Chef's Day off: Dinette Style
Category: Eat + Drink Articles
Who knew there was a chef’s compound on First Hill? Melissa Nyffeler, chef/owner of Dinette, lives in a light-filled fifth-floor apartment in the same building as Jim Drohman of Le Pichet/Café Presse and Bo Maisano, formerly of Madison Park Café. I joined Nyffeler at her home for a dress rehearsal for one of her popular Sunday dinners at Dinette.
The Plan: A practice run at home for a special dinner at Dinette
The Dish: Boudin crépinette, an improvised garnish for choucroute garnie
The Dinner: Dinette began in this apartment building. While Nyffeler was preparing to open her restaurant, she practiced large-group cooking and menu development by preparing Sunday dinners for her friends. The tradition continues at Dinette: Two Sunday evenings per month, the restaurant fills with friends and regulars for a multicourse meal that explores a certain cuisine, such as that of Bordeaux, Rome, Normandy or Peru.
The Crisis: Nyffeler loves meat, and tonight, we are making choucroute garnie, a meatapalooza of an Alsatian dish in which sauerkraut is “garnished” with many, many cuts of meat. We’re talking smoked pork chops, braised pork shoulder, ribs and homemade boudin blanc.
Boudin blanc is a white sausage made—tonight, at least—with chicken, veal, duck fat, heavy cream, onion and herbs. Nyffeler works up a sweat from beating the thick sausage mixture while I drizzle in the cream. “The whole right side of my body is numb,” she says. After the feeling returns, it’s time to stuff the sausages, but when Nyffeler reaches for the sausage casings, it turns out they aren’t sausage casings at all, but caulfat—an internal membrane, yes, but not the right one for sausage links.
Nyffeler is annoyed. I feign sympathy, but am secretly delighted to learn that chefs have freak-out moments just like I do. Plus, I’ve never cooked with caulfat before and I’m excited. “We’ll do a boudin crépinette instead,” she decides, and we begin wrapping some of the loose sausage mixture in caulfat and browning the patties in a skillet.
The Resolution: Joining us for dinner are Nyffeler’s friends Laurie Kellogg and Tom Bennett, veterans of the pre-Dinette Sunday dinners. Laurie (Dinette’s Web designer) is a mildly squeamish former vegetarian now confronted with an enormous platter of meat. “Think of this as chicken,” jokes Nyffeler, serving her friend some pork shoulder.
The crépinette is fabulously light and creamy. Nyffeler is thinking of putting this happy accident on the menu. Aside from the fact that it’s Monday, this is the perfect Sunday dinner.
Get Nyffeler’s choucroute garnie recipe (using store-bought sausage instead of homemade).