Food Trend Alert: Artisanal Black Metal Cuisine

There’s nothing grim about an amuse bouche.

Mar 20 2014, 3:28pm

On Sunday night, my girlfriend and I headed to the Clinton Hill neighborhood of Brooklyn to go out to dinner. For non-Brooklynites, or Brooklynites that don’t go south of South 6th, Clinton Hill is a grown-up neighborhood, one that’s home to those people you read about who take real vacations and have second bedrooms not occupied by roommates. We walked down tree-lined streets populated with standalone houses with magnificent doors that could qualify as mini-mansions—their entryways stuffed with strollers in gridlock—to our destination: Three Letters restaurant, a French-American bistro that was hosting a “black metal tasting menu.”

The event was called “It Takes a Pillage: A Black Metal Tasting Menu.” The restaurant had prepared a six-course, $45 dollar prix-fixe dinner with dishes inspired by black metal themes or song titles, with names like “Guardians of the Black Lake” (squid, kale, smelt) and “I Will Lay Down My Bones Among the Rocks and Roots” (marrow, carrots, sunchoke). The food itself was Nordic-inspired, and a pretty good sampling of second wave black metal was playing throughout dinner. The menu was written in runes, and the restaurant had even made a poster for the event with a burning Fantoft Stave Church on it.

It’s pretty easy to call out “False!” here and leave it at that. The entire idea of expensive fine cuisine paired with black metal, the grimmest, most evil genre of metal out there, is a no-no from the get-go. In Brooklyn, no less! What would Fenriz say? As Sargeist put it, black metal is all about “Frowning, Existing,” not a nice beurre blanc or deftly-prepared duck confit. There’s nothing grim about an amuse bouche. The whole thing reeks of the co-opting of black metal by the very socio-economic groups black metal in many ways targets for extermination, much like the hipster-in-a-Burzum-shirt phenomenon. It helps, then, that the organizers said they had been kicking the idea around for a while as a “joke/actual great idea,” but it won’t prevent the 99% (of black metal fans) from doing the thumb-across-the-neck-thumbs-down at the very mention of it. For the sake of reporting, nutrition, and the celebration of ignorance and cuisine, we went anyway.

We arrived and were seated in a sparsely populated dining room that merged with a bar. It was a good-looking place—which is, of course, in and of itself not very black metal—with an artfully curved bar, vaguely futurist style accents and a deep turquoise blue color theme. Several tables were working their way through the menu. Our server, a nice blonde woman, was wearing a shirt the restaurant had made for the occasion that read “Three Letters” in a vaguely black metal style script. Suffice it to say that I’m pretty confident she wasn’t a metal fan. The bartender, however, looked to be a fan with a half shaved head, the event t-shirt, piercings, black lipstick, and a leather vest, and a few metal heads were seated at the end of the bar. Our server explained that there were beer pitcher specials for the occasion, but we went straight for something stiffer and ordered some cocktails (\m/).

Our first dish, “Cut Their Grain and Place Fire Therein,” named for the Weakling song of the same name, arrived as Darkthrone’s “As Flittermice As Satans Spys” played. Naming the first course after a Weakling song was sort of a way of saying, “We know our shit.” The dish was a smoked farro salad with what I think were dandelion greens and a creamy lemon dressing. The meaty farro gave the dish a heartiness that was accented by the light bitter greens. Did the dish remind me of the frantic and frigid blasting of its namesake, menacing yet at once majestic? Not really, but it was good anyway.

Next up was “Guardians of the Black Lake,” a squid and sprouts dish. It was a grim (in a good way) looking affair, with the squid sitting in a savory and salty squid ink broth. Sprouts exploded brightly to counterbalance the squid, which had a nice freshness and picked up just a little bit of the ink—you had to dive in with a spoon to really get it all. I can’t definitively nail down a black metal connection for the dish’s name—Agalloch’s “Black Lake Nidstång” seems as likely as any—but even so, yum, A+, 7/10, etc.

Guardians of the Black Lake. Dark.

By the third course, “I Will Lay Down My Bones Among the Rocks and Roots,” we were well on our way into our first carafe of red (on tap!). The dish, named for a Wolves In The Throne Room song, consisted of crisp carrots and sunchokes cooked through with bone marrow. Bone marrow is sort of like the MSG of high-end cooking, giving a richness, roundness, and certain je-ne-sais-quoi to a dish. The carrots and sunchokes were cooked with restraint and had a nice crunch to them, and the pairing of the marrow, sunchokes and carrots worked really well thematically with the nature-inspired black metal of WITTR, and indeed it began to look as if things were headed in that direction, what with the suspected Agalloch reference of “Black Lake Nidstång.” Agalloch would’ve worked for this dish, too, with their album Marrow of the Spirit. But what was playing on the speakers was The Body, which marked, essentially, the end of the black metal soundtrack as we moved into doom. Minus points.

Conventional wisdom holds that if there is a food group that is more metal than others, it is meat, and things got meaty really fast. “Beyond the Great Vast Forrest” (Emperor track) was a huge pile of raw venison sprinkled with bits of (I think) bacon and served with a sour pickled egg. It was enough venison to make a small venison burger, and, I’ll admit, tough to get through as it was beyond rich, with an iron quality to it that reminded me of beef heart ceviche I had a few weeks back (don’t ask). As we gulped down the venison, a woman in a DIY sleeveless Emperor In the Nightside Eclipse shirt walked in, proving, once again, that fate works in mysterious ways.

We stayed with the non-traditional meats for “In the Hall With Boar and Mead,” two massive boar chops cooked with mead that had some nice variation between an outer brisket and a more tender but still well cooked center. Dessert, “My Blood Is Made of Sap,” consisted of roasted beets, maple and cream and was delicious. We kept the mead going from the previous course with a glass from Upstate New York, as suggested, which tasted like a desert wine. I was a little disappointed that the beets, which gave off a bit of beet juice in the cream, didn’t appear bloodier, but my intrepid dining companion, who ate more of the raw venison than I did (she’s a keeper), found out that by pushing the beats around in the cream, it oozed a rich purple blood red color. Don’t we all.