary places, a shape, sound, color,” Chef Tyler describes. A sensational lamb shank was picked and rolled into a pretty pastry roulade. It is accompanied by a steak of braised leg of lamb, crispy souffle stuffed with truffle, and potato cauliflower. This earthy course is grounded in a vibrant Provencal sauce of cilantro Dijon pistou, highlighted by delightful tapioca pearls.
Our next cocktail is a milk punch. Think eggnog but better, and without egg. Milk Punch dates to 1688 in Scotland, before refrigeration, and has been popular since that time. Ben Franklin recorded his version of it in 1763. Our Ben also makes a case for this curdled cocktail. “Whiskey, tea, and lemon would be bitter alone, but not in milk punch. If the base cocktail has enough acidity and alcohol, and you add it to milk it will curdle, separating solids and liquids. Then it is strained into this full-bodied cocktail that has the mouth coating feel of drinking milk.” We enjoy his magnificent milk punch with the next two courses.
Chef Tyler’s pasta course is always memorable. I recall Tasting TBL’s maltagliati and his casarecce with Italian sausage at 1856 – Culinary Residence, in the Rane Culinary Science Center, where he and Jennifer serve as inaugural Chefs in Residence. With tonight’s fresh spring pasta, he crushes it again, along with little green things in his Caio e Pepe. Glossy ribbons of classic egg pasta, striped with spinach pasta, boast comfort and style in presentation, black peppery, pecorino cheesiness in flavor, and a smooth al dente in texture. Bursting with green, spring flavors are zucchini and spring peas, dotted among the squared pasta, which is crowned with more green, delicate chervil. A lovely fresh lemon ricotta adds another layer of creaminess with a hint of acidity to the oodles of noodles.
In our fourth course of Japanese Wagyu New York Strip, Chef Tyler lets the beef speak for itself, other than mentioning a loin cost a whopping $1K. Thus, not much else is needed on this plate. The steak glistens in its gorgeous jus, like lipstick on a lady. And it is bejeweled with asparagus, braised kale, radish medley, and in season morels. The beef melts in the mouth, like butter and is elevated by its colorful accompaniments.
Ben’s Strawberry Sparkling Lemonade infuses rum with rhubarb, a vegetable that matures in strawberry season. He then adds locally grown strawberries, making them into strawberry syrup, and finally comes the lemon juice. But it doesn’t stop there. Next the drink is carbonated in bottles infusing it with CO2. “This is the most labor-intensive cocktail of the night,” Ben explains. “Bubbly goes with food. And adding bubbles to lemonade makes it amazing.”
Chef Jennifer’s Dessert of Strawberries and Cream rises to the top of tonight’s favorites. Not your grandmother’s strawberry shortcake, this dessert masterfully gleans fruitiness, creaminess, and sweetness from a myriad of provisions. And it is an artful example of this pastry chef’s plethora of talent and experience. At its base is a heavenly buttermilk panna cotta, which is ensconced with rhubarb strawberry cream, whipped honey, chamomile tea sherbet, rhubarb jam, whipped strawberry ganache, with finishing touches of fresh, local strawberries. Strawberry shortcake will never be the same!
Download Birmingham Restaurants App
Copyright ©2023 Reviews