“Uncommonly Fabulous” Dinner at The James Beard House
This is my third time as a guest to dine at the James Beard House (the first was the 125th Anniversary Dinner of Mercedes Benz and more recently for Joanne Chang’s afternoon tea), as my friend “O” was gracious to invite me as his guest.
This particular dinner was cooked by Executive Chef/Co-Owner Adam Longworth (and his wife/Co-Owner Lorien Wroten who is general manager and this evening’s wine director) of The Common Man Restaurant in Sugarbush, Vermont and Pastry Chef Ron Paprocki Gotham Bar & Grill in New York City. Both chefs collaborated (for the first time) essentially because they (or for Chef Longsworth, did) work for Chef Alfred Portale of Gotham Bar & Grill.
Chef Portale did make a visit during the cocktail/hors d’oeuvres hour, talking to the chefs and inquiring how it was made, and talk to some of the guests.
Out in the garden (it was a glorious, summer-like Tuesday evening), guests mingled and sipped over a refreshing, not too effervescent Château de Lavernette Granit Brut Nature NV. We had spoons of refreshingly tart hamachi crudo with orange, cucumber, and avocado, crostinis of hearty eggplant caponata, robustly spiced foie gras pastrami (think foie gras blended with pastrami seasonings), creamy and minty fava bean toasts, and arguably, the kind of flat tasting spoons of BLT “sandwich”.
Eventually, we’re all shooed inside and upstairs to take our assigned tables as dinner was about to start. After a brief introduction about this dinner, we were shortly served our first course of Wagyu beef carpaccio, jalapeño, pickled mushrooms, soy pearls, and yuzu, paired with Ravines Dry Riesling 2011. This carpaccio was one of the most memorable dishes of this dinner. The delicately minerally, luscious beef worked wonders with the lightly pickled enoki mushrooms, the touch of spiciness, and the haunting citrus flavor of yuzu, and the soy pearls added just the right amount of salt. The dish was perfectly balanced.
The Riesling was a good start. Delicate and intricate aromas of pear and citrus notes followed by a lingering mineral finish and a vibrant acidity.
The next course of shiitake mushroom soup, topped with smoked bacon meringue, coffee vinegar, and hazelnut oil, paired with 2011 Denis Jamain Domaine de Reuilly ‘Reuilly’ Pinot Gris Rosé. The soup was creamy (but not too viscous), intensely flavored of mushrooms and the addition of that special bacon meringue and coffee vinegar made it so complex and delicious.
The Pinot Gris Rosé was a very good medium weight wine that was aromatic but not overblown, crisp and minerally. The wine had a great affinity to the coffee vinegar in the soup.
The following course of seared halibut, jasmine rice, baby carrots, tamarind, coconut lime emulsion was a dish that almost tasted like I was transported to India. The firm, perfectly seared halibut was a great backdrop to the sweet-spicy carrot ginger puree and coconut milk-lime sauce.
The wine pairing of 2011 Leo Hillinger Pinot Blanc Leithaberg DAC, Austria had a supple, dry-yet-fruity medium body and lightly oxidized oak notes of caramelized nuts, baked citrus, and grassy earth. The coconut lime emulsion tied this wine well.
The garganelli with Vermont spring lamb bolognese, peas, ramps, mint, and Vermont goat’s milk feta was a very delicious dish but it’s very hearty for spring. I commented to my table mates that I would be happy to have during a cold winter’s night – certainly not I would prefer to have during a spring/summer night.
The wine pairing of 2010 Domaine de Sablonnettes Gamay was a very light bodied wine that really didn’t appeal much solo but it worked fine with the intensely flavored pasta dish.
The whey-fed Vermont pork loin, grilled ramps, potato purèe, pickled jalapeño, and kumquat marmalade was a dish I wanted to like but didn’t. The main reason was the kumquat marmalade that overwhelmed the components of the dish from its sweetness and the kumquat’s naturally intense sweet-tart citrus flavor. If I were to skip that marmalade, the pork worked well with all the other components.
The pairing of the 2010 Sbragia Zinfandel “Gino’s Vineyard” Dry Creek Valley was very bold compared to the Gamay we had previously. Intense blackberry, raspberry flavors. Subtle floral notes, molasses and spice are apparent mid-palate as a wonderful depth of flavor leads to a juicy finish.
Hitting toward the final stretch, the sublime key lime crème, rhubarb compote, and celery ice cream was my preferred dessert, even though it’s sort of the palate cleanser. The sharp, tart, and tangy flavors of key lime and rhubarb worked with the bitter, herbaceous celery ice cream. It’s really a strange mix of flavors I’d never thought of having together but it all balanced each other beautifully.
The finaly dessert of wild Bolivian chocolate, buckwheat streusel, fresh balsamic cherries, and lemon-thyme ice cream was supposedly based on a brownie bar (as Chef Paprocki claimed during the Q&A session) surrounded with buckwheat streusel, cocoa crumbles made from the same Bolivian chocolate, topped with fresh cherries briefly marinated in balsamic. It was a rich, very tasty dessert focused on the flavorful Bolivian chocolate with the earthier, dark cherry ingredients that accompanied the dessert to echo the complex chocolate.
2011 Oddero Moscato d’Asti was fragrant and aromatic bouquet with light floral hints, of sage, tangerine and yellow peach, and fresh, not too sweet and aromatic on the palate. This sweet wine matched the sweetness and complexity of the dessert very well.
Overall, this dinner was a pleasure and mind opening. Some flavors and ingredients I would never imagine pairing together well but chefs Longsworth and Paprocki did it very well.
To view more photos of this dinner, please view the slideshow below (or CLICK HERE for my photo set: