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Dinner Divine

If you couldn't be at the Joan Nathan dinner at Lumière last Monday, here's a peek at the fantastic meal.

As I mentioned in , I had the opportunity to not only interview Chef Michael Leviton about but also to attend a special event at the restaurant on Monday Jan. 31.  This four-course dinner was planned and cooked by Chef Leviton based on recipes from world-famous cookbook author and Jewish food authority Joan Nathan from her latest offering, Quiches, Kugels, and Couscous: My Search for Jewish Cooking in France.

The cookbook is more than just a collection of scrumptious recipes. Each and every one of them is accompanied by a story or some historical information that gives you the cultural background to appreciate both the food and its culinary significance.

“These are not just cookbooks,” said Leviton in his introduction to Monday's meal and to Nathan’s recipes. “They’re about the cultural anthropology of food, of a community that is brought together by food.”

The community at the table to which I was assigned was made up of people from neighboring Needham, for the most part, and though we had diverse professional backgrounds we shared a love of ethnic cuisine. The meal was definitely enhanced by our ability to share our opinions about the dishes and our food-related stories from our own histories.

The first course was a trio of North African-inspired salads that certainly gave credence to the idea that we “feast with our eyes first.” The appearance of the multicolored roasted beets, the oranges flecked with black olives and the dazzling orange carrots was only outdone by their delicious flavor. The accompanying fruity French white wine -- Francois Cazin's Cheverny wine knowns as “Le Petit Chambord” -- was an ideal complement.

When the gorgeous plate of Tunisian fish couscous was brought out and served family style with a side of spicy harissa (hot chili sauce), I did experience a moment of regret.  I had already polished off one of Lumière’s delicious rolls, and in order to save room for the rest of the meal I was unable to dip another one in the amazing sauce. So, I just enjoyed spooning extra bits of the fiery dip over the delicate fish balls, perfectly prepared couscous and the butternut squash, zucchini, celery, chickpeas and carrots that were mixed in. The heat of this dish was perfectly offset by the dry, full-bodied Arneis (white wine) by Italian winery Guidobono.

The evening's entrée, a Moroccan chicken tagine, generated the most conversation. Our table discussed at length the origin of the word “tagine," eventually confirming that both the dish and the clay pot in which it is traditionally prepared do, in fact, share a name.

Once we started eating the tender chicken -- which was perfectly paired with dried fruits, almonds and fantastic saffron rice -- more discussion ensued. It took us until the very end of the meal to agree that the spice lent the rice and the broth that accompanied it a “dusky” flavor, one which paired beautifully with the unusual and rich French Cinsault (red wine) by Domaine Magellan titled “Le Fruit Défendu."

Dessert was the perfect end to the meal; a light citrus fruit soup with a small scoop of sweet, tangy blood orange sorbet. This was complemented by dates, mint and deliciously salted almonds that made for a fantastic contrast of taste and texture throughout the dish. A flute of sparkling Proseco went beautifully with the finale to the meal and gave me the opportunity to quietly toast the talent and creativity of Chef Leviton and the commitment and scholarship of Joan Nathan.

All of the recipes prepared for this meal, as well as dozens more, can be found in Nathan’s cookbook (available at ). If you are interested in attending a dinner at Lumière, check their website as they regularly host special events and, as referenced , are open for “regular” dinners, as well as a prix fixe and chef’s tasting meal. 

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