By Bernie Whitmore
During the grand opening week of Ceres Bistro, the reaction, “You’d never know you’re in Worcester!” echoed around town. And it’s true, there’s nothing else like it around. But the Beechwood has always delighted me in how they integrated architectural details from grand old buildings into their sophisticated modern spaces. When it came time to move the dining room out of the basement, they took this flair for high design to full fruition with modern materials, dramatic lighting and epic-scale stained glass.
Even the naming of the restaurant offers a challenge to a town that’s still developing a dining culture. In the Roman pantheon of deities, Ceres was the goddess of grain and the harvest (the English language inherits the word cereal from the ancient Roman Ceres, a handy thing to remember if you’re unsure of the pronunciation). The Bistro pays homage to the goddess with a stem of wheat on each table and in their logo.
But Worcester doesn’t have a natural affinity for high concept, Roman goddesses and the research/biotech park in general. Around the water cooler on Friday afternoons, the overriding question is, “How was your dining experience?” With that in mind, a friend joined me for dinner on a recent weeknight. We were warmly welcomed and promptly shown to a booth in the central dining room.
Lindsay, our server, arrived with menus, listed the evening’s specials and explained that the section of Seasonal entrees are available in half and full portions. She stood ready to take our drink orders but I needed more time to survey the menu before making a wine decision.
Choices came easily and we started our meal with the Oysters Rockefeller appetizer. Five oysters baked on the half-shell were cloaked in chopped spinach, tarragon, parsley and just enough bread crumbs to bind these ingredients together. The result? Perfectly done oysters, still tender and ocean-fresh, enhanced by a subtle blend of flavors that made spinach something luxurious.
My friend wanted to skip over the salad course but my recent diet had been deficient in greens so, with little notice of details, I asked for the Bistro Salad. Soon after Lindsay presented the glass dish of light green frisée lettuce, I discovered it was far from ordinary and worthy of sharing. Over the greens was a generous layer of diced applewood smoked bacon and a poached Azuluna egg, so creamy it melded with the gruyere cheese and the Dijon dressing. Azuluna hens were imported from South America in the early 1900s; their eggs are rich, creamy and smaller than the average hen’s. Don’t under estimate salad at Ceres!
After this, we enjoyed chunks of French bread dipped in olive oil infused with creamy roasted cloves of garlic and sampled our wine choice, a bottle of Tierra de Luna Malbec. This mildly spicy Argentinean malbec had soft ripe berry flavor ~ nice for sipping and well-matched to our entrée selections.
As soon as my friend’s entree was placed before him, he knew the 14oz. Chef’s Selection Sirloin Strip was going to be exceptional. This two-inch thick steak was seared with a dark coat of char; inside it was “absolutely perfectly cooked medium rare” with juices that blended into the mushroom glace and horseradish whipped potatoes. Spears of summer squash, zucchini and baby carrots offset the rich flavors with bright colors that created visual appeal.
My entrée, Duck Two Ways, was equally satisfying. Slices of seared duck breast, pink in the center as I requested, were arranged around a mound of wild rice pilaf. Over the center of the pilaf was stacked a mound of duck confit, meat so tender it had fallen apart. The French confit method slowly poaches the rich dark meat of the leg of duck at low temperature in rendered fat until it virtually melts off the bone. Yes, it’s decadent and wonderful and perfect for the coming winter months.
On previous visits to Ceres, I’d finished with their vanilla bean Crème Caramel. But this evening I needed chocolate, so I ordered their Chocolate Marquis. Ultra-moist chocolate sponge cake splashed with kirsch liquor was topped with a layer of bittersweet chocolate and served over raspberry puree. Fortunately, I’d saved a half-glass of malbec: the combination was a decadent end to an extraordinary dinner.
The Beechwood Hotel is one of Worcester’s special places. I’ve always felt they fused cool with elegant to create something singularly exciting. That could have hardly prepared me for Ceres Bistro. Yes, the high-concept and sophistication of the setting might lead one to expect a level of stiff formality. But this is, after all, a bistro; the kitchen and wait-staff are totally dedicated to delivering superior dining in a relaxed setting.
Pictured: Ceres’ Duck Two Ways and Ceres’ Chef’s Selection Sirloin Strip.
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