Field and Cellar: A Food Revelation In Great Barrington
I have been eating, cooking, and researching Native American cuisine for a good part of my adult life. It lives in my DNA and family culture. So…I was a teensy bit skeptical when I saw the “American meets local and Native” description on the website for Field and Cellar — the newest restaurant incarnation at the Thornewood Inn in Great Barrington, Mass. I’ve gotten my hopes up before — bland corn pudding, dry bison burgers, “wild” rice with canned mushroom soup all harbingers of disappointment.
We were seated at a little table for two right at the big bay window overlooking the gardens and pool of the inn and the farm fields beyond. Feeling summery, I ordered myself a Prosecco. My date got a coffee, which was fresh, even at 7 p.m. And good. While we perused the menu, our server (who was an extremely pleasant young fellow, in fact everyone on staff was pleasant) brought us bread and butter. I am talking about thick, spongey, buttery inch-thick chunks of housemade focaccia served with soft, not hard out of the fridge, basil butter. I am not usually compelled to eat bread, but I didn’t bat an eyelash when I saw that buttery carb monument make its way to the table.
“This is so good,” my date said. I nodded in agreement, not wanting to speak for fear I would lose my precious bite of that big bread. I fully planned on eating both slices (there were four).
After hemming and hawing over the menu, which included grass-fed beef tenderloin ($35), a Garden Mosaic of burrata, nettle pesto, and Tom Rye sourdough croutons ($28), crispy rabbit, and salmon teriyaki, I ordered the fried green tomatoes as a starter, and the rabbit. My companion went for the salmon.
I tried not to get my hopes too high with the fried green tomatoes. I have been let down too often by this dish, my own attempts included. What arrived, in a beautiful Dan Bellow bowl that looked like a sunset, were three healthy tomato slices, fully but not heavily battered. All sitting on a colorful — including flower petals — bed of greens. There was a wildness to the presentation, like, honestly, a field. The tomatoes were crisp at first bite, and the insides exploded in one salty, tart surprise, not mushy, just right. They came with a bright orange puree that tasted almost like romesco, but a little smokier. Fresh, bright, flavorful, familiar.
The leading stars arrived and we were eager to dive in. I mean, after the tomatoes and the bread, who wouldn’t be? I said a quick silent apology to my friends who are rabbit activists, and loaded my fork with the crispy rabbit confit, being sure to spear a fat carrot gnocchi with my fork while running the whole operation through the bright green fava paste underneath. Here was a thoughtful (not forced) homage to the nourishing nature of Native American food.
My date was busy strategizing his first bite of crispy teriyaki salmon that was resting on a healthy, but not gluttonous, mound of udon and stir-fried vegetables. I offered him a bite of my rabbit. He offered me a bite of his salmon. That one bite had the effect of an eight-layer cake from the old country. There was so much to discover in these dishes. So much to take in — color, flavor, textured nuance — it was, for both of us, a food awakening of sorts. I know how cheesy that sounds, and I don’t care. It was remarkable.
There was virtually no room for dessert, which on this particular night was a strawberry cheesecake creation as well as an ice cream, brownie, caramel sea salt confection ($9-$13), both proffered up by Kim Watson, the founder and “sugar queen” of Mountains of Sugar. Watson and Chef James Massey appeared at some point during the meal to greet friends in the dining room. It was more than a nice touch, seeing these two artists make the rounds. And just like that, I had become an ardent admirer.
Field and Cellar at the Thornewood Inn
435 Stockbridge Rd., Great Barrington, MA
Thursday–Sunday, 5–9 p.m.
Sunday Brunch (reservations requested), 10 a.m.-3 p.m.
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