But, it’s at Chef Brett Hulbert’s new Portabello’s– with the chef just taking over the space in late fall 2011, that a true mushroom experience is born. The charming BYO restaurant reflects the happy marriage of innovation and traditionalism, serving up a one-of-a-kind illustration–plate by plate–of the swoon-worthy bounty found right in our backyard.
While it would be a culinary crime to be identified under a mushroom-themed moniker and not be able to cook a ‘shroom properly, it takes a true kitchen artist to execute a local flavor-inspired dinner for a packed house and successfully feature four courses that celebrate mushroom varieties–all cooked to perfection and with ‘shrooms even included with dessert.
Recently, I arrived ready to take up the challenge, to fork my way through Chef Brett’s skill sets as he whipped up numerous mushroom-studded dishes for admiring neighbors. His partner-in-crime, both in the restaurant and in life, Sandra Morris, sashayed her way to greet us upon entering off of State Street, poised and proper while instantly making us feel at home, as if we have met many times before. Together, their love for fine-tuned food is articulated through each entree, with each plate a testament to the dishes they love in the composition for which they enjoy them.
Take our dining experience, for example: When I asked how he conceptualized his introductory course of a Wild Mushroom Crepe–one that utilized Phillips Farm’s Exotic Mushrooms, with Hen of the Woods, Oysters and Shiitakes, he replied simply, “they’re all my favorite things.”
I liked the sound of that. For this dish, each specific fungus was pocketed into the delicate crepe for a complex coupling of texture and taste, slight smoke mingling with a popping richness, meatiness merging with smooth velvet. A Madeira Wine and Mascarpone cream sauce finished off the course, leaving us giddy with anticipation as we wondered what would Chef Brett plate up next.
“Whenever possible, we use local purveyors,” the chef shared. “There are some beautiful farms around [Kennett Square], and we are really lucky to be able to source ingredients from them.”
Soon, he was tossing together an organic spring lettuce salad course, speckled with herb-roasted mushrooms from Lafferty Farms, sweet roasted bell peppers, and a house-made red wine vinaigrette. With his kitchen as the stage, and our high-topped chef’s table seats as the front row, our eyes were glued to his graceful meandering around the kitchen, to a “show” where he continuously uncovered confident dishes that were grounded to the classics without being tied to them.
With a wonderland of mushrooms always a few steps away, he believed that course three was the perfect opportunity to introduce guests to what he suggests is the “most powerful of mushrooms” – porcinis! A hearty bed of porcini risotto was found nestled under its ideal companion – a gorgeous, traditionally prepped Duck Confit. With its perfectly-crunched skin and unctuous flavorful meat, we were on Cloud 9 as we varied bites between the nuttiness of the risotto and the tantalizing, rich tastes of his true rendition of confit.
Of course, being that it isn’t every day you score the individual attention of Chef Brett (oh wait, rumor has it every guest does…), he teased us with petite tastes of some of his favorites – not currently on our Mushroom Experience menu. A quick spoonful of his Mushroom Soup had us already crowning him the king of the upcoming Mushroom Festival’s annual soup cook-off, with the festival returning to town early September 2012. We also sampled rosy slurps of his authentic Sicilian gravy, and I promise you that I would come back everyday–for just that.
We never leave a restaurant without dessert, and Chef Brett’s dedication to building relationships with local purveyors and producers rang deep in our final tasting of the night: a scoop of Mushroom Ice Cream from their neighbor, La Michoacana – a batch made special for this affair. Airy and fresh, with a subtle backbone of earthiness, I now am one-hundred percent in support of ‘shrooms in my creamy ice.
At Portabello’s, you’ll receive a genuine dining experience. Chef Brett wants to push your food boundaries with the best food possible, to nudge you into experiencing some of the most attractive, insanely delicious edibles he is capable of concocting. He’s not segregating himself to a singular style of cuisine–he’s devising one of his own, with many tips of the hat to his culinary crusades through kitchens themed in Mediterranean, Italian, French, and New American. And, if that means he leaves you screaming for mushrooms in your ice cream, well that means he’s done his job right.
Find the 65 seat BYO located at 115 West State Street, or online at portabellosofkennettsquare.com. Reservations are available by calling 610-925-4984. While we tackled the specific one-night-only “Mushroom Experience” menu in this feature–which will return again on June 21, 2012, their lunch and dinner menus are worth peeking at too–both of which appealing to the mushroom lover and non-lover, alike.