Taste of the Mint dishes food, song, and art on the canvas

 By Stephanie Hoyt

February 13, 2018

Halcyon, Flavors from the Earth creates an open and airy space for diners to relish invigorating flavors while relaxing in a contemporary but comforting space. “Halcyon,” by definition, means a happy, peaceful and prosperous era, and the restaurant represents that well. When you walk into Halcyon, inside the Mint Museum Uptown, you are greeted by soaring ceilings, floor-to-ceiling windows and rustic wooden fixtures. The bright space is filled with natural light and is accented with dark blue hues to create a sense of calm. Hanging from the ceiling are nest-like chandeliers made entirely of twigs and there is a grand, bucolic maple wood table in the center of the room created by artist Gary Marcus. All of these elements come together to highlight the restaurant’s image: a modern and chic farmhouse that utilizes local sources for their fare.

The décor at Halcyon gives off a fresh, natural feel, which also is sensed in the food. Executive Chef James Stouffer and his team labor to ensure all of the food is controlled in-house, from the fresh bread to the velvety ice cream. We visited Halcyon on a foggy Saturday, for Taste of the Mint, a food and art experience, this time dedicated to artist Romare Bearden. The three-course tasting menu was meat focused, with two courses of duck and a bacon dessert.

The first dish was a duck confit tortellini. “Confit” means to cook something in its own fat, which creates a rich flavor. The house-made tortellini was prepared earlier in the day and laced with the duck confit and topped with a fresh mushroom ragu. Crispy prosciutto was added to present a crunchy texture within the dish and a level of salt. A creamy texture was incorporated to the dish by the inclusion of whipped fresh goat cheese, which offsetted some of the sweetness. Everyone at our table was engrossed in spooning up the sweet rich sauce by the end of the first course to savor every last bite.

Duck confit tortellini

This first course was paired with a French Malbec from Southwest France with juicy black plum flavors. The perfumed acidity of the wine cut the fattiness of the duck confit and presented a nice contrast to the sweet sauce.

Following the duck confit tortellini was a seared duck breast with braised endive and a raspberry reduction. The duck was from New York, where animals must often eat more to stay warm and thereby develop a fattier piece of meat. It was seared to a perfect crisp and the meat melted in your mouth. Pairing it with the raspberry sauce created a sweet and tangy taste that balanced the fattiness of the duck. The braised endive was reduced to render the usual bitter vegetable into a sweet treat. The pink of the medium rare duck was accentuated by the bright pink raspberry sauce that artfully circled the dish. The endive not only added a sugary contrast to the duck but also added a pop of bright yellow to the plate.

Seared duck breast with braised endive

The dish was paired with a Bourgogne Passetoutgrain, also from France, that is a bridge between Beaujolais and the more complex Pinot Noir from Northern Burgundy. The fruity wine has hints of raspberry and black currant, which were enhanced by the raspberry reduction sauce, and also helped cut the richness of the duck.

The robust meal ended on a decadent note with maple bacon bourbon ice cream. The ice cream was freshly made at Halcyon which was evident in the creamy, custard like texture. It was topped with crispy candied bacon, which complemented the robust tastes of the first two courses. The dessert was a good balance of sweet and savory, with the salty cured meat bringing out the sweetness in the ice cream.

Maple bacon bourbon ice cream

Once the table had devoured the last drop of sweet ice cream, we visited the Mint Museum for a tour of the Romare Bearden ‘Sing on the Canvas’ exhibit. The Romare Bearden Society, established in 2009, assisted the Mint Museum in collecting many of Bearden’s works, including Back Porch Serenade, unveiled in 2011, on the centennial of Bearden’s birth. Romare Bearden was born in 1911 in Charlotte. He eventually moved to Harlem, New York where he lived during the time of the Harlem Renaissance and revival of jazz. His work was influenced by music and has been described as visual jazz because of the bright colors and shapes he included. When Bearden grew older, he returned to Charlotte to visit family and was influenced by Southern blues and gospel music. Many of his works were collages, which enabled him to improvise as a jazz musician would customarily do.

Romare Bearden lived by the Apollo Theater and both his personal and professional lives were inundated with music. Even if a piece does not show a subject physically playing an instrument, his color choices, subject matters and overall theme show how music inspires us all. The bright colors invoke life into his art, just like music brightens our lives. The exhibit not only holds many collages but also lithographs, collographs, schematic drawings. These mixed media pieces create different textures by using paper cut outs, watercolors, paints and even glue. Romare Bearden’s work is fun for the eyes and is said to have been inspired by European surrealism and Cuban art. Bearden died in 1988 and was known by some as the Southern Picasso of modern art. His life is well represented with this food, music, and art inspired experience at The Mint Museum. 

The next Taste of the Mint offering is ‘A Different Kind of Modern’ scheduled for March 17 from 3:30-5:30 p.m.. For more details, head to mintmuseum.org.

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