Strawberry Dessert Festival — Cambridge

Across the river in Cambridge, Oleana and Harvest are long-time participants in the Federation of Massachusetts Farmers Markets Strawberry Festival.

Maura Kilpatrick, Pastry Chef at Oleana, and Co-Owner and Chef at Sofra in Watertown, and I chat in Oleana’s lovely outside garden dining area. Maura, who has been at Oleana since it opened in 2001, says of the restaurant’s commitment to the locavore movement, “It’s everything we do because we have a farm” referring to Chef Ana Sortun’s husband’s business, Siena Farms.

Oleanea 2This year, Maura and her Sous Chef, Molly Rabideau, have crafted a dessert that utilizes strawberries three ways, while simultaneously integrating the Middle Eastern flavors and sensibilities that Oleana is famous for.

Their creation is a standing triangle of chalky white mastic pudding topped by a spire of dried strawberry chips. The pudding is surrounded by a puddle of deep crimson strawberry soup scented with hibiscus. A rectangular mastic shortbread cookie, generously slathered with white chocolate and pistachio ganache and lined with fresh strawberry slices finishes the presentation. Microgreens add an inspired touch of color and a zap of earthy freshness and crunch.

Oleana 3Mastic is a resin from pistacia lentiscus, a shrub native to the Mediterranean region, and a member of the same genus as the pistachio. It imparts a subtle but memorable and welcome pine flavor that’s sensed more as a scent in the nose than a taste in the mouth. It grounds the ethereal creamy richness of the pudding and sharply contrasts but complements the sweetness of the strawberry soup.

The presentation is a visual delight. The stark white triangle of pudding stands in the center of a dinner service bowl, its spire of strawberry chips glistening. The contrast between the mastic pudding and the strawberry soup is striking. The crimson soup is poured table side, and the shortbread cookie is meant to pick up and enjoy without adding any fussiness to an entirely absorbing experience.

Oleana 1In Harvard Square, the final stop on my strawberry tour takes me to Harvest and a pre-service chat with Pastry Chef Brian Mercury. Chef Mercury, busy preparing family meal, invites me to take a seat at the bar. In a few short minutes, a meticulously crafted, multi-textural, multi-colored geometric marvel of a dessert is placed before me. “The Chef thought you might like to try the dessert,” the bartender says, confident from my expression that there’s little chance I’m going to say no.

Harvest 4

harvest 2Several round dabs of color courtesy of a pink peppercorn gastrique, strawberry gel and tarragon gel, I’m later told, shine up like circus confetti from the face of the bright white plate. Cubes of stark white fromage blanc tumble in a line down the center, their enthusiasm contained periodically by dollops of roasted strawberry jam atop crumbled tarragon meringue. Round discs of pink peppercorn tuille balance atop the fromage, which is whimsically scattered with candied tarragon.

Harvest 3Chef Mercury tells me his goal was to create a modern dessert with complementary flavors. The guest should expect the obvious, presented in an unexpected, modern way. Every element of the dish achieves his goal. The strawberry jam has the unusual twist of roasting, and the end result is jam vivid with flavor, color and texture. The meringue is another unanticipated surprise. It fairly bursts with herbal flavor and crunch, in contrast to the creaminess of the fromage and the sweetness and intensity of the gels and gastrique.

Harvest 1In both desserts, the combinations of creativity, technique mastery, and the courage to lead the diner on a journey of discovery make both Harvest and Oleana incredible destinations for curious diners, but especially for strawberry lovers looking for the extraordinary.

You can click here to read more about Brookline restaurants Lineage and the Fireplace.

You can read more about my research of this article here.

But do stop by a participating restaurant for a truly inspired dessert, and support the wonderful Massachusetts Federation of Farmers Markets.

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