If Molly Orangette invites you over for New Year’s dinner, you don’t say no. You say “yes” as fast as you can and hope she doesn’t change her mind. I had to explain this to Craig who wanted to go but had “plans” with “friends” he’s known “forever” and he “promised” them he’d spend “New Year’s” with them, but I quickly disabused him of his faulty logic: friends are friends, sure, but friends are nothing next to a dinner prepared by Molly. Plus Molly was our friend. And she was cooking us dinner. She and her husband, Brandon. Cooking us dinner. Us. Dinner. What didn’t he get?
Craig saw the light and told his friends he’d see them later that night–a plan that actually never came to fruition. Not because Craig flaked out or because Molly held us hostage; that night Craig came down with a terrible flu that he’s still battling. Did his friends put a curse on him? Perhaps. But this is the story of the last meal he ate in good health. And what a meal it was.
A few things about Molly:
(1) I met her at a meet-up I had two years ago at The City Bakery;
(2) We’ve since been horseback riding together;
So now you know why dinner at Molly’s was an exciting proposition. When we got there, the mood was electric: people were just as excited as we were. Molly was nice enough to also invite Craig’s sister Kristin who went horseback riding with Molly and I this summer on Tiger Mountain. Here’s the table at the top of the meal, with Molly pointing at something mysterious:
Leave it to Molly to make a table in the kitchen that’s probably meant to seat four feel roomy enough to seat eight. I wouldn’t have had it any other way: it made for an intimate, high-energy gathering.
Now on the table you’ll notice salads. Here’s a picture of the salad up close:
It’s a simple formula: Bibb lettuce coated in a mustardy vinaigrette, sauteed dates, and pistachios. By themselves, you might think “hmmm, interesting” but taken together it was marvelous.
And you know what? This salad is emblematic of all of Molly and Brandon’s food. I say this having lunched at Chez Molly & Brandon with Craig the year before: their food is deceptively simple. It always looks like just something very basic on the plate but then you bite in and your tastebuds tingle in surprise at the complexity beneath the surface. The magic of the mustard, the sauteed date, the pistachio and the lettuce leaf is a trick of which only Molly and Brandon hold the secret. Even if you had the recipe, it wouldn’t have their touch. That’s the mark of a great cook.
The entree was a pork loin that’d been salted three days earlier as per the recipe from Zuni Cafe.
I know that it was salted three days earlier because we were with Molly and Brandon at Victrola coffee when they left to “salt their pork loin.” We, of course, imagined that this phrase was a euphemism for something very…marital. And speaking of the word marital, I used to think that applications that asked for “marital status” were asking for “martial status” as in the martial arts. I’d always write “black belt.” I’m not very smart.
The loin was terrific–elegantly seasoned–and perfectly paired with the braised fennel you see beneath it.
Another bright surprise was Brandon’s braised chickpeas which I didn’t get a chance to photograph. It’s a stellar recipe and I hope that when Molly and/or Brandon reads this they decide to post the recipe for those chickpeas in the comments. Please? Pretty please?
The next course was the real draw for Craig. When he was on the fence, Molly told Craig there’d be cheese. “Lots of cheese,” she promised and she didn’t lie. Look at this stunning selection:
Those are just three of the six cheese options. Here’s Craig looking very happy:
At this point, according to Craig, I may have gotten a little “tipsy.” And by “tipsy” he probably meant “drunk.” I’d brought two bottles of Oregan Pinot Noir and I certainly had my fair share of the bottle. I don’t remember taking my pants off or burning Molly’s bras on the patio, but I do remember having this for dessert:
That’s the tarte tatin Molly whipped together for dessert. Seriously, don’t you hate her? When we got there she was sauteeing the apples in the caramel and she effortlessly topped it with puff pastry and produced that dessert you see above and served it with HOMEMADE burnt caramel ice cream. I mean seriously, who is this person? Does she have to make it look so easy? If it were me making it, there’d be caramel in everyone’s hair and puff pastry in our shoes. We bow down before you, Molly.
We excused ourselves early because Craig wasn’t feeling well and by midnight he was in bed hacking up a lung, and I was sitting surfing the web in a stranger’s house (the house where our friend was housesitting). If it weren’t for the fabulous dinner, it might’ve been a pretty dismal New Year. Instead, it was one of the best I’ve had in recent memory. I’m honored to have spent it at Molly’s table, and if she ever asks me again I’ll be there in a heartbeat.
Thanks Molly and Brandon! Next time you come to New York, I promise to have you over to put caramel in your hair and puff pastry in your shoes. And I promise to make it look easy.