Arômes: Hampden’s French-global little bistro extraordinaire

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Arômes: Hampden’s French-global little bistro extraordinaire
Tamar Alexia Fleishman, Esq.

Arômes is in a funky little rowhouse in Hampden, on not-so-chic Chestnut Avenue. From the outside, it seems like it would just be a neighborhood haunt, but probably in time, it will be a regional favorite. Though Chef Steve Monnier is French, it would be really narrow-minded (and probably not well-traveled) to think of his menu as merely “French”. All kinds of global flavors and influences hit the dishes using local produce. He worked at several Michelin restaurants in France. He’s also got that Nordic foraging thing going on, the picking of wild foods that’s made chefs like René Redzepi of Copenhagen’s Noma, Sami Tallberg of Helsinki and Leif Sørensen formerly of the Faroe Islands’ Koks, so popular.

Here are some of the local suppliers:

  • Liberty Delight Farm
  • Chesapeake Farm to Table
  • Vent Coffee
  • Lancaster Farm Fresh
  • Catoctin Mountain Lamb
  • Martha Stauss, forager
  • Sam Hanson, mushrooms

There are just over a half-dozen tables in the casual restaurant with exposed brick and simple farm tables . . . you’d be crazy not to make reservations. Funky ’70’s music plays in the background.

This is a prix-fixe restaurant offering your choice of 3 or 6 courses, but the 6 course dinner is the better deal at $65 and well, more fun! These are European style tasting portions: very elegant.

They’re BYOB with a $5 corkage fee, but they do serve after-dinner coffee. No espressos, etc. at this time.

Tomato carpaccio, watermelon, Parmesan, sorrel had cucumber juice, dehydrated frozen watermelon, wood sorrel that was foraged! You know what wood sorrel is, even if you don’t think you do: they’re those three leafed clover plants. There was also olive oil, a slice of sweet, fruity heirloom tomato. There was a nice, fresh flavor mix of herbs, juiciness and mild sweetness.

Salmon, cucumber, verbena had house cured and smoked salmon, lemon verbena buttermilk powder, sour cucumber. It was foamy, pickle-y, salty and light.

Melon, blackberry tea, Szechuan pepper, lardo had pickled rose petals (!), cantaloupes, herb powder, sweet clover and something I’ve never had before or even heard of: tea dressing. Chef uses cool blackberry tea as the balancing flavor in a vinaigrette. It was delicate and fantastic! There was hints of salty earthiness with the lardo.

Lamb tongue, mint, blackberry, caramelized milk skin crepe was lamb tongue braised in Chimay with a caramelized milk skin crepe! It was sweet and savory, with herbiness and a salt hit. The meat had a rich touch of game flavors.

Duck, corn custard, zucchini flowers, eggplant oil had poblano peppers adding smoky heat to the dish. The seared duck was perfectly cooked, with crisp, thick-cut bacon-y skin. With the corn, peppers and squash, Chef was definitely honoring ancient New World flavors.

Carrot miso creme brulee had lime zest, lime powder. There were salt and zest flavors! This was definitely an out of the box take on a classic dessert.

 

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