"I think people have this misconception that people are going to leave [dinner at Beast] having eaten, like, a whole leg of ham," laughs Beast chef/owner Naomi Pomeroy. But according to the James Beard Award-winner, each multi-course meal's charcuterie course (which yes, features meat alongside a vivid swirl of vegetables) is possibly most emblematic of the overall Beast experience. "I've worked really hard to create a lot of balance in the meal and really fresh flavors," Pomeroy says. "I don't think people leave feeling like anything was overly rich. We're always working really hard to create that balance the entire meal, and the charcuterie is really representative of that process."
The "jewel-box"-like charcuterie plate — always served during the second of the prix-fixe menu's seven courses — also represents a chance for Pomeroy and the Beast staff to "play." Although the plate is one of the restaurant's most iconic dishes (thanks to stalwarts like the infamous foie gras bon-bon and a bite-sized steak tartare), half the plate is dedicated to the "creative energy" and experiments of the Beast team. "It's cool because it's a canvas for staff, in a way," Pomeroy says. "I think that's an important part of what we do." Below, the story behind the foie bon-bon and every item on the charcuterie plate:
1. Foie gras bon-bon: For the uninitiated, Beast's foie "bon-bon" features a frozen dome of foie gras mousse atop a small piece of shortbread, adorned with a square of Sauternes gelée (essentially a sweet French cooking wine, in gelatin form). "I would have never anticipated they'd be so popular," Pomeroy says now of the dish, which uses a mousse recipe she collected from fellow Beard-winner Gabriel Rucker. (Rucker, in turn, borrowed it from Jean-Georges, or "one of the Big 10 [chefs], I can't remember exactly," Pomeroy says now.) In its early iterations, the foie mousse found itself squeezed inside caramelized and candy figs; later, Pomeroy started piping it into molds for freezing and serving it on a peanut shortbread.
"At the time — seven years ago — a lot of people were doing the foie PB&J-type thing," Pomeroy says. "So [the concept] comes from there." The shortbread takes care of the peanut flavor, and Pomeroy turned Sauternes ("which is the typical pairing for foie") into the "grape jelly" component.
2. Chicken liver mousse: Another menu staple, the mousse has gone through "many iterations" on the menu, Pomeroy says. Currently, the staff uses raw livers when it blends them with sherry and shallots, placing them into molds and a water bath before baking. "The texture and the consistency, to me, is much better that way," Pomeroy says. "You do miss a little bit of flavor when you do it that way, it's not exactly the same as when you get that caramelization on the outside, so what we've done is supplement it with a little bit of bacon." It's topped with a yuzu marmalade, which adds a bright "peppery, citrusy" flavor to the rich livers.
3. Pickles: "For me, vegetables are such a huge passion," Pomeroy says. "You see that on the charcuterie plate, and it's really important for me to reflect that." The Beast staff makes pickles two or three times a week with whatever vegetables Pomeroy finds in-season; here, the plate features a zucchini bread-and-butter pickle and pickled purple cauliflower.
4. Steak tartare: Beast features a simple steak tartare prep, using tenderloin from Carman Ranch: The beef is mixed with cornichon, capers, shallots, olive oil, salt, and pepper and served atop Little T brioche. It's also topped with a raw quail egg, which — for folks used to mixing in their yolks before eating a tartare — maybe come as a bit of a challenge. "It's very interesting to watch people's reaction to it," Pomeroy says. "Some people, they have a thing about raw egg or raw meat; it's flying in the face of convention, in some ways, for people... I just want to give people the option for being adventurous, which a lot of people take." Pomeroy does have a pro-tip for first-time eaters, though: "It's meant to be eaten all in one bite, though, and I see people grapple with it a lot," she says. "They're afraid to have the whole thing, but then the egg is everywhere; it's definitely easier to just go for it."
5. Pork sausage: According to Pomeroy, the six o'clock spot has been "represented by different sausages and smoked sausages" of late: This week, it's a spicy smoked sausage, and upcoming plans are to feature a green chorizo with "tons of cilantro." But the featured cut is "probably my favorite of all of them," Pomeroy says: It's a traditional Italian Cotechino sausage featuring pork, pork skin, nutmeg, and all spice. "It has a lot of skin in it, so it has kind of a sticky texture," Pomeroy says.
6. Pork and duck terrine: This traditional terrine of pork and duck meat also features some squab hearts and livers, plus pickled currants and carrots as internal garnish.
7. Salad: Presented as a palate cleanser to be used in-between each bite of charcuterie, the salad mix (which changes depending on what's available at the farmer's market) is topped with a vinaigrette of Sauvignon Blanc vinegar, olive oil, salt, pepper, and white wine vinegar, "for balance," Pomeroy says. The colorful center-plate items is "something that's changed a lot" since the restaurant's early days. "We used to just do fennel, dress it, and call it good," Pomeroy says. "But we realized it's a great way to add a lot of color and eye appeal to the plate."
8. Day salami: A few slices of a duck and pork salami finish off the plate.