Jul. 1st, 2007 08:23 pm
When I was in Chicago last week, I finally got to try out Moto. This is another restaurant in the "molecular gastronomy" movement which I'm somewhat enamored with. Despite positive reviews from people, I'd been hesitant about going to Moto. It just seemed too gimmicky - and for me, as someone who's eaten food hanging off an antenna before, that's saying a lot. But then I saw the chef, Homaru Cantu, on Iron Chef America, and when all the judges oohed and ahhed over the flavor of his food, I was sold. So, when I had to spend three days in Chicago for work, I posted on eGullet to find some company for a dinner at Moto. Here's the write-up I just posted to eGullet:

Short version: I went in with the same fears as jesteinf, and was also pleasantly surprised. Everything tasted great, and the gimmicks were used to further that, not distract from it. The wine pairings were spectacular.

Long version:
Our (customized) menu was printed on a cracker that was flavored like foccacia - sundried tomatoes, parmesan, etc. That was on top of a lovely salad with fennel and kumquat. We ordered the 10 course menu, then got to eat our crackers - yum.

SALMON & sesame: raw salmon, dusted with the Japanese spice mixture of a name I can't remember or spell (something -rashi), and topped with a crispy yuba skin. Our server held a copper pot of bubbling liquid nitrogen and scooped from it some freeze dried sesame oil (which became a powder) to top off the salmon. Yum.
Wine: Ruinart Blanc de Blanc, Reims, Brut, NV

BEET with bacon: Okay, you'd really have to love beets to like this one, but luckily we all did. This looked like a piece of yellow cake, but was actually a frozen aerated beet concoction - it was surprisingly cold, and had a texture that reminded me of semi-freddo. It was topped with some little bacon bits, and surrounded by a beautifully plated goat cheese sauce and swirls of red and yellow beet sauce as well as bits of beets.
Wine: C. Schmitt-Wagner, Longuichen Maximiner Herrenberg Spatlese, Riesling, M-S-R, 2005

SKATE & popcorn: the popcorn was in the form of a lovely yellow sauce that did indeed taste kind of like popcorn if you thought about it. There was also a bright green shiso mint sauce, some absolutely fabulous passion fruit noodles and quite a bit of coconut powder. And a little piece of seared skate wing. Beautifully plated, and best when you mixed all the bits together - this was definitely a "sum of the parts" dish.
Wine: Stone Paddock, Sauvignon Blanc, Hawkes Bay, 2005 (the passion fruit in the nose was spot on with those passion fruit noodles - excellent pairing)

CUCUMBER with lemon & basil: A palate cleanser of some picked cucumber and a shot of cucumber/basil/lemon juice. Tasty, and certainly palate cleans-y.

SMOKED PORK with frozen fried rice: Wow. Just wow. Even jesteinf's fiance (who doesn't particularly like pork) liked this. This was a piece of pork shoulder dusted with Thai spices and smoked. It was perfectly cooked, with lovely unctuous melting fat. It was served with some kind of sauteed green and some frozen noodles that, yes, tasted like fried rice.
Wine: Barboursville, Reserve, Cabernet Franc, Virginia 2005 (Yes, that's the US state of Virginia. It was great, and another amazing pairing.)

PASTA & quail: Introduced to us as "chicken-fried quail," this was a very twisty twist on mac and cheese. The pasta had been freeze dried or something, so it was crunchy. Meanwhile, the quail managed to have exactly the texture one would expect from pasta. And it was all topped with an amazing white truffle cheese sauce. Someone at the table christened it "haute trash." But man, I'd totally eat that again.
Wine: Betts & Scholl, The Chronique, Grenache, Barossa, 2005

FRUIT & bubbles: Ah, at last I get to try the famous carbonated fruit! We had two pieces of carbonated watermelon, served on either side of what we heard as "white chocolate and exploratory cheese sauce." We were wondering what was exploratory about it, but then someone told us no, it was "explorateur cheese sauce". Whatever it was, it was amazing. Also on the plate were some granulated black walnuts, a rice puff cracker thing flavored like strawberry daiquiri, and some cinnamon apples. From the texture and flavor, I believe the apples had been cooked sous vide or something unusual. This was just so tasty - we were all oohing and ahhing over that cheese sauce, and now I'm pondering incorporating it into a white chocolate truffle sometime, it was such and intriguing combination.
Wine: Meinklang, Ice Wine, Pinot Blanc, Burgenland, 2003.

2 & 3 dimensional truffle: The three dimensional truffle was a white chocolate truffle filled with a completely liquid cotton candy flavored center. The 2 dimensional version was a piece of rice paper that was flavored like cotton candy and printed with a cartoon drawing of a cone of cotton candy. A very familiar flavor in a new and (for me anyway) preferable form.

GRAHAM CRACKER & blueberry: My note taking fell to pieces on this one, as there was just too much. The twist on this one was that the graham cracker component was as a smooth mousse, with blueberry "dots" and ginger "dots" adding some crunchy texture. There was some strawberry sorbet in there too. Tasty.

KIWI, mint & maize: This looked for all the world like a plate of nachos. There were sweetened corn chips. There was ground beef made out of chocolate (but looking exactly like ground beef). There was a green salsa of kiwis. Then shaved mango sorbet that looked exactly like cheese. And a little pile of lime cream in the corner as the sour cream. The illusion was impeccable. So impeccable in fact, that I had to close my eyes to taste it properly. If I had my eyes open I just couldn't make my tastebuds cooperate. Awesome.
Wine: Elio Perrone, Sourgal, Moscato d'Asti, Italy 2006 (this might have come out with the previous course, I can't remember)

STRAWBERRY shortcake: Edible packing peanuts flavored with strawberry and sandwiching some sort of cream.

After we'd finished up and were chatting about what a lovely meal it had been, a waiter walked by with the cart they used to prepare a course on the GTM at tableside. Seeing that he had a little bit of batter left in his syringe, I called out "Hey, do you have enough there to make us some?" "I'll see what I can do."

And sure enough, a few minutes later out he came, wheeling the cart again for:

FLAPJACKS prepared tableside: A metal sheet is frozen in liquid nitrogen. Pancakes are cooked, then turned back into a batter, and that batter is "cooked" into pancakes on the anti-griddle, and served in a spoon with some BLiS bourbon-barrel-aged maple syrup. Man, that was good.

And then we were really done. And it was a great meal, and a lot of fun. Josh and Marisa were great company. I would absolutely go back.

Some additional comments:
Service: Service was really quite good and friendly. They made a couple of mistakes, the biggest of which was ignoring our telling them that Marisa didn't like dark chocolate (they could easily have left it off her "nachos"). I had requested a short pour for the wine pairings, which they said they were happy to do, but then my pours were pretty much the same size as Josh and Marisa's. BUT, they only charged me for the half pour, so I'm not actually complaining. Lastly, they made a mistake handling the gratuity on our split bill (charging me 1/2 instead of 1/3 of the total 18% service charge) but we just dealt with it between ourselves rather than making them run it again.

Freezing: Cantu definitely likes his freezer! 6 out of what ended up being 12 courses had something frozen about them.

Plating: The Beet and Skate courses had some of the best plating I've had in a restaurant meal in recent memory. Just gorgeous to look at.

Different menu, different name: Looking at the three menus, you would assume that there was no overlap across them. But in fact, as we discovered by carefully observing and talking to the the GTM-eating couple beside us, it's just that they use a different description depending on the menu.

BEET with bacon = RED/YELLOW beet cake
CUCUMBER with lemon & basil = LEMON, basil & pickled cucumber
SMOKED PORK with frozen fried rice = BBQ PORK with the fixin's
PASTA & quail = CHICKEN FRIED mac-n-cheese
FRUIT & bubbles = C O-two fruit
2 & 3 dimensional truffle = 3 COTTON candy stages (they got one more than we did)
KIWI, mint & maize = CHILI-CHEESE nachos
I had a fun, but exhausting, time. Dinner went off really well with one exception. Many of you may recall the saga of my cursed stove. Several months ago they sent out the Maytag Man AND the Maytag's Man's boss. They moved a bunch of wires and did a bunch of work on the stove. I paid $200 for an extended warranty, and hadn't had a problem since. Until tonight. I'd used it off and on all day with no problem. Minutes before dinner was to start, with 8 quail sitting on my counter waiting for oven space, I tried to turn the oven on to preheat, and got my usual set of error codes. Doh!

Fortunately, we live in cohousing, so I just sent someone over to the common house to preheat the oven there and we cooked the quail over there. I probably overcooked them a tiny bit, since they weren't convenient to check on, but all in all they still came out great.

Dinner pics:

Scallop with leeks and golden trout caviar:

Sue's non-scallop alternative:

Butternut squash ravioli with rosemary oil:

Mushroom stuffed quail with risotto and haricots verts

I forgot to photograph the cheese board. We had three Italian cheeses - a Pecorino Tuscano (sheep), Maccagno (cow), Robiola Fia (goat) - and an exemplary loaf of no-knead bread.

Caramel-hazelnut-chocolate tart with creme fraiche whipped cream

Everybody pitched in before and during to wash dishes and otherwise help out. Most of the pots and pans have been washed, and all that's left is to run things through the dishwasher and wash the wine glasses. But I'm too tired to empty and refill the dishwasher tonight, so that will have to wait until morning. As will cleaning up the house - 7 children can really wreck a place!

I managed to drag myself over to my neighbors place for the New Year's Party. Sadly, Eric had a headache and opted to stay home and go to bed. And now I must do the same - although first I have to go turn off the breaker to the stove so that it doesn't go crazy in the middle of the night and leak gas or something.

On the left, red grapes on the stem, covered in Stilton and rolled in chopped port-glazed walnuts. You can see some of the whole walnuts scattered around the sauce. The sauce is the reduction of the glazing liquid, and has port, sugar, black pepper and bay leaf. On the right, a Seckel pear, which was roasted in a baking dish with a mixture of Carlos VII and sugar at the bottom (recipe adapted from here). That was used as a basting liquid, and later reduced to the caramel sauce. Lying jauntily against the pear is a crisp of 5-year Boerenkaas aged gouda. And a few toasted hazelnuts for good measure.

I invited a few friends over to kibbitz and taste. Here are their comments, so you'll have some idea of the flavors as well as the looks!

Dave: There is great synergy in the pear-sherry-hazelnut-cheese combination. Not only is the pear taste accentuated, but you get an added taste of fig, and a nutty flavor that comes not just from the nuts, but from the cheese wafer, that finishes with a smoky, almost a charcoal taste.

The combination of Stilton cheese and grapes did not work as well, not because of any discordance in the tastes, but I believe because of texture. The grapes are too watery to be paired with this cheese. I recommend chilling the grapes first to firm them up.

Beth: you can never go wrong with Stilton in my book, and the combination of Stilton and 'ported' walnuts was a fantastic combination of sweet and shocking-salty. however the taste of the grape itself was lost. i found that drizzling further with the port reduction added back a nice, fruity flavor.

the pear-gouda had a nice nutty taste as well - i've never had an aged gouda, and the process intensified the nutty flavor that worked well with the pear.

Hope: the stilton-grape-ported walnut combination was absolutely delightful - the delicacy of the grape wasn't overwhelmed by the stilton, and the walnuts gave a wonderful contrasty texture. There could've been a little more of the port reduction sauce, which had a wonderful flavor. The pear-gouda-sherry reduction combo was a little too sweet for my tastes, but the gouda laces set off the sweetness very nicely, and were very tasty all on their own. There were some delightful Montgomery cheddar 'eclairs' that were wonderful, but sadly didn't work with the red wine gelato - though both were very good on their own. All in all, a wonderful evening - it's so much fun being one of Tammy's 'guinea pigs'!

My comments: I over-reduced both sauces, which made it easy to make them stay where I wanted on the plate, but made them too sticky and sweet for good eating - I'd correct that in the future. The pear-gouda-sherry combo worked as well in reality as it did in my head, so that was cool. I'm with Dave and Beth on the issue of the grapes - the Stilton did overwhelm the grape. I think because the amount of Stilton needed to wrap the grape made it too much. I probably should have done what most recipes suggest and cut the Stilton with cream cheese. If I make these for a party sometime (and I might - they are tasty and unusual), I will do that. And chill them - these ones warmed up while I was getting everything else ready. Oh, and the plate needed more of the port sauce for that amount of grapes/cheese.

The two parts of the plate didn't really go together, but neither did they clash. If I was serving the pear on it's own, I would do it in a little bowl, because then I could use the unreduced sauce, and that would be very tasty. And while the crisp was fun and made for a nice presentation, I think some of the sweet butterscotchy flavor of the aged gouda was lost, so I'd just do shavings of the cheese.
Would you believe I made this beautiful loaf of bread in my very own oven?

It's from the No-Knead bread recipe that was published in the New York Times and has been making the rounds of the Internet. It's got a few modifications, thanks to to the excrutiatingly detailed eGullet thread (361 posts and counting) discussing the recipe. I'll be writing it up in more detail for my blog over the next couple of days, but it was so lovely I had to share it here. This is the second loaf I've made - the first was overproofed and too gummy. This one was just about perfect. Awesome crackly crunchy perfect crust, moist light interior. Woot!
Red Newt Cellars is a mom and pop kind of thing - he makes the wines, she cooks in the bistro. They had my favorite wines from when D and I did our winery tour of Finger Lakes on our last trip there. And the menu in the bistro looked great, and it came highly recommended, so I was really looking forward to getting a chance to go. The menu changes every three weeks and focuses on seasonal local ingredients. We were there on the first night of the new menu, but we didn't notice any opening night glitches.

It's a nice big open room. We had seat along the window and could look out over some vineyards off to the other side of Seneca Lake and the setting sun, which had come out just for us. While the food is upscale, the environment is pretty casual, as you'd expect given the cottage country location. They have a small kids menu, and one of my most amusing moments of the evening came when the 8 year old girl at another table asked her server, in the most serious and formal of voices, "Which do you recommend, the pizza or the macaroni and cheese?"

Red Newt Bistro was the most wine-centric of the restaurants that we've visited in the Finger Lakes. They had about 20 wines being poured by the glass, most arranged into tasting flights, one for each of the main dinner entrees on the menu. You could order the flight, or just one of the wines in the flight, in half or full size glasses. Very flexible. And if you weren't sure what you wanted, they'd pour you a taste. I was overjoyed that they were serving the Tierce riesling by the glass. Tierce is a collaborative wine made by three different wineries on Seneca Lake, of which Red Newt is one. It's a really great riesling - best wine I tasted on my last trip, and one I've thought fondly of since then. But at $30/bottle, I just couldn't bring myself to buy any - I can get some mighty good German riesling for $30/bottle, and I'm not buying that either. But I was thrilled to be able to get a glass with dinner!

In our usual way, D and I split an appetizer. I was voting for the Foccacia with Wild Mushrooms, Tomatoes, Arugula, Feta, Roasted Garlic Oil and Proscuitto, but D had a strong preference for the Puff Pastry Turnover with Roasted Garlic Chevre, Carmelized Onions and Collards
served with Roasted Red Pepper and Ginger Chutney
. And if you know me, you know that I find it hard to say no to chevre, so we went with that. It was tasty and the presentation was pretty, but there was nothing in it that made me say ooh-la-la. The roasted red pepper and ginger chutney had seemed so promising on paper, but didn't live up to its promise.

All entrees come with a salad. D had the regular house salad with a spicy peanut dressing, and I spent the $3 to upgrade mine to something that I'd been looking forward to ever since seeing the menu online: Mixed Green Salad with Carmelized Chevre, Shaved Fennel, Scallions
and Toasted Pine Nuts with a Strawberry Vinaigrette
. I was most intrigued by "caramelized chevre" - what ever could that be? It turned out to be a ball of goat cheese, coated in sugar, and browned into sweet crunchy shell, like the top of a creme brulee. It was wonderful. The cheese was warm, the salad cold, the pine nuts toasty, the strawberries oh-so-fresh. I loved every bit of it.

D's main was the Bacon Wrapped Beef Tenderloin with a Chocolate Red Wine Sauce. It was served with a lovely potato dish, which looked kind of like hash browns but tasted sooo much better. Being cooked in cream and parmesan will do that for you. The beef and the sauce were great too. For wines, D had tried one of the merlots recommended for the course, as well as a cabernet sauvignon, but ended up opting to just get more of the Red Eft that we'd had the night before. I was very impressed with the merlot pairing - I've often heard merlots described as chocolately, but this was the first that totally fit the bill for me. Even before tasting the dish I could tell these would be great together, and saved a sip in the sample glass for when I got my forkful from D's plate. I ordered a half glass of the Red Newt Cellars cabernet sauvignon to go with my main: the Mixed Grill of Ancho Chili Coated Lamb Chops and Chorizo Sausage with a Cherry Glaze served with Roasted Garlic Grits. The sausage was spicy but not overbearing. the lamb chops were tender and flavorful. The cherry glaze was tasty. The grits were great. Mmm... grits. Nothing transcendent, just really good food, really well prepared and perfectly seasoned.

D and I were both quite full at this point, but there's always room in the dessert stomach. We opted for one of the lighter offerings, bypassing the turtle cheesecake and kitchen-sink brownie sundae and going for the more refined chocolate roulade with white chocolate mint filling and raspberry sauce. It was a perfect choice - light, but still chocolatey enough to satisfy a couple of demanding chocoholics.

Our bill, including tax and tip, came to $132. That's a bit much for our company's expense account (we are a nonprofit, afterall), so we put $80 on the company card and split the rest. But I'd happily pay my own money to eat there again!
Madderlake Cafe was a good choice for our first night in, because unlike most of the other restaurants on my list, it's on the same side of the lake and near the top as Geneva, where we're staying. Our flight was late, so we went there straight from the airport.

You can tell the building they're in is a bit dingy, although they've done a pretty good job of covering it up with some nice bright paint and some great glass artwork on the walls. It's funky and cheery - different colored napkins at each place setting, things like that. There was a bit of an odd smell to it, unfortunately - never did figure out what that was about.

It was a very small menu, not even as broad as what's posted on their website. Six openers including a soup, two salads and a cheese course, and just 8 mains. Not a lot was jumping out at us, to be honest. But my coworker and I each managed to find something that appealed, and ordered a bottle of wine to go with. Their wine list had a good number of Finger Lakes wines as well as wines from other regions and was really reasonably priced - nothing over $50. There was nothing by the glass that I was interested in (only 4 reds, and only one of those from Finger Lakes), so I took a look at the list and jumped at the chance to order a bottle of the 2003 Red Newt Cellars Red Eft. This is a red blend that I'd just loved when I'd visited the winery on my last trip. (And given that it sells for just $12.50 at the winery, you can see that the wine markup is really reasonable.)

To start we split an order of deep fried calamari, shrimp and scallops, with sides of mignonette and remoulade sauces. Tasty, satisfying, well-prepared, although nothing particularly special about it. For mains, I had the roast breast and potted leg of duck with grilled fresh pineapple and wild rice spoonbread. This was wonderful. Duck and pretty much any fruit goes great, but I was surprised at how well it played with the grilled pineapple. There was some nice rich demi-glace based sauce under it. The spoonbread was quite tasty, although I wasn't sure it went quite so well with the rest. But all in all a quite delightful and different dish. My coworker had the grilled pork tenderloin with apples, dried cherries and roasted fingerling potatoes. Again with a lovely rich sauce, unidentified on the menu. Fairly basic fare, but very nicely prepared.

Dessert was glorious. I didn't steal a dessert menu, so I have to reconstruct the description from memory, but it was baked cream with vanilla bean, kahlua sauce and a mexican wedding cookie? A rich, creamy, glorious custard, served atop a caramel and kahlua sauce (like a creme caramel or flan, but with the sauce and custard cooked separately) and a perfect little nutty cookie along side. Incredible.

Definitely recommended if you're ever in the neighborhood.
I've already relayed yesterday morning's Village excitement. (Thanks to everyone for your comments. Liam seems none the worse for his experience, although this morning he did say to me "I cried in car." Sniff.) That all happened while we were out at the grocery store picking up food for lunch and dinner, cooking and eating being a lot of what us Village people do when we get together.

When we finally got back to SueScott's we had a mozarella/tomato/basil salad for lunch, along with assorted other bits for nibbling. Then it was kid nap time, so I brought Liam home. Jon and Sarah and Theo came over to our place while Alex and Jessie napped - Theo doesn't need a nap anymore (what a concept!) and Great Oak gave him a little more range to play. While all that was going on, we finished up the truffles we started the day before. I'd guess we made about 70, which seemed like nothing compared to my recent truffle making escapades. My attempts to roll the hazelnut in chopped nuts failed miserably - gotta figure out how that's supposed to work - I think my ganache was just too soft.

Eventually we all reconvened and there was much prepping and cooking for dinner. As usual, we had way too much food - we were just sort of picking things up randomly at the store, then tried to pull it all together into a meal.

In the afternoon we nibbled on some Little Napoleon cheese from Zingerman's and some salami, chosen because I knew they'd go well with Elysium, a sweet fortified wine from the last Zingerman's Roadhouse dinner i attended. I thought [ profile] sarahf would love it, and I was right. Woot!

On to dinner. We couldn't resist buying the fresh morels we found at the store, so then we had to figure out something to do with them. I ended up sauteing some chopped garlic shoots and the morels with butter and olive oil, tossing them with some cooked fresh pasta, and sprinkling with shaved parmesan. The texture of the pasta wasn't quite what I was aiming for, but the flavors sure were nice!
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We'd made a bunch of other assorted food without really thinking about how we'd put it all together. As somebody said "We didn't used to do "courses." But [ profile] scottij wanted to make the tomato basil sorbet from Eric's birthday scallop dinner again, and what good is a palate cleanser if there's no courses to put it between? The sorbet wasn't quite ready after the pasta, so we decided to put our veggies together and call it a "course." We had some soy-sesame marinated grilled vegetables (summer squash, zucchini, snap peas, eggplant, shiitakes) and boiled corn.
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Scott's tomato basil sorbet was as intriguing as I remembered it. It's kinda like very cold gazpacho, maybe.
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For our final course, we butterflied and stuffed a pork tenderloin with a paste of garlic and herbs from the Great Oak garden (summer savory and oregano, IIRC). We served this with beet and goat cheese salad, which seems to be shaping up as one of this summer's regular items (although sadly, Eric doesn't like beets, so that prevents us from making it even more often).
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Then we were all totally stuffed and it was time for kids to get to bed. SueScott took Alex and Jessie back to their house. Jon and Sarah stayed and washed dishes and helped clean up while Eric and I got Liam started on bedtime, then went back to Scott and Sue's. Liam's stressful day resulted in an easy bedtime, and he was asleep well before 9. We'd arranged for a neighborhood teen to come over and babysit after Liam was in bed so we could go over to join the rest of the Village for an adult evening.

So while we were waiting for him I finished up the white chocolate rose truffles I'd started making for [ profile] sarahf earlier in the day. They turned out extremely soft and can basically only be eaten straight out of the freezer (and even then they're soft!). But they made Sarah swoon and make her foodgasm face, so totally worthwhile. No pictures of those (they weren't very photogenic anyway) but here's a picture of the other truffles we made and munched on last night.
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I'm really quite pleased with all of them. Good flavors - more subtle than some of my previous attempts, and really excellent texture - the insides are so smooth and creamy as to be almost liquid. I'm getting much more comfortable working with looser ganaches now.

We ate truffles and chatted and played a game of Alhambra, then all got ourselves off to our respective houses and beds. We grownups want to stay up late cause we're altogether, but the kids aren't changing their morning wake up times, so that makes it rough. I got to bed at midnight and was up with Liam at 5:30 (as well as attending to a short middle of the night wakeup). I tried to nap for a couple hours this morning, but wasn't very good at it.
After one too many close calls, Andy Quady left his career in pyrotechnics to become a winemaker. And he did this back in the '70s, when being a winemaker wasn't a trendy thing like it is today. We should all be happy about this choice. Quady Winery makes one of the only traditional vermouths, flavored with fresh herbs rather than oils. They also makes wine from little used grapes like orange and black muscat. While these are generally marketed as dessert wines, we found them to be excellent accompaniments to our dinner. This was my favorite dinner since the very first one I attended. Like that one, the menu was simple and focused, with a clear goal of pairing well with the wines. And since that's what I'm looking for, it was a total win for me. All the food was great, with no duds or misfires.

Pre-Dinner Cocktail: Andy's French Twist - half Vya dry vermouth and have Vya sweet vermouth, with orange zest. Cheers!4

Starter: Zingerman's Creamery Little Napoleon goat cheese, Niman Ranch salumi napolitana, and California Figs. Wine: )

In addition to the named ingredients, this had some black and green olives, and a sprinkling of some sort of crushed red pepper. Meat, cheese, olives - as Jillian said, this is the kind of food you'd be happy to make a meal out of all on its own. The cheese is my favorite that the Creamery makes, and it turned out to be an absolutely exceptional match with the paired wine, Elysium, a fortified wine made from black muscat. When the Elysium was poured, the scent of roses nearly knocked me out of my chair. Unfortunately (or fortunately?) it didn't last all that long, and the nose in the glass was more lychee with just hints of rose. [ profile] sarahf, I'm going to try to hunt this one down for our Village visit!

Soup: Roasted garlic and creme fort. Wine: Essenciapictures )

Unfortunately we forgot to remind Jillian to take the picture before she took her first bite, so you can't see that this was garnished with individual sections of chive flower. The toast in the middle was surprisingly crispy. And the soup was luxurious. Essencia is one of Quady's original wines and is made from orange muscat grapes. One of the great things about the wines at this meal was how glorious the colors were. And the all smelled fabulous. That's the Elysium on the left, and the Essencia on the right.

Salad: Local mustard greens and roasted asparagus with Niman Ranch speck. Wine: Electrapictures )

A really perfect salad. Bitter greens, perfect aspargus, salty sweet speck (similar to prosciutto). In contrast to the previous wines, this one was a mere 4% alcohol - they stop the fermentation just as the grape juice is turning to wine. It's not-too-sweet with some nectarine tang, and a little bit of fizz. It's marketed as a perfect picnic wine, and we think it would be great for that. Although made with the same orange muscat as the Essencia, the color was much lighter, reflecting it's lighter nature and short aging time. This has become one of their best selling wines (and at around $10 a bottle, it's easy to see why.)

Entree: Fillet of California lemon sole with braised fennel and local carrot tops. Wine: Vya Extra-Dry Vermouthpictures )

I'm so happy I chose the sole. The lamb was good, but the sole was just what I was in the mood for. The fish was nicely prepared, but the sauce - oh the sauce - just blew me away. A buerre blanc made with the liquid from braising the fennel, it was amazing in texture and flavor and did the oddest things in my mouth - here one minute, gone the next, only to come back full force a moment later. The carrot tops did nothing to change my opinion of them (ie. tough and not worth eating). But the braised fennel was awesome.


Braised Niman Ranch California lamb shank with guajillo chiles. Wine: Vya Sweet Vermouthpictures )

I just had one little taste of this, but it was meltingly tender and served atop a mound of mashed potatoes. Whereas the fish and the dry vermouth were only an adequate match, the sweet vermouth was excellent with the rich flavors of the reduction sauce.

Dessert: Goat cheesecake from Zingerman's Bakehouse with honey-essencia essence. Wine: Starboard Batch 88, 1992 Vintagepictures )

Starboard is Quady's euphamism for Port, and it is actually made with the same mix of grapes as in Portugal. This was their 1992 vintage (the picture is of the 1996, not that you can probably read it at that size). I wasn't very excited by it. Then the cheesecake arrived. Tasting it, you wouldn't have known it was goat cheese based - Zingerman's fresh and cream goat cheeses are actually too clean and mild for me to like them as goats. But it was an excellent flavor and texture all the same. With the tang of the sauce and the citrus, I couldn't imagine it going well with the Starboard, but I was oh-so-wrong. Definitely the most surprising pairing of the night, the two harmonized beautifully. I was pretty full, but couldn't resist eating the whole thing.

After Dinner Wine: Deviationpictures )
Deviation is their newest wine, and is their attempt at making a "love potion." Love potion or not, I'm in love with this wine. I was fortunate enough to try it when I happened to be at the Roadhouse the night a couple months ago that Ric opened a sample bottle. It's the Essencia wine described above, but infused with damiana and scented geranium. And it's utterly wonderful. Complex, deep, with a finish that lasted (literally) all the way home. I'm gonna have dreams about this one.

Andy almost didn't make it to the dinner, when his flight out of middle of nowhere California was cancelled. 4 connecting flights later he and his wife arrived at the Roadhouse just as we were being served course number three. Between dinner and dessert Andy stood up to tell us the story about how he got his start in winemaking. It was a hilarious tale of the worst wine making practices of huge wine companies in California in the 70's. How they marketed their wines as being better than their competitors because they were darker, sweeter and had more alcohol. And lots more funny stories from a man in Buddy Holly glasses. It's so interesting that he started in something so corporate and ended up being so artisanal.

His wines are relatively widely available and quite affordable, because he's making them in good quantities. I need to go looking for what I can find in town. I'd love to have a few bottles of Electra on hand for just about any occasion. And when next Eric is looking for a martinia vermouth, perhaps I'll grab some Vya for him. And Elysium for [ profile] sarahf, of course.

(And as usual, props to Jillian for the excellent photography.)
On Wednesday, Eric's actual birthday, the three of us went out to Carson's American Bistro. This is a restaurant in the Mainstreet Ventures chain, and they all give you a free meal on your birthday. We're pretty ambivalent about the standard outposts, so we thought we'd give a new one a try. We're pretty ambivalent about it too. Good steak, but the fries were forgettable. My salad was an overdressed, gloppy, enormous mess. Since Eric got his meal for free, the amount we paid (about $40) seemed good for the food we got, but I would have felt majorly ripped off if we'd had to pay the full bill.

We celebrated again yesterday, hosting a dinner with friends and then having more people come over after Liam went to bed to join us for a fire on the deck. When we were planning dinner, Eric was commenting that it would be nice if people could stay for a fire after. But I reminded him that everyone we were inviting for dinner had kids, and that wasn't going to be possible. But, I said - we could invite our childless and childfree friends over after Liam went to bed. It's like two parties on the same day! So that is what we did, and it worked really well. Everybody at dinner had at least one child contributing to the noisy throng, so no one felt left out of the chaos.

And despite having 6 children (ages 3 months, 8 months, almost 3, 2.5, 2, and 8) running around, we managed to pull off our surprisingly ambitious menu. (Or maybe "because of" - they do a certain amount of self-entertaining when there are so many. If it had been just Liam and a bunch of adults, he would have been clamoring for our attention constantly. As it was I barely saw him).

More on the ambitious menu - Eric had expressed a while back that he wanted me to cook him 5 lbs of scallops for his birthday. We eventually agreed that 5 lbs was probably too many, but the goal was clear - eat a LOT of scallops (he hesitates to order scallops in restaurants, because the serving size is usually too skimpy). Then things evolved into this big dinner party idea. And although Eric had more than any of the rest of us, he still didn't get enough, so I see myself cooking up some more scallops just for the two of us next weekend. (Or maybe just for him - I've actually had my fill for a while, I think.)

My idea was that each couple would prepare a different scallop course. We ended up asking Maggi and Tom to bring dessert instead. And I added an extra non-scallop course because I had bought food for dinner on Friday night that didn't get used because Eric was late and Liam was sick. Here's what we ended up with (pictures and descriptions behind the cuts!).

Scallop Mousse in Phyllo Cups ([ profile] scottij)Read more... )
Grilled Bacon Wrapped Scallops (Jay and Tracy, WANOLJ)Read more... )
Seared Scallops with Wild Mushrooms and Fresh-picked Garden Lettuces ([ profile] tammylc, with Tracy's lettuce)Read more... )
Tomato Basil Sorbet ([ profile] scottij)Read more... )
Duck Bangers with Truffled Mash and Grilled Asparagus ([ profile] tammylc)Read more... )
Assorted Desserts ([ profile] nubianamy and Tom)Read more... )

The kids had hot dogs, mashed sweet potatoes and cheese. I wasn't sure what the best way was to organize food for the kids. We ended up feeding them as we ate our bacon wrapped scallops. They were mostly done by the time we were into the salad, but with full tummies they ran off to play (relatively) peacefully while we ate the rest of our dinner. So it worked out perfectly! Picture of a table o' boys )

We drank three bottles of wine with dinner. While you might tend to think scallops would call for white wines, our preparations on the dishes were really much more red wine friendly - bacon, mushrooms, etc. So I pulled a bunch of things out of the basement that I thought would go. Click to read about wine )

Tom and Jay stayed and helped clean up, which meant that all the dishes were done by the time Eric was finished giving Liam his bath. Perhaps the best present he could have received (Eric likes my cooking, but hates having to clean up afterwards). Thanks, guys! Liam went down to bed pretty well, given the excitement of the day. When I got back downstairs from putting him to bed, [ profile] netmouse had arrived, along with our neighbors Elph and Jillian. We nibbled and sipped on some snacks and Port that Anne had brought with her - thanks, Anne - sitting around the hot fire on the deck. It was a good night for a fire, cool enough to sit close, but not so cold that one side is freezing while the other is cooking. And no breeze, so we weren't getting smoked out. [ profile] renniekins and [ profile] thatguychuck were supposed to come, but hadn't arrived by the time I got to bed.

Fun day. I hope Eric enjoyed his 40th birthday celebration.


May. 26th, 2006 11:42 pm
Nice, nice, nice. Certainly helped that it was a baby-free night, but also a good restaurant. Lots of fun. Good mix of small plates and larger meals. Big wine list, as you'd expect from a wine bar - about 40 wines by the glass, and a broad but shallow selection of other bottles. Pretty reasonable variety, reasonable markup. They have a retail angle as well - you can buy any wine they sell for 30% off the listed price in the restaurant.

There were five of us - me and Eric, Kim and Mark, and [ profile] shadowriderhope. We split three appetizers to start. There was a plate of three mini burgers with farmhouse cheddar and honey roasted shallots, each with a different house-made catsup - tomato catsup, mango catsup, and yellow bell pepper catsup. I had the mango, and it was great, as was the little lick of yellow bell pepper that I got. Great burger too. Then some grilled chicken wing in a sweet hot chile glaze, served with an asian pear and radicchio salad. Flavorful, not too hot, and the asian pear in the salad was nice and crunchy. My favorite was the ahi carpaccio with foie gras, caramelized teriyaki glaze and petite herb salad. Because of splitting it five ways, I just got a couple little pieces of it, but mmm-mmm-mmm it was good.

When it came to entrees, we had quite a variety. And fortunately, everyone was willing to share. Kim got the brick-pressed honey glazed duck breast with ancho ginger reduction, boniato custard and wilted spinach. Eric got the grilled Wagyu steak with truffled creamed spinach and yukon gold potato tots. The Wagyu was a skirt steak cut, so not as tender as you'd expect Wagyu to be, but exceptionally tender for skirt steak. And nice flavor. Hope got the smoked wild salmon sald with honey mustard glazed, young greens, french lentils and balsalmic syrup. A very nice salad. Great smoky flavor on the salmon. Mark and I were a little more unusual in our dinner selections. He got the "Snack Board" from the small plates menu - an assortment of cured meats, smoked fish, cheese, bread and crackers, nuts and dried fruit. Oh, and a super intense wasabi mustard. I got the "spoon hors d'ouevres" flight of the week, which was an absolute bargain at $4.95. Four little spoons, each filled with something different. In one, olive oil poached baramundi with capers. The hamachi with cucumber salad was my favorite. The mussels in saffron aioli weren't particularly interesting, and the spoonful of creme fraiche with capers was just odd. But definitely very fun. I also had the Bellwether Farms ricotta gnocchi, with extra virgin olive oil, morels and asparagus. Pefect for the season.

I should have gone with my original wine choice, which was a white Bordeaux. But Mark wanted to order it, and I knew he'd share, so I got a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc instead. It was fine, but not particularly interesting. I should have opted for some crisp Italian wine instead. The wine menu uses little symbols to classify the different wines - a lime wedge for crisp, a POW symbol for big, etc. Eric got a Spanish tempranillo. It was the cheapest wine on the menu, but exactly what he wanted.

The desserts looked great - in fact, it was the "warm brioche beignets - rhubarb sorbet, sugared berries" that convinced us to choose the restaurant. And even though we were actually served strawberry-sour cream ice cream and unsugared berries, we were happy with our choice. Kim and I split the beignets. Mark got the intensely chocolate pots de creme. Hope got the awesome ice cream sandwich, which was a bittersweet chocolate-pine nut cookie filled with her choice of ice cream. The cookie was really wonderfully awesome, and the banana creme brulee ice cream was a good filling. Eric got the trio of house-made ice creams, and chose the banana that Hope had, the strawberry that Kim and I had, and a quite nice chocolate (the other choice was a mixed berry sorbet).

Prices were really quite reasonable - small plates range from $5-16, entrees $15-$24, desserts $5-$7. Good portion sizes, without being at all overwhelming. We were able to eat all the food described above without feeling overstuffed or underfed. Friendly, reasonably knowledgeable service, and no pressure even though we took a long time to get around the ordering. Flavors were all excellent - absolutely no clunkers in anything that we ordered. It's a trendy, hip restaurant, which means that it's got too many hard surfaces (including a tin roof) so it's quite loud. Probably quieter downstairs by the cellar room.

As a wine bar, they're doing lots of wine related events - weekly tastings, special dinners, etc. I definitely hope to have a chance to go back and check it out, and signed up for their email list to get the scoop on what's going on.

Highly recommended. Visit their website for more info.
Lots of good food, lots of good wine. Too much of both, in truth. Understandably, Chef Alex wanted to highlight the many excellent and varied meats from the Ranch. But that meant two of the courses in the five course meal were smorgasbords of five different offerings on the same plate (plus sides in the case of the entree) and that adds up to a lot of food fast. Especially when all those little bits of food are meat! It's good from the perspective of getting to try lots of different things, but sometimes I long for a little more focus. The first Zing dinner I went to was much simpler in some ways, and remains my favorite.

The story behind the too much wine is a little different. Ric brought in some really hard to find wines, many imported directly from France, which meant they had to be ordered weeks in advance. When the attendance jumped from its typical 70 to 130, it was too late to order more of the wines, so we had a lot of courses where we were tasting two different wines - overall pours theoretically should have been about the same, but I'll want to drink all of a two 1 1/4 oz pours, where with a 2 1/2 oz pour of a single wine, I'll leave some in the glass. Between that, an extra splash here and there of some favorites, and finishing a couple of my neighbor's glasses, I'm glad I made the responsible choice to leave my car at the restaurant and get a ride home with Elph. Damn, there were some very tasty wines!

My biggest complaint has to be that it's obvious that Ric and Chef Alex aren't really working together on these things. Now, this is mostly just my preference speaking - I know that most people who go to these dinners are there for the food, and just look at the wine pairings as an extra nicety. Me, I really like exploring food and wine together, so I'd prefer meals that highlighted and explored that.

Okay, on to some specifics (descriptions and pictures behind the cut)...Read more... )
I am the truffle mistress! Woot! Aren't they beautiful?

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The blow out Great Oak Wine Club Anniversary dinner is all done. People were as pleased as I'd hoped. Everything turned out great. There were a few things I'd tweak here and there, but it was great. All the wine pairings were good, some especially so. Everybody pitched in - some people before for prep, and some people during for plating and cleaning, and people after for cleaning. Many hands make light work and it didn't take a long to clean up after we were done - we were able to take advantage of gaps between courses to run things through the dishwasher. The menu was such that almost everything could be cooked in advance, with only a little bit of a la minute required - but that meant we were able to keep 5 or 6 people busy for going on 3 hours getting ready before dinner. Plus the time Katie and I spent last night and this morning. We had 16 people attending.

The final menu, with wines, and some pictures:
Rosemary Parmesan Coins
NV Collabrigo Prosecco Spumante Brut
Really great hors d'ouevres. Easy and very tasty. Sort of like a savory cookie. We had these and the sparkling wine out for people to have as they were arriving and before they sat down.
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Mixed Greens with Zingerman’s Creamery Goat Cheese, Roasted Red and Gold Beets, and Toasted Walnuts
2004 Jardin Sauvignon Blanc, Stellensboch, South Africa
The goat cheese was more aged than I remembered. Elph, who works at Zingerman's did the actual buying, so I wasn't there to assess. I might have used something else. But it was a very good salad. The planned sherry vinaigrette fell victim to my not actually having the bottle of sherry vinager that I was sure I had, so we used a balsalmic vinaigrette instead, which was fine.
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Farfalle with Smoked Salmon and Creamy Vodka Sauce
2004 Domaine Cordier Père& Fils “Terroir de Charnay” Macon
The only "eh" course, I thought. Needed more salt, but someone else was in charge of this course and I didn't taste it until I'd sat down. It probably would have been better when it was warm. And it suffered some, I think from all the things we needed to do to deal with the vegetarians and gluten free eaters. Boring plate - I had planned on making a chive oil to drizzle on the plate to jazz things up a bit, but didn't have time.
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Blood Orange - Rosemary Sorbet
Presentation leaves a bit to be desired (I was busy with the next course, and the person doing the plating wasn't very concerned about looks), but it was very good. The blood oranges were totally anemic though. The duck course that followed was the course that required the most last minute preparation, so I added the sorbet to fill in the long gap.
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Seared Duck Breast with Dried Cherry Sauce, Lentils and Swiss Chard
Lentils, Butternut Squash and Shiitake Mushrooms with Dried Cherry Sauce
2004 Domain Robert Chevillon Bourgogne Passetoutgrain
I'd written down a great to-do list, but the one thing I'd forgotten to write down was "score skin on duck breasts" so I forgot. Luckily, I'd put them into cold pans, so I realized it right away and was able to pull them out. Then none of the knives I had handy were sharp enough to cut the skin... ugh. This was definitely the most hectic course. Sear the duck, rest the duck, carve the duck, saute the chard, heat up the sauce, get everything plated. The vegetarian offering was totally different too, so that was a whole other set of things to do at the same time (although I delegated that to someone else). I only have a picture of the veggie option, since my camera was being obstinate. Jillian was also taking pictures, so I hope to get one from her of the duck.
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Five Spice Braised Short Ribs (or Portabellas), Parsnip-Turnip Puree, Snow Peas
2000 J.L. Chave “Offerus” Saint-Joseph
I braised the short ribs this morning, and strained and reduced the braising liquid into an intense sauce this afternoon. The portion size was waaay to big on this one - I was expecting the short ribs to cook down more, and these ones didn't. Everything got eaten, but people were definitely feeling full, so I sent them all out for a walk while we prepped the cheese course.
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Tasting of blue cheeses
NV Alvear Carlos VII Amontillado
The cheeses were Cashel Blue from Ireland, Stilton from England, Roquefort from France, and Gorgonzola from Italy. We served a variety of sides along with - some pears, some port glazed walnuts, a hearty nut and seed bread, and a little dollop of port reduction. The port glazed walnuts are amazing! And they played especially well with the excellent wine.
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Lemon Sabayon Tart with Pine Nut Crust and Honeyed Mascarpone Cream
2002 Peller Estates Riesling Icewine
A yummy and easy recipe from the French Laundry Cookbook. And a *great* wine pairing.
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Gianduja Gelato Filled Profiteroles with Chocolate Sauce
Warres Otima 10 year Tawny Porto
Wow, this was the ever evolving course. We'd originally planned dark chocolate filled profiteroles, caramel sauce and Banyuls as the wine. But I couldn't get any Banyuls. So at the last minute I changed the gelato to Gianduja, as I thought I'd serve a Vin Santo instead. But then I couldn't get that! So we ended up with a tawny port. The caramel sauce didn't turn out - I think the recipe was messed up. So Katie brought over a jar of Sanders bittersweet chocolate sauce and we used that instead. And in the end, I think it turned out for the best - it was a really nice match for the wine.
Read more... )
Lessons learned - I was overambitious and took too much on myself instead of delegating. I basically planned and executed the whole meal. I had plenty of people assisting, but I was definitely in charge. Yeah, I'm a control freak, why do you ask? In the moment that was fine, but there were definitely a couple times this week where I was dreading the dinner or in "can't wait until it's over" mode instead of looking forward to it.

Too much food. Primarily the short rib course - one bone each would have been plenty, instead of the two we had. Which would have saved a bunch of money, actually.

Speaking of money... When we were planning the dinner, I told people it would be $20. But as things evolved, the price kept rising, and it ended up at about$25/person. Not a huge deal, but it stressed me out because I know that some of our people are really price-sensitive. The price wasn't at all unreasonable - wouldn't you pay $25 for that meal? And in any case, no one had any issues with the increased cost (at least none that they mentioned.)

I know there are people who want recipes, etc, but those will have to wait for another day. Liam will be up in 7 hours, and I'm on morning duty.
Monday night I attended another special dinner at Zingerman's and it was a great time! It was a book release party and dinner in one.

Bo Burlingham has written a new book - a book about companies with "Mojo" - the corporate equivalent of charisma in you and me. The book, titled Small Giants Companies That Choose to Be Great Instead of Big is a study of 14 companies in varying fields and industries that have chosen to reject the pressure of endless growth and focus on more satisfying goals. Goals like being great at what they do, giving excellent customer service, personally committing to their employees, and even contributing to their communities. Those companies include: Anchor Brewing Company in San Francisco, Righteous Babe Records: the record company founded by singer Ani DiFranco, Union Square Hospitality Group in New York City, and Zingerman's Community of Businesses in Ann Arbor.Bo Burlingham was an interesting and engaging speaker.

The food was great, as expected. Ric, the sommelier, tied his wine choices into the theme of the book by giving us a selection of really unique wines that are only made in one place in the world. And that have a certain amount of "mojo" for one reason for another. We're all pretty sure that these five wines have probably never been at the same table at the same time before!

When I got there, Ric remembered me from last time and thanked me for the kind comments I made in my post to eGullet. Turns out he's a lurker there. He also said he'd had me in mind when he was picking wines for the dinner, and was really glad that I was there. Which I'm sure was just him being a gracious host, but was very sweet of him to say!

Lobster shepherd's pie
Crostini with smashed shelling beans, giblet-mushroom sauce, & greens
Hot garlic potato chips
Crispy artichoke hears with antique Wisconsin parmesan
Wine: Retsina, Kechribari, Domaine Kechris, Thessaloniki, Greece NV

At least one of the appetizers (the lobster shepherd's pie) is a recipe from Union Square Cafe (the Union Square restaurant group is one of the companies profiled in the book). It was great. My favorite thing had to be the garlic potato chips. They weren't especially hot (the trials of serving 80 people at once) but they were incredibly yummy. I'd never had Retsina before, and was a little afraid, what with all the tales of Pinesol, etc. This one, however, was a lovely exception. Ric didn't write out his tasting notes for us this time, but the way he described the wine was right on. Think, he said, of someone deciding to make a lemon-almond-rosemary gelato, but accidently switching the ratios of lemon and rosemary, so you got about 3 times the rosemary you were expecting. Yep, pretty much. A nice acid opening, a hit of almond extract or marzipan in the middle, and then a piney finish.

Black lentil & sweet red pepper soup
Wine: Barleywine, Old Foghorn Ale, Anchor Steam Brewing Company, San Francisco, CA

Deep black soup, heavily seasoned with black pepper, with a red pepper swirl to brighten things up. It was tasty, but the portion was too big, with all the other food on the menu. The Barleywine is actually a beer, of course, but as Anchor Steam Brewing Company is also in the book, it seemed a given. I'm not a beer drinker, but I did try it several times and still couldn't come around to it. Too bitter for me.

Onion, apple, & Rogue River Blue cheese tart with baby greens & walnuts
Wine: Vin Jaune de Chateau-Chalon, Reserve Catherine de Rye, Domaine Henri Maire, Chateau-Chalon, Arbois, France 1986

In a great coincidence, I'd just been reading about Vin Jaune in an eGullet thread mere days before the dinner. I've heard about these wines before, but had never had a chance to try them, so I was pretty excited. Despite all the warnings that most people don't like this wine until their 3rd or 4th try (if ever), everyone at our table liked it right off the bat. And it was a great combination with the lightly dressed salad topped with walnuts and a heartly slice of the blue cheese tart. (For those unfamiliar with Vin Jaune, they are an unusually made oxidized wine. The flavor was simliar to a sherry, and it reminded us a lot of the Alvear Carlos VII Amontillado we had at the last dinner.)

Chicken braised with figs & Michigan Wildflower honey
Cornmeal hash
Sweet potato mash with Quebec cider balsamic vinegar
Spaghetini all'amatriciana Iowa pancetta
Braised kale
Wine: Amarone della Valpicella Classico DOC, Vaio Armaron, Serege Aligheiri, Agricola Masi, Veneto Italy, 1999

The chicken was fine, but didn't really excite me. An interesting variety of sides, though they felt pretty disconnected from each other. The cornmeal hash was a take off on another Union Square Cafe recipe. The sweet potato mash was sweet and flavorful with a definite touch of je ne sais quoi - presumably the vinegar. Iowa pancetta was crispy and tasty. And the braised kale was meltingly good. At 15.5%, the Amarone was a monster of a wine, and while one of my tablemates loved it, it just didn't float my boat. Interesting to try, though.

New York cheese cake from the Zingerman's Bakehouse
Wine: Vintage blanc, Domaine du Mas Amiel, Maury, Cotes de Roussillon FR 2002
Freshly poured, the wine had a lot of volatile acidity, which fortunately blew off after a few minutes in the glass, revealing some more fruity aromas. Sweet, with pretty good acidity, and unlike anything I'd ever had, this is a White Grenache based wine that comes from a region where almost all the wines made our red, giving it that mojo Ric was looking for. Also, a very unusual bottle for a French wine, with a very stylized modern looking label. It was a good match for the rich but light cheesecake.

A very fun night as always. Next month is a Kentucky theme dinner, where apparently they'll be drinking Bourbons instead of wine. If I go to that one, I think it will just be for the food.
When last we left our eaters, we'd just worked our way through four different cheeses and four different wines.

The next course was another cheese, but this time in a slightly more adorned fashion. The Little Napolean is a lightly aged mold ripened goat cheese round. A little more oomph than a fresh goat cheese, but still light and fresh tasting. 3 small wedges of the cheese were placed on top of some raw honey sprinkled with freshly crushed peppercorns. To the left were some homemade fig preserves, and on the right, a mango chutney. This was one of the best things I have eaten in a long time. Goat cheese and figs are classic. The honey and cheese was incredible. I've had many dishes where special sea salt sprinkled on top just set the dish apart - in this case, that role was played by the black pepper, which just pushed everything up a notch. And the whole thing was just brought to perfection by a rare and unusual wine. I'd never even heard of the grape variety, Petit Manseng. The wine was a Pacherenc du Vic Bihl Brumaire Novembere 1999. This is a late harvest wine, so quite sweet. With flavors of quince and apricot and honey, it just did extraordinary things with all the components of the dish. From Ric's notes: Consider it a stroll through the yellowed world of fall: vanilla scents stir the air, wet leaves sing underfoot, tree fruits mature sweetly in the orchard along the path, and the breeze blows warm with but a suggestion of the cold to come. Elegant, alluring and complex, it is both mysterious and magical but equally well-spoken, well-dressed and polite. Less than 100 cases are imported to the US.

Our main course was a Niman Ranch free-range hanger steak broiled with the Detroit St. Brick. This cheese is a goat's milk cheese with green peppercorns. The steak was served with pureerd celeriac and a few brussels sprouts. Nicely rare, good meaty flavor, great combo with the cheese. This was the course where our chatting up the sommelier really made a difference. We'd been talking about the difference age makes to a wine, as I was saying that I really wanted to figure out how to show that to Wine Club. So for this course, Ric brought out extra glasses *just for our table* and an extra bottle of wine for us to try. The wine for this course was the Brandlin Vineyard Zinfandel 1997. Ric says: Consider this a wine time has tamed. Though the flavors are still big and brambly, the tannins have sewn themselves into silk, and the fuit has lost the exuberant boysenberry holler of its youth, achieving the deep and pleasing resonance of a truffled maturity. Up against this, Ric gave us a 2003 Ridge Zinfandel. It wasn't a perfect match, as the two wines come from different regions and have different characteristics, but it was still interesting to see how they played off of one another and what differences age made. The Brandlin was by far the bigger and fuller of the two wines and the flavors were notably more knitted together. I seem to like somewhat lighter wines, so I actually had a slight preference for the Ridge, but they were both great.

Finally, we closed with a Cream Cheese Mousse served with candied orange, brandied mince meat and a praline cookie. The mousse itself was strangely rubbery, I thought, but the accompaniments were great. And once again, we were served a wine that just made it all so much better. The Henriques and Henriques 10-Year Old Malmsey of the Broadbent Madiera collection had enough acidity to temper the richness of the cream cheese mousse, and a spicy, raisiny flavor that echoed the mince meat and orange. From Ric's notes (proving he's not just about the poetry, but informative too): Although nearly a forgotten spirit in the modern lexicon, Madeira as once the dominate wine in colonial America... The colonies were so enamored of Madeira, women of the Southern gentry wore it behind their ears as perfume.

Between the great food and the great wine, I was definitely in good spirits at the end of the meal. And what a bargain! The dinner itself was just $35 - heck, I can't get out of Zingerman's Roadhouse for that amount of money for just a regular dinner. And this amazing, best-I've-ever-had, wine pairing - well, that cost the princely sum of $19.

Zingerman's Roadhouse does these dinners monthly - I think I'll have to start making them a regular event.
So, as I said earlier, Eric and I attended a special dinner at Zingerman's Roadhouse last night, with our neighbors/friends E & J. E works for Zingerman's.

The dinner was celebrating the cheeses being produced by John Loomis and Zingerman's Creamery. It was a four course dinner, where we tried seven different cheese and eight different wines.

The first course was just cheese, largely unadorned. There were four different cheeses on the plate, with a bunch of roasted grapes in the center and a few pieces of cranberry pecan crispbread. We tasted the cheeses one by one, with the cheesemaker describing the cheese, and the sommelier describing the accompanying wine.

Side note on the sommelier - Eric swore he looked familiar, and eventually we figured out that he was the sommelier at Tribute the two times we were there. Ric can talk about wine forever. And as we found out last night, he writes tasting notes that are awesomely over-the-top and poetic. I will quote a line or two from each of his notes on the wine, because they were one of the things that made everything so fun. Ric's range of wine knowledge is huge, so he must be a little frustrated by the Roadhouse, since they only serve American wines. For last night's tasting, however, he was "allowed" to bring in some imports.

Okay, back to the appetizer. Our first cheese was the Chelsea, Read more... )

Next up, the Manchester. Read more... )

The Sharon Hollow cheese is a very fresh cow cheese, hand ladled into rounds. Read more... )

The last cheese in the appetizer course was the Bridgewater. It's a double cream spiked with black tellichery peppercorns, and aged 4 to 8 weeks. Read more... )

For those keeping track at home, all that writing just takes me up to the end of the appetizer course. Although they were short pours, we did have four wines already, and there are more to come... Ric had quickly pegged our table as the wine geek table, so we got lots of opportunities to chat with him about what we were tasting and what was coming up. When I noted that I'd managed to identify the chenin blanc before I knew what it was, he told me I'd never guess the wine coming up with the next course - and he was right...

But that will have to wait for another post, because now I am out of time.
Last night Eric and I went to a special dinner at Zingerman's Deli. They do these dinners every couple of months, but this is the first one we've been to. They set a big table upstairs in the deli, and serve the meal family style. Usually there's a special guest of honor or something, and last night's meal was to celebrate the first produce of spring from a couple of the local organic farms. As far as we can tell there were only about 4 of us (out of about 30) who weren't either Zingerman's employees, or somehow affiliated with one of the two farms. Which is too bad, because at $50/person all inclusive (no tax, no tip, plus a 20% off gift certificate for purchases made that night) it's the best deal in town!

The only drawback is that they can't serve alcohol, so no wine to go with dinner. Instead there was Dandelion Ice Tea and Nettle Ice Tea. I stuck with water.

Deviled Eggs and Sprouts: Grazing Fields Organics farm fresh spring eggs deviled and nested in Garden Works Organics sprouts
Tea Sandwiches: Lincoln Log, a new Boucheron style cheese from Zingerman's Creamery with Garden Works Organics buckwheat sprouts stacked on Roadhouse rye from Zingerman's Bakehouse
Arkansas peppered ham with Michigan farm butter on soft, buttery, pain de mie from Zingerman's Bakehouse

T and A Asparagus Soup: Fresh, handpicked asparaugs tips from Maulbetch Farms just north of town with tarragon and Zingerman's Creamery goat cheese

Panzanella: Garden Works Organics greens tossed with freshly foraged morels, green garlic, Niman Ranch pancetta, and oregano

Main Course
Sparrow Market's Country Ribs braised tender with a rhubarb and Balinese long pepper sauce

Oven Roasted Asparagus: Maulbetch Farms handpicked (this morning!) asparagus roasted with olive oil and drizzled with 20 year balsalmic
Richard the Greek: French Almond potatoes from Richard at Tantre Farms served warm with Mt. Athos Olives, oven-roasted tomatoes, and red onion
Sauteed Lambs Quarters with red pepper flakes

Duck Egg Flan: Seasonally gathered eggs from John Harnois baked into a rich, astoundingly silky custard with a burnt sugar syrup

Everything was really good. The deviled eggs had pickled asparagus tips on top of them and were really quite tasty. It was hard not to eat too many with the big bountiful platters sitting right in front of us. The soup was nice and creamy rich. The salad was outstanding - I've never had fresh morels before, and boy were they good. The ribs were melt in the mouth, rich and fatty, with a nice tang from the rhubarb sauce. The roasted asparagus was really excellent - I love roasted and grilled asparagus, and this was a fine, fine example, with nice course ground salt and pepper and the balsalmic. The warm potato salad was okay, although I was getting very full and didn't eat very much of it. I probably would have liked it more if I liked olives. The lambs quarters are a type of green - usually thought of as just a weed, really - and they were quite yummy, with a lot of bite from the pepper flakes. And very high in calcium to boot. Luckily there was a pretty long delay before dessert, because I was thinking I was about to burst. Fortunately there was room in my dessert stomach, because the duck egg flan was stunning - soooo rich and creamy and intense.

It was definitely an "Ann Arbor is a small town" kind of night though! We had one of the former workers from Liam's daycare come over to babysit Liam last night, and that went really well. But the reason she left the daycare was to go to work at Tantre Farms - one of the providers of food for the dinner we were going to, and she'd been out picking for dinner just the night before! So we said hello for her to her friends and coworkers who were attending the dinner. Then we ran into someone who used to live in our cohousing community at the dinner. The woman who greeted us at the door (Kate) is the person who's currently doing the job at Zingerman's that I sort of interviewed for! And the weirdest of it all had to be that Rob from GardenWorks farms, one of the guests of honor, turned out to be a guy who Eric was friends with in high school!

DC Trip

Dec. 10th, 2004 11:11 am
Okay, here's the long promised trip report that's taken me almost a week to write. It was a great weekend, filled with much baby-free socializing.

I decided to take the car seat afterall, but checked it on the way out on Thursday, thinking it would be too much of a pain to lug it through the airport. Turned out to be a mostly empty flight, and I had a whole row to myself. Liam was very, very wriggly, and it would have been nice to have a car seat to put him in. But we discovered that pretzel packages are the best baby toy there is, and he did fall asleep for the last 25 minutes of the trip. I was glad to have the seat in the cab, as we were traveling through DC in rush hour and DC drivers are crazy!

My stepmom was just thrilled to see Liam. I'd made a fundamental misunderstanding about her role in the trip. I was viewing her as doing me a favor, and thus worrying about taking too much advantage of her. I didn't realize until we got there that from her perspective I was doing *her* a favor by giving her a chance to spend the weekend with her grandbaby. Once I realized that, I stopped worrying about taking advantage and just enjoyed having a break!

Friday was spent visiting with a friend away from the convention. This was a theme for the weekend, as I spent more time visiting with various friends than actually attending the convention - I had to pack the most socializing into the weekend as possible! Friday night we went to Jose's Minibar for dinner.

Jose's Minibar is chef Jose Andres' playground. It's a 6 seat bar in the upstairs back corner of Cafe Atlantico. There, Andres gets to play around with all sorts of strange little experiments on the culinary cutting edge. The menu is a prix fixe $85 (was $65, which was ludicrously cheap) approximately 30 course meal. Well, meal is not quite the right word, and neither is course. It's more like a culinary adventure, and each course is really just a taste. I've had a more than 20 course meal before - (last year's SMOFcon trip to Trio). The comparison is interesting: while Chef Achatz has put a lot of thought into how the meal is structured, the Minibar feels much more random, and thus less meal like. The Trio meal also took 5 hours, as opposed to just over 2 for the Minibar. But dining at the Minibar is certainly fun! You get two chefs and one server full time, plus a third chef who pops in and out. Most of the food is prepared right there while you're watching, sushi bar style. With six seats in a row, it's natural to talk to your neighbors, and we had fun chatting with ours. (A last minute cancellation meant there were only 2 other diners during our seating - very unusual, I suspect, as reservations are hard to come by and have to be booked a month in advance.)
Foodie cut - all 32 courses - LONG )
As you can see, there were a number of misses as well as a number of hits. But that's to be expected with 32 courses! Even the misses were interesting, and since this is all about experimenting with taste and presentation, interesting was good. And it was very fun. We each got a (mostly accurate) copy of the menu at the end of the meal - printed on a transparency film. And the bill? Rolled up and put into a hollowed out egg shell that was put in front of us and smashed.

After I got back to the hotel I hung out in the consuite for a little while and saw a few people, but then it was time to get off to bed.

Saturday morning I had breakfast and socializing time with [ profile] rivka, and then she came over to the hotel to visit for a little while with Liam. It was really excellent to see her - looking even more like me than she usually does, given that she was wearing a maternity shirt I sent to her! Then yet more socializing with [ profile] malawry, who finally got to meet Liam and gift him with Maurice Sendak's "The Night Kitchen" - an absolutely delightful book! She left around 2 pm and I headed down to the SMOFcon consuite for my first significant chunk of time of the weekend. Almost immediately got pulled into a game of Scrabble, which I won, thanks in no small part to going first and drawing the tiles for "STOOGED" giving me a 50 point bonus for using all seven letters.

And then it was time for another meal! This time a trip to a DC restaurant I'd never even heard of before, Taberna del Alabardero, with Jim and Laurie Mann, Mark and Priscilla Olson, Iain Stockdale and Ruth (who's last name I can't recall) and Deb Geisler. Spanish, as you might guess from the name. Deb spent a year? semester? teaching in Spain and became quite enamored of the food. We ordered a bunch of tapas and appetizers to share around the table, and then our own main courses. The tapas were all quite good, and really generous portions, given the setting and the price.
Tapas descriptions )
For dinner I had the wild boar osso bucco, on the theory that it would be fun to try a new meat. It was a huge portion of very rich, very heavy meat, so I didn't even come close to eating it all. It was tasty, but not particularly interesting, and visually awful, as it was served with roasted winter vegetables and the entire plates was brown, brown, brown. I tried the paella that three people were sharing, and it was very good. Dessert was better. Almost the whole table got the Flan de Queso con Frambuesas y Reducción de Pedro Ximenez (Cheese Flan with Raspberries, and Pedro Ximenez Reduction Sauce) and it was the best thing about the whole meal. Shaped like a flan, but rich and creamy like a cheesecake, mmmm.

Back to the hotel and checked in on Liam. There was a Noreascon 4 debrief going on that I had aspirations of attending, but it was down in the bowels of the hotel and I only made it as far as the consuite, where I hung out for a little while before heading back up to my room for bed.

My mom had a very early flight on Sunday (my stupidity in booking it), but Liam and I woke up long enough to say goodbye to her. Sunday morning we hung out in the consuite for a little while before my 10:30 panel on regional fannish organizations, where I talked about Midfan et al. The panel went reasonably well, although there was this one awkward blow up when some trashing of a particular Bay Area fan offended someone in the audience who burst into tears and threatened to run out. Ahhh, fannish politics. Then it was time to leave to catch my 2 pm flight! Quite the whirlwind weekend! [ profile] erikvolson was kind enough to come out to the airport with me and be my extra pair of hands, which was very helpful.

Learning from my flight to DC, this time I took the trouble to drag the carseat on the plane with me, and was rewarded by another empty row, and Liam sleeping pretty much all the way home. Then Northwest lost my luggage, but it's found now, and that story's already been told.

All told an excellent, excellent trip, with many wonderful friends.



April 2010

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