December 6, 2013
Cary Pollak for Whisk and Quill
Held at DC’s Walter E. Washington Convention Center, the Metropolitan Cooking and Entertaining Show has seen an annual increase in attendance since Denise Medved first introduced the event in 2001. Featuring a vast selection of products related to both the food and entertainment industries, the show’s success has recently allowed Medved and her Tiny Kitchen, Inc. production company to expand into the Houston and Dallas markets.
Throughout the two-day run attendees enjoy face time with more than 200 local and national vendors, attend “Tasting and Entertaining” workshops, talk to cookbook authors at book signing stations, wander through countless aisles to sample tasty tidbits from some of the finest local restaurants at the “Grand Tasting Pavilion”, shop for gifts at the “Holiday Bazaar” and watch cooking demos on the “Food Lion Cooking Stage”. This year some of the country’s leading chefs gave demonstrations featuring recipes from the National Beef Cook-off Recipe Contest. All these activities were included in the day’s admission charge. Additional ticketed events showcase live culinary performances by celebrity chefs.
A colorful display of smoked seafood products from the Neopole Smokery of Baltimore, MD and Washington, DC
A local luminary who has previously demonstrated at the show is Francois Dionot whose L‘Academie de Cuisine has distinguished itself over the past thirty years as the premier training ground in our area for avocational and professional chefs. Listening to the celebrated chef’s stories about his experiences at well-known restaurants in Europe and the U.S. and about developing the distinguished cooking school, was worth the trip.
L’Academie de Cuisine founder Francois Dionot, with wife Patrice and daughter Claudine
The ever-charming Hugh Acheson, whose easy and friendly manner seemed almost incongruent with the entrepreneurial and culinary skills that have brought him to the top of his profession, was one of the chef demonstrators. Acheson is Chef/Co-owner of the former Five & Ten and The National restaurants in Athens, GA, along with Empire State South restaurant in Atlanta. He is also an occasional judge on Bravo’s Top Chef and holds the honor of being nominated six times for a James Beard Foundation Award. In the past he won “Best Chef Southeast” for his work at Five & Ten. He is the author of the James Beard Foundation Award winning cookbook, “A New Turn in The South”. At this year’s show he dazzled the audience with his version of Frogmore Stew.
Television chef and restaurant owner Hugh Acheson
Joe Yonan, Food and Travel editor at the Washington Post, was also on board. Yonan, who has led his paper’s food writers to two awards by the James Beard Foundation for the nation’s best food section, put his professional chef’s diploma from the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts and journalism degree from the University of Texas to good use by demonstrating a Kale and Mango Nicoise Salad recipe from his recent cookbook, Eat Your Vegetables: Bold Recipes for the Single Cook. He showed us how to massage raw kale leaves so as to soften them for a salad. He pointed out that this technique avoids other harsh methods of softening, such as drenching them in oil and acidic liquids until they wilt.
Washington Post Food and Travel editor Joe YonanWashington Post Food and Travel editor Joe Yonan
Whether you run into Chef Luigi Diotaiuti at a cooking demo or at his acclaimed DuPont Circle restaurant, Al Tiramisu, you know you will be in for good food and good fun. The affable Italian teamed up with food historian, culinary anthropologist, cookbook author and television personality, Amy Riolo, to make pistachio nut baklava. Off stage onlookers were so close they were asked to participate. We all helped to pile on layers of phyllo dough and watched as the chef drenched the dessert in lemon-infused sugar syrup.
Food Writer Cary Pollak makes baklava with Chefs Amy Riolo and Luigi Diotaiuti
Debi Mazar and Gabriele Corcos, the husband and wife team who star on the cooking show, Extra Virgin, on The Cooking Channel, were also at the show. Debi is an American actress who counts the iconic movie Goodfellas among her credits, and Gabriele is a musician from Tuscany. They are both consummate entertainers who love to cook. Together with their young daughter, Giulia, they put on a lively demonstration of Tuscan cooking, preparing seared grouper over Israeli couscous. At one point things got a bit racy when Debi admitted that they argue when they cook. Gabriele agreed that they resolve their disagreements by drinking wine … or by “making kids”. Realizing that the discussion was getting off topic, seven-year old Giulia drew laughs from the audience by asking, “You guys know I’m here, don’t you?”
Debi Mazar, Gabriele Corcos and daughter Giulia on the Celebrity Stage
The Metropolitan Cooking and Entertaining Show is great family fun for those who enjoy learning more about food and entertaining. There are culinary delights of all types from chatting with vendors and sampling their wares, to meeting cookbook authors, to enjoying cooking demonstrations by notable American-based chefs. Plan on visiting this exciting open-to-the-public show when it returns in the fall of 2014.
Chef Diotaiuti and his partner Amy Riolo are planning a culinary tour beginning in Istanbul and continuing to Athens and the Greek Isles next October 2014. They have graciously consented to share their recipe for Pistachio Baklava with Whisk and Quill’s readers.
Baklava is enjoyed throughout much of the Mediterranean and Middle East thanks to the influence of the expansive Ottoman Empire that ruled much of the region for centuries. This version is most popular in Turkey. During our upcoming culinary cruise from Istanbul to Athens, we’ll experience hands-on phyllo making at Istanbul’s most legendary confectionary shop.
Pistachio Baklava/Fistik Baklava
Recipe by Amy Riolo and Luigi Diotaiuti.
Makes approximately 24 pieces
For the syrup:
3 cups granulated sugar
2 large strips of lemon peel
Juice of 1 small lemon
For the baklava
1 (1 pound) box phyllo dough, thawed according to package directions
1 cup clarified butter
1 pound shelled unsalted pistachios, finely ground
¼ cup granulated sugar
- Preheat oven to 350F degrees. Butter a 13×9-inch baking pan.
- Make the syrup by combining sugar, 3 cups water, peel, and juice in a medium saucepan.
- Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Discontinue stirring and reduce heat to low. Simmer for 10 minutes and set aside to cool.
- To assemble the baklava, remove phyllo dough from package. Trim it with a sharp knife to fit the pan you are using, if necessary. Wrap excess dough in plastic wrap in the refrigerator. Cover bottom of baking pan with 1 sheet of phyllo dough. Brush clarified butter evenly over the top. Stack another sheet over the top. Brush with more clarified butter. Continue stacking and brushing with butter until half of the phyllo dough is used.
- Combine pistachios with sugar in a medium bowl. Mix well to combine.
- Sprinkle ground pistachio mixture evenly across the top, reserving a few tablespoons for garnish. Continue layering remaining phyllo dough and brushing with clarified butter. Brush top layer with clarified butter.
- Position the pan as if it were a rectangle. With a long, sharp knife, cut phyllo into 6 strips vertical strips across the wide side of the pan(three-quarters of the way down).
- Cut 4 equally spaced vertical lines over the strips (three quarters of the way down) to create 24 squares. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes total, or until golden. Rotate pan every 20 minutes to ensure even browning.
- Remove from oven and drizzle with one ladleful of syrup at a time – allowing syrup to absorb in between ladlefuls. Once baklava has a glistening top and has absorbed syrup, discontinue adding more. Reserve additional syrup for a garnish if serving baklava at a later date. Syrup can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week.
- Once cooled, sprinkle tops of baklava pieces with a few ground pistachios. Baklava can be covered and stored at room temperature for a day, or in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Always drizzle with additional syrup before serving.
To find out more about Amy and Luigi’s upcoming tour visit – http://www.yourcruisesource.com/two_chefs_culinary_cruise_-_istanbul_to_athens_greek_isles_cruise.htm.
Photo credits: Cary Pollak
June 4, 2013
Special to DC Metro Theater Arts, Broadway Stars, and localKicks
Jordan Wright, Publisher/Writer on Food/Spirits/Travel/Theatre Whisk and Quill, LLC
As the sole celebrity judge for this weekend’s Taste of Del Ray, I’m pondering how I’ll be able to select a winner from a slate of twelve very qualified competitors vying for just one trophy. A nicely balanced three-person panel might have taken some of the heat off of me, but organizers were firm. “One judge!” they insisted in unison. So there you have it. Yours Truly acceded to their demands. The event will take place in the heart of Del Ray in the tented parking lot of the Virginia Commerce Bank on Mount Vernon Avenue on June 9th from 1 till 3pm and I’m hoping you’ll be there.
The plan is to sample everything from cheese to chocolate and pizza to BBQ. Everyone gets to taste the dishes. There’ll be French, Mexican, Modern American and Italian tastings that I expect to wash down with glugs of coffee from Swing’s, a century-old coffee roasting company that recently moved their operations into an historic building in the Soho-hip community.
Following in the footsteps of previous judges Rock Harper (third season winner of Gordon Ramsay’s Hell’s Kitchen), and Carla Hall (of Top Chef and ABC’s The Chew) will not be an easy task. I’ll need to channel my inner Sonya Thomas aka “The Black Widow”, a Virginia native and uber competitive eater who can put away forty-five Nathan’s hotdogs in ten minutes. I’ll have five minutes per restaurant to sample their wares. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy.
Sheriff Lawhorn Gayle will announce the Chef’s Choice Award (That’s me!) and the People’s Award Choice (That’s you!). Let’s hope I don’t get arrested for public gluttony.
Here’s the line up and the link. Artfully Chocolate, Cheesetique, Del Ray Café, Del Ray Cakery, Del Ray Pizzeria, Dos Amigos, Evening Star Café, Pork Barrel BBQ, Rosemarino d’Italia, Swing’s Coffees, Taqueria Poblano and The Happy Tart.
www.VisitDelRayVA.com. Bring your discerning palates and a big appetite.
Special to The Washington Examiner
May 2, 2011
Ah! The requisite Mother’s Day brunch tradition – a singular opportunity to secure your yearly standing with your mother, grandmother, spouse or mother-in-law. Here are a few elegant dining ideas designed to take it up a royal notch.
Adour at the St. Regis Hotel – Executive Chef Julian Jouhannaud, helming Alain Ducasse’s DC outpost, presents a glorious five-star fixed price menu that echoes spring with yellow fin tuna tartare, seared foie gras with wild apples and grapes, Ducasse’s ambrosial signature cookpot of green vegetables coupled with mushroom duxelle, and a choice of Maine lobster thermidor with morels, striped bass Riviera style with braised fennel, or roast veal loin with au gratin vegetables. For dessert, think regally, with the Louis XV praline crunch and raspberry macaron with rosewater cream. Brunch is $88.00 per guest and is served from 11 till 4pm. For reservations call 202 509-8000.
Kiwi Mango Mousse at Seasons - photo credit to Jordan Wright
Seasons at The Four Seasons Hotel – Under Executive Chef Doug Anderson’s beautifully expressed cuisine, mothers will be duly impressed with the sumptuous open buffet as they dine beside the C & O Canal in tony Georgetown.
The elegant dining room features lavish breakfast fare of omelets, cheese blintzes with wild blueberry sauce, and fresh berry-topped waffles to iced oysters, shrimp, crab claws, snapper seviche, house-cured salmon, grilled octopus with citrus and caper salad and Maine lobster rolls. Carved rack of lamb and beef sit beside a groaning board of dozens of crafted salads and hot side dishes like double truffle meatloaf cupcakes, green pea and Virginia ham arancini, mini chicken pot pies. A separate room is devoted entirely to the most exquisite desserts imaginable. The gold standard for brunch in this city. Brunch is $100.00 per guest and is served from 10 till 3pm. For reservations call 202 944-2000.
CityZen at the Mandarin Oriental, uber Chef Eric Ziebold has a dazzling open buffet menu with a modern American twist featuring such delicious openers as blackened tuna with pickled okra, blue fish rillettes and smoked salmon. To refresh the palate choose tangerine and beet or a light asparagus salad. Brunch classics include scrambled eggs with biscuits and country gravy, dark and stormy ribs, Nona’s Cecelio’s spinach malfate and barbequed Carolina shrimp. Dessert is playful with made-to-order crèpes, butterscotch popcorn and banana pudding to mention a few. Brunch is $65.00 per guest and is served from 11 to 3pm. For reservations call 202 787-6868.
At the Park Hyatt Hotel’s Blue Duck Tavern in DC’s West End Executive Chef Brian McBride, alongside new hire Sous Chef Eric Fleischer, presents a three-course brunch with starters and desserts served buffet style, and entrees ordered from a specially designed menu. Here you’ll find eggs served with rock shrimp and potato roesti or cod cakes with buttermilk sauce, lump crab cakes, mustard seed crusted salmon with champagne cream, roasted beef tenderloin with foie gras sauce, and braised lamb shank with fava beans. Brunch is served from 10:30 to 3:45pm and is $90.00 per guest. For reservations call 202 419-6755.
The Jockey Club at the Fairfax Hotel is the posh spot for the embassy crowd and Secretary of State Hilary Clinton who loves the Dover sole here. Executive Chef Mark Timms has been wooing and wowing guests with his creativity and classic technique since his arrival this February. Mother’s Day brunch at the hotel features starters like matzoh ball soup with chicken and dill, local field greens with lavender vinaigrette or carrot parfait with caramelized ginger. Fabulous entrees are the sea bass with orange mist cream, roasted sunchokes and pistachio powder, beef tenderloin with duck fat fried potato logs, chicken Wellington with buttered foie gras mashed potatoes, or scallops with pickled watermelon and lemon curd. Dessert is chocolate crème brûlée with pistachio biscotti. Brunch is $40.00 per guest. For reservations call 202 835-2100.
December 1, 2010
Special to Georgetowner
Michel Richard in his newest kitchen at Michel at the Ritz-Carlton Tysons
Little Morso’s Turkish Delights
Morso is a tiny jewel box of a restaurant. Its hip modern décor is sleek, its bar, cozy and chic, its cuisine scrumptious, its prices gentle. A parking lot is right across the street, and it’s in the heart of Georgetown. What more can a hungry, stylish diner ask for?
Favorites: Ezme, a mixture of roasted tomato and pine nuts with orange and red pepper; creamy Babaganoush, the traditional eggplant made with roasted eggplant and pistachio oil; Baked Moussaka; heavenly Wood-grilled Fresh Squid filled with fresh herbs and burrata; perfectly grilled and tender Zatar Spiced Octopus with white bean puree, green olives and cilantro; Lamb Shish Kebap (yes, the spelling seems odd but that’s the Turkish word for roasting) served with bulghur and addictive sweet red onion with zatar and a killer dessert called Irmik Helva that is made with shredded phyllo and pistachios and boasts a semolina custard. It is to die for. I can’t be held responsible if you miss out on this sweet treat!
On the list for next time: eight different kinds of Brick Oven Pides (Turkish-style pizzas); Octopus Pilaf with Swiss Chard and Scallions; Grilled Boneless Whole Branzino; and handmade Manti. Manti are beef dumplings and here they are served with warm yoghurt, paprika oil and sumac. There is also a Swordfish Kebap, which is a fish high in mercury. So if you do have it and it is really good, please only order it once a year!
Glitch: There was a reception in the bar area for around 40 university alumni for the first hour and a half we were there. The manager apologized profusely saying he had planned for only 20 guests. Though it was a cute group of well-mannered alums, the bar is open to the dining area and it can be noisy. If you are planning a romantic evening without a distractingly high decibel count, ask if the restaurant is hosting a reception when making your reservations.
Sweetbite Creamery Poised to Up the Cookie Ante
I was introduced to Ashley Allen and Tricia Widgen, partners in Sweetbite Creamery, at the new Bethesda Central Farm Market where they sold their delicious ice cream sandwiches till the market closed up on November 23 for the season. Now you’ll find them at the Oakton Market in Bethesda and on the menu at the Mayflower Hotel.
The young local entrepreneurs met at George Washington University’s Business School and started their collaboration only a few months ago. They’ve been catering parties and putting together holiday gift packs with assorted flavors, and will even deliver a minimum of one dozen of their original flavors such as Baked Apple Snickerdoodle, Molasses Pumpkin, Sweet Potato and Marshmallow, and Salted Caramel to your home.
Rising Star Chefs Hold Gala Rooftop Tasting
Recently some of the area’s notable chefs including David Varley of Michael Mina’s Bourbon Steak at the Four Seasons, Bertrand Chemel of 2941, Dean Maupin of Keswick Hall at Monticello, John and Karen Shields of Town House restaurant and Benjamin Lambert of Restaurant Nora, prepared a few of their signature dishes on the tented rooftop of Charlie Palmer’s Steakhouse. Out-of-town chef Jason Alley of Comfort restaurant in Richmond, whose Beef Cheeks braised in juniper and ginger beer, was a favorite among some of the food writers. And he gave me his secret: Pork stock for the beef! Road trip to Richmond anyone?
Or maybe you’d prefer to cruise down Route 81 to Chilhowie, VA for Karen Shields’ heavenly Parsnip Candy Ice Cream concoction served with coconut, banana pudding, sponge cake, almond cookie, and lemongrass sorbet. I counted nine separate methods to create this dessert and though all the chefs’ recipes were included in the program, don’t try this one at home unless you want to be chained to your kitchen like a yard dog to a tree.
Each creation, including the swank desserts, was paired with wine, beer or specialty cocktails like the “Mulberry Street” created by PS 7’s mixologist, Gina Chersevani. The early fall evening was hosted by the ubiquitously charitable Todd Gray of Equinox. The winning chef was Matt Hill from Charlie Palmer’s for his Prosciutto-wrapped Canadian Pork Tenderloin with cauliflower puree and preserved cherries.
Kudos that the event overlooking the dome of the US Capitol was as green as could be with recyclable bamboo dinnerware.
Michel Richard Opens Third Restaurant in Tysons Corner
Michel Richard of Citronelle and Central Michel Richard, flush with celebratory glee, served up some delicacies earlier this week at his eponymously named new restaurant in the Ritz-Carlton Tysons Corner. Richard has tapped one of my favorite chefs, Levi Mezick, formerly of The Jockey Club (see my July story on Mezick) to be his Executive Chef.
Zaca Mesa Wines
Brook Williams is the CEO and wine grower at Zaca Mesa Winery and Vineyards nestled in the Santa Ynez Valley. He is a blond blue-eyed California guy with an enthusiasm for wine that came later in life after over twenty years on the financial side of winemaking for super-size wineries like Gallo, Kendall-Jackson and Beringer. You could say he’s a convert in a lot of ways.
For the past seven years, along with winemaker, Eric Mohseini, Williams has nurtured the grapes on the estate’s 750 acres. His wines are 100% estate grown and bottled using sustainable winegrowing practices and organic products.
“When we started out in the 1990s we got our cuttings from Randall Grahm and afterwards discovered they were Viognier not Roussanne,” he told me at a one-on-one wine tasting in the Blue Duck Tavern Lounge where I sampled seven Zaca Mesa wines.
“Later we got cuttings for our syrah from Gary Eberle. Zaca Mesa was the first to plant syrah in Santa Barbara County back in 1978. In fact our syrah sales have gone up 80% this year. It is our most popular seller.”
I found it has a lovely flavor profile of cassis, espresso, mocha and sage, but the 2006 should be put down for a few more years to fully appreciate.
As we spoke we nibbled and sipped over an exceptional charcuterie and cheese platter consisting of a luscious silken prosciutto, mortadella, soppressata, cured olives and tomatoes. Cheeses sampled were Humboldt Fog, Bayley Hazen Blue, Oma from the Von Trapp Farmstead, Nancy’s Hudson Valley Camembert, Organic Red Hawk triple crème made by Cowgirl Creamery, and the local Everona Dairy Piedmont.
I particularly liked the 2006 Roussanne. The grape is a Rhone variety, not well known in the States, but it likely will be soon since it captured a “Best White of Show” at Hilton Head this spring.
Try their award-winning 2007 Z Cuvee made with 57% Grenache, 31% Mourvedre and 12% Syrah with its raspberry, blueberry, blackberry and light pepper notes. I picked it up at the Home Farm Store in Middleburg where I had stopped to order an organic Ayrshire Farm heritage breed turkey for Thanksgiving dinner.
Enjoy these wines with dinner at such top restaurants as the Lafayette Room at the Hay Adams Hotel, Charlie Palmer’s Steakhouse, Black Salt and Veritas Wine Bar where they offer over 70 wines by the glass.
For purchase at Arrowine and Wegman’s in VA, and in DC at Ace Beverage, Cleveland Park Liquor and Wines, and Bell Wine and Spirits.
Rigoni di Asiago Fruit Jams, Honey and Chocolate Hazelnut Butter
It seems every chef in the country is fiddling around with “Nutella” in their desserts. This chocolate hazelnut spread has been a favorite in Italy since its invention in the 1940’s. During the war years, chocolate was pricey and hazelnuts were prolific in the Piedmont region of Italy, and this recipe could stretch out both ingredients.
It debuted in the US three decades ago it has become a popular way to sneak a bit of protein in kids’ diets with a slathering of the “gianduja” spread on toast.
For over 80 years the Rigoni family has produced eight varieties of organic honey (like chestnut, pine and eucalyptus), and seventeen different organic jams (crave the fig, gooseberry and pomegranate) on their ancestral farms in the Cimbrian Plateau of Asiago, Veneto. They have recently brought to the US market an entirely organic version of the spread they call, “Nocciolata”. It adds 15% more hazelnuts than Nutella and is richer, more luscious, and has a deeper flavor, too. Try frosting your cupcakes with it. I did…and it was heavenly and quick!
Photo credit Jordan Wright
After two and a half months of anticipation, several blizzards and a flurry of back and forth emails, I was armed with the event’s protocol. It consisted of guest photo op restrictions and apparel parameters from the hosts of a local super-secret dining club. Five couples had agreed to let me cover one of their monthly themed dinners.
The Hosts: Anonymous members of a private supper club.
The Location: Somewhere in metropolitan Washington DC on a hilltop.
The Plan: A Japanese Harajuku evening with six courses and countless complex accompaniments.
The Inspiration: Recipes sourced from New York’s Momofuku and Chicago’s Alinea restaurants.
The Guest List: Serious foodies, gourmands, amateur chefs and wine connoisseurs.
The Required Dress: Creative outfits from the Harajuku movement.
On the appointed day I rushed to google it up. Isn’t that how we inform ourselves these days? I learned that Harajuku, which loosely translated means Halloween, originated with Japanese teens meeting up on Sunday afternoons in their neighborhood parks and sporting clothing and makeup inspired by specific themes. There’s the over-the-top Lolita, look replete with baby doll dresses and large bows or barrettes clipped into brightly-dyed pink, blue or purple pigtails, Japanese Anime character look-alikes, period Victorian garb and colorful punk gear with Goth-inspired hair and makeup. Matchy-matchy is very uncool, and plaids are routinely mixed with stripes and floral patterns.
“Hello Kitty” and “Pokemon” purses and lunch boxes are favored accessories, as are carrying or wearing small “Totoro” stuffed animals or creatures from Japanese animator Takashi Murakami’s line of plush toys. Some styles are straight from high-end designer ateliers, but for the most part it is cobbled together from mismatched thrift shop or boutique finds. It sounds totally anti-fashion but is actually spectacularly artistic in a bizarre and inventive way. Many current high-fashion runway looks have evolved from this genre.
I hastily pulled together a shocking pink Japanese brocade frock coat over a cream-colored Victorian lace blouse with jabot and paired it all with plaid knee socks over black leggings and a black schoolgirl’s kilt. I left the stuffed dinosaur at home, skipped the Kabuki makeup for a smear of lip gloss, and topped it all off with an assortment of rhinestone hair clips. I felt completely off-kilter but ready to channel my inner Japanese teen.
Welcoming cocktail with Japanese sho-chu vodka and Asian pears - photo by Jordan Wright
I arrived at a large restored colonial with a hawk’s eye view of the city where my hosts, their children, and an on-duty Papillon greeted me enthusiastically. I planned to come early to take some food photos and offer assistance to my hosts, but the preparations were well underway. My host, and chef for the evening, handed me a welcoming cocktail, an infusion of Asian pears with sho-chu vodka, and invited me on a tour.
The 19th Century high-ceilinged home had two kitchens and a butler’s pantry with ten-foot high shelves filled with all manner of exotic spices, condiments and a working kitchen’s necessaries. The upstairs kitchen, large and rustic, had a wall of well-used copper pots, another featured a large contemporary oil painting. On the lower level another workspace housed state-of-the-art equipment befitting the molecular gastronomy necessary to achieve our much-anticipated dinner.
There was a Pacojet Puree Machine, an Excalibur Food Dehydrator, a Minipack Torre Vacuum Chamber Sealer for shrink-wrapping, and a Poly Science Sous Vide Circulating Bath for cooking or chilling. Freezer drawers held silicone molds filled with spherical frozen mousse. It immediately became clear that this was more than just a passing interest for my host…and the Iron Chef-style excitement ratcheted up a few more notches.
As guests filtered in and out of the bustling kitchen and drawing room and the conversation turned lively, the children, clad in their own versions of the “look”, wandered off to wherever it is that children go when they are bored with adult conversation. After a few rounds of champagne, we gathered at the long dining table where food and wine began to consume the conversation and we, in turn, them.
The first course presented was a frozen sphere of Maytag Blue cheese ice cream surrounded by walnuts in grape syrup, a port wine gelee, grape foam, walnut milk, celery and celery salt made from stalks dried in the dehydrator…a sort of mad scientist’s Waldorf salad and our host’s nod to Chef Grant Achatz of Alinea Restaurant. It was an inspired, playful and delicious adventure and I ate my way in circles around the plate repeating the yin-yang flavors by turns.
Before the guests arrive for the Harajuku evening - photo by Jordan Wright
A subsequent course proved to be a sensuous dish of Riesling gelee over lychee nuts with pine nut brittle and shaved frozen fois gras – a tribute to Momofuku and the genius of Chef David Chang. The mouth feel of this combination was luxurious…the tiny wriggly cubes of late harvest Riesling jelly; tender globular floral-fragrant lychees; crunchy pine nuts with their sap-like aroma encased in hardened caramel; and buttery-smooth Hudson Valley duck foie gras raining down over the whole. I was pleased this evening was a secret for I had no impetus to reveal its mysteries to outsiders just yet.
Irresistible slabs of crispy pork belly glistened, and in yet another triumph borrowed from Chang, Bo Saam, a ten-pound braised pork shoulder, its skin rendered bronze and lacquered with saam. Platters of just-shucked oysters appeared alongside of sauces and condiments like kimchi, chiles, fermented bean curd, pickled mustard seed sauce, scallion and ginger compote, pickled vegetables and fish sauce dotted the table.
The wines for the evening were carefully selected and exquisite. A Carlisle Zinfandel from the Russian River Valley, a double magnum of Poizin Reserve in the skull and crossbones etched bottle from Armida Winery in Sonoma’s Dry Creek Valley, a fine 2007 Sea Smoke Pinot Noir from Santa Barbara County and an extraordinary 2007 Saxum from James Berry Vineyard Proprietary Blend…100 points from Robert Parker! A wine of such splendor and amplitude begged silent contemplation of its marvels, every sip bespeaking its provenance and development. As my imagination concocted its journey, I envisioned its beautiful grapes slowly ripening on the vine and the experienced decisions of its vintner shepherding its path from birth passage to aging process.
With deep regret I had to take my leave for a prior engagement before dessert was served, so I will never know the ending to this evening’s meal. But in a way, like all great meals and all great wines, we stand at the precipice, lured by the siren’s song and the promise to our most fragile selves to relive that evanescent moment when all the gastronomic stars align.
To start your own private supper club:
There are widely varying degrees of group size and culinary skill levels in each supper club. To start your own, you just need to round up friends of like mind for a once-a-month evening, decide on a theme (My hosts’ club did a multi-course fennel dinner the previous month (Yes, fennel cake and fennel ice cream for dessert!) then decide if it’s “pot luck” or if the host couple will prepare the entire meal. Guests can bring wines but need to consult the host as to the proper pairing.
The fun is in the planning and using your imagination. Single ingredients, ethnic cuisine or holidays can drive the theme of your gathering. I recall once coming upon a group of 20 or so Ukrainians picnicking in Fort Hunt Park last summer. Their party was more of a “pot luck” in that the guests each brought a dish, but it was marvelous in its variety of homemade pickled cucumbers and mushrooms, potted meats, borscht, a grill laden with skewered lamb shashlyks, salads, homemade breads and cakes and, of course, large bowls of fresh cherries. The clear liquid of choice to wash it all down was most decidedly not branch water.
For questions or comments on this story contact Jordan@WhiskandQuill.com. And if you decide to host your own supper club let me know how it turned out. Better yet I’d be delighted to help!