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Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Ampersand 27 - Choose your own adventure

Hit the "rewind" button for a few seconds and one will arrive at an era where "charcuterie" was a concept both mispronounced and misunderstood. Really, was it little more than the constituents of a sandwich, laid askew on a wooden board for all to see?

Such naive times, this era of "B.C." - i.e., "before charcuterie."

Fortunately, meat, cheese and condiment pairings gained credibility as meals in their own right. Indeed, selecting a chosen few to create individually relevant ratios of these ingredients is half the fun, and one need not wander afar to find good charcuterie these days - in this era of enlightenment.

Enter Ampersand 27.Enter their Whyte Avenue space (the former Murrieta's digs) and it is a bit like the Hobbit's Shire on acid. Over-sized botanical lamps. Chairs, tables and curves in the room that evoke glacially-deposited boulders on the forest floor. Cross-sections of antediluvian logs. Twinkling ceiling lights that capture a swatch of night sky and bring it indoors.. Only the flat screen TV playing the Fireplace Channel seems curiously - anachronistically - out of place. A vessel of Black Hills Syrah is open and light, but breathes of heady red fruits, their bosoms heaving in a far-off summer night. Ampersand's menu is as idiosyncratic as its dining room, and skips across a smattering of smaller sharing plates, larger things like flatbreads and pork chops, and a choose-your-own adventure of charcuterie.

One is given carte blanche for possible combinations of meat, cheese, pickles, condiments, and bread that range from as proletariat as baguette and brie to as esoteric as lavash and lamb merguez. This adventure, after considerable deliberation, arrives on a hefty wooden tray marked by ancient growth rings. Duck Rillet initially resembles a cup of white pudding with berries on top, but an exploratory excavation quickly reveals tendrils and shreds of fowl so tender that they sigh and effortlessly melt into bread. Pity that the baguette is at once flabby and dry, with no structural integrity whatsoever. Fortunately, this ill-fated baguette will prove to be the meal's only flat note. Russet sticks of pickled carrots sign with sinus-clearing acidity, while pungent Balunchon cheese evokes unapologetic barnyard sweats and furtive fumbles behind a Gallic chicken coop. Chalky Tellegio, in contrast is coy and a bit nutty, benefiting from a swipe of spicy blueberry-port chutney. Bresaola and Proscuitto are bovine and porcine antitheses of each other: one dry and sweet, the other supple and seductive.

The Chosen Adventure continues with the arrival of "Sea Shore." Selected from the "Share and Share Alike" section of the menu, one isn't initially sure what to expect from an entity described as "Scallop, prawn, smoked trout brandade, 'sand' and sea asparagus." Sea Shore, in its own good time, proves to be a visually impressive melange of deftly seared scallops, chubby prawns curled in repose, nori-wrapped smoky trout pate, and granular sand that, after a bit of prodding, is revealed to be crushed up shrimp chips. Sprigs of juniper-like sea asparagus and whispers of foam complete the concept, the latter of which melts away like a juicy secret in the right company.

Though Ampersand's menu treads a considerable stretch of territory, the Chosen Adventure of charcuterie reaffirms the timely notion that meat, cheese and condiments are so much more than misplaced sandwich ingredients. In fact, it hardly warrants thinking about a time when charcuterie was erudite territory - mispronounced and (to quote the very quotable George W. Bush) misunderestimated.

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