Gold isn’t something I normally eat, and art? I’ve never devoured a piece of art before. But this week, I got to do both, thanks to chef Jung Hur and his visually stunning five-course creation.
While not exactly a pop-up, in many ways this creative meal fits that trendy descriptor. Available only through the end of January and only by reservation, the special menu is designed to complement (and interact with) Hur’s art. His paintings, which adorn the walls of Spread, are colorful, complexly textured, and feature a continuing lock-and-key motif. The food is also colorful, fantastically textured, and adorned with lock-and-key patterns, some of which were made from delicate flakes of gold. Apparently, this expensive element is also edible, though I couldn’t detect any added flavor.
Fortunately, Hur’s food is so savory and flavorful that it needs no mineral aid. During our two-hour meal, photographer Cyndi Smith and I consumed salty, silky bites of umi, a bright and almost floral salad of squid and marjoram, and a rich meaty dumpling topped with a raw, oozy egg yolk. Every element was impeccably prepared, placed by hand in artistic arrangements on the plate. One dish featured crimson splashes of color that Hur created by crushing pomegranate seeds and letting them explode all over the plate. Like much of Hur’s work, his dishes have a Pollock-like flair, a bit of controlled chaos that makes the neatly arranged food appear all the more precise.
While the kimchi salad and the dumplings were both delicious and fresh, the highpoint of the meal was Hur’s handmade pasta. Cut into little lock-and-key shapes, each piece featured multiple elements that had been pieced together by hand, forming a pattern of light and dark, accented by strips of gold. I can’t even fathom how long this must have taken the chef, and how much care went into each and every shape. It almost felt wrong to eat them, until I took a bite. And then I just wanted more. Delicate truffle pasta paired perfectly with black cod, an oily, rich fish that held its own against the earthiness of the truffles. It only took one bite, and all my reservations about eating Hur’s art went right out the window.
If you want to try it for yourself, you have to act fast. The menu, which Hur designed around seafood to accommodate a vegetarian, changes slightly depending on the crowd and can be tasted only by reservation. It is being offered in addition to Spreads’ standard menu, so call ahead and request the five-course exhibition special, titled simply Balance: The Paintings & Cuisine of Jung Hur. The prixe fix fare costs $100 per head and will be available until February 2.
100 Commercial St. | Portland | 207.828.8233 | spreadmaine.com