By Rory Winston
Lincoln Center may have lost the New York City Opera by late 2013, but luckily, it managed to keep the prestigious Franco-Mediterranean repertory, Picholine. With six consecutive shows a week, Picholine is the longest running opera in the area – one composed and orchestrated by the grand maestro, Chef Terrance Brennan. Like the best French works, Picholine mixes frivolity and drama in equal measure while sporting a repertoire that lends itself to cheese without ever being cheesy.
The overture: service is a go, suggestions are made, aromas dash to and fro; a cheese cellar is discerned from a distance as a cart angles towards an audience member in close proximity. But no time for that now; our curtain is rising. The first aria strikes one’s eyes as much as it does one’s palate: a lyrical smoked sturgeon panna cota mounts the alabaster stage accompanied by a flirtatious beet carpaccio and the wild American Caviar on a rye crisp. Soon, a blue hubbard squash bisque with chestnuts, pear butter and quatre épice Meringue appears. We let the warm glow wash over us. Without warning the dark tone of a Black Truffle is discernible among the chorus of wild mushroom risotto and butternut squash.
Act 2 opens with a Grilled Escolar a la Basquaise with sumptuous squid ink cavatelli and a spicy little number of Paella Broth. My partner, who is not in the mood for the Carmen-like fervor of this piquant dish, opts for a less dramatic but equally renowned piece, the Maine Diver Scallop. Like Nadir’s aria from the Pearl Fisher, there is a delicacy that touches one to the core. With Pumpkin, trumpet royale and vanilla-cranberry vinaigrette, the dish remains a timeless classic.
Though this opera is usually performed in 3 acts, 5 acts or 8 acts, our crowd of two opted for something in between and so we ordered the Thomas Farm Squab – a lush pastoral of Pot en Feu, root vegetables and Spiced Foie Gras. The end of Act 3 saw the reappearance of the Cheese Cart, the very same symbol we had first discerned upon entering the theater. Rapture. Fromager Verna Valencia sure knows how to handpick cheeses. Majorero Pimenton, Pena Blanca, Monte Enebro – divas all… the Sopranos and heroic tenors of the Cheese world celebrated on a single stage.
The epilogue: Moments before breaking into applause, we were treated to a chorus of Caramel Mousse, Apple variations, and Gunawan Cinnamon Ice Cream. I couldn’t stop my partner in time, as she bellowed Encore moments before a Guanaja Choclate Marquise with Fennel.-Yuzu sorbet, Nicoise olives and Blood Orange came barreling out. This is one performance where it can be life-threatening to keep shouting ‘encore.’ After a few well-spaced bravissimos, we got up, thanked our host and departed confident in the notion that the unaffected little Picholine may just be New York’s culinary answer to Palais Garnier.
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