East to Eden
Sonya Coté's farm-to-table Arcadia, Eden East
Reviewed by Kate Thornberry, Fri., Nov. 29, 2013
Over the last two decades, chefs began haunting the farmers' markets in their pursuit of the freshest and most delicious ingredients. Eventually they started going directly to the farms, arranging for delectable organics and pastured meats to be delivered to their kitchens. Chef Sonya Coté has taken said pursuit to its logical conclusion and opened her restaurant Eden East at the source: on a farm, set right beside a plowed field and under the giant canopies of ancient pecan trees.
Outdoor restaurant? Yes. Eden East's dining room is a grouping of communal wooden tables, under the stars and trees at Springdale Farm, lit by dangling orbs, crystals, and, in the colder seasons, a ring of wood stoves and heaters. The cooking takes place in a mobile kitchen trailer. The staff, dressed in impeccable black-and-whites, circulate from trailer to tableside, enthusiastically bringing each course of the prix fixe menu. Dinner is served on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. Each meal consists of between five and eight courses, tailored to the season. The price varies between $55 and $65, with the exception of Thursday night, when recipes are still being tweaked, which runs $40.
I admit, Eden East is precisely the kind of restaurant experience most likely to appeal to me: I am an avid gardener, so access to just-picked vegetables has ruined my appreciation for weeks-old ones; I buy pastured organic meats for home use; I have worked as both chef and baker in restaurants, so I am more-than-normally appreciative of culinary flair. Added to that, I am also the outdoorsy type who loves to go camping and doesn't mind being chilly, especially if there are open fires and stars overhead. The combination of literally farm-fresh foods with inspired chefs in a peaceful, restorative setting is, for me, a magical one.
What results is the kind of meal that only happens when the food itself is the highest consideration. Last weekend's meal opened with a freshly smoked oyster in the half-shell, balanced atop a large cube of rich, Cajun-style cornbread, sitting in a pool of red-eye gravy, and decorated with a mound of last summer's dried-tomato jam. It was followed by a warm duck confit tamale, made with flavorful, locally grown cornmeal and house-made duck confit. The third course was a tartly dressed romaine salad, sprinkled with Delta Blue cheese, thinly sliced radishes, Juliet tomatoes, and a very little bit of finely diced bacon. At this point, I remind you, the meal was but half over. Every course had been made with the kind of perfectionism that naturally occurs when skilled chefs are joyful in their work.
The salad was followed by the main course: blackened drum, served over a yellow wax bean, pea shoot, and radish succotash. The delectable, flaky white fish was offset beautifully by the buttery vegetables. The dessert course featured a Southern take on the Indian dessert gulab jamun: a ball of chocolate-filled fried dough floating in a cardamom syrup, served with a White Russian cocktail on the side.
On a previous visit, memorable courses included a small wedge of Panko-breaded fried Brie, sitting in basil crème anglaise and lemon-infused olive oil, topped with roasted Juliet tomatoes; a seared, deeply red tuna steak perched atop fresh, cold cucumbers, watermelon radish, and pea shoots; and a chocolate fondue served with Mars orange segments and rye whiskey marshmallows for dipping.
Eden East may not be cheap, but if eating locally and sustainably is important to you, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better value for your money.