Sunday, March 1, 2009

The Dining Alternative: February Chef's Table Dinner

After my last compelling dinner at The Dining Alternative's Chef's Table, I was eager to return when I received an invitation to their February dinner. Chef Peter Ungár had thoroughly impressed me with his culinary skills. You can read my prior two-part review of the dinner here and here.

The Chef's Table dinner once again cost $75 per person for a five-course meal with wine pairings. All of the wines for the evening were specially selected to match the food by sommelier Scott Weinstein of the Martignetti Companies. Chef Ungár was only assisted this time in the cooking by Quynh Dang, one of those who helped him at the prior dinner. My friend, Dale Cruse of Drinks Are On Me, also attended this dinner.

Before attending the dinner, I had some obvious questions, the same ones I aways did when returning to a restaurant. Would the dinner be as good as the previous one? Would it be very similar to the prior one? Would consistency be maintained? Would I enjoy it as much as the first time? I would only receive answers at the dinner.

While milling around, chatting with and getting to know the other guests, we were served Gruyere Cheese Gougeres, just like the previous dinner. These looked slightly different though than before, with little peaks. Yet they still tasted as delicious, addictive little cheese puffs. These are an excellent hors d'ouerve.

They were accompanied by glasses of the NV Adami "Bosco di Gica" Prosecco di Valdobbiadene, a delicious Italian sparkling wine. Crisp, dry and with nice green apple flavors.

The rest of the meal would be completely different from the previous one. We began with an amuse bouche, the Celeriac Veloute Sip, with black truffle coulis and foie gras cromesquis. The shot glass was filled with hot, thick liquid with a strong celeriac flavor as well as a touch of earthiness, likely due to the black truffle. Very different and appealing. On the spoon above, you can see the foie gras cromesquis, essentially like a bite-sized, foie gras tater tot. The batter was crunchy yet the interior was silky and moist. A heavenly mix and I could have easily eaten a dozen or more of these. One was just such a tease to my palate.
The first course was Terrine of Duck Confit with salsify, black trumpets, swiss chard, riesling quince, blackberry gastrique, and whole grain mustard sauce. This was not just a duck leg, as is most confit, but was actually whole duck. This was another interesting dish with a mix of flavors and textures, all that complemented each other. The earthiness was balanced by the sweet and the duck was fantastic, moist and flavorful.

This course was paired with the 2005 Isole E Olena Chianti Classico, one of my favorite Chiantis which even made my list of Top Ten Wines over $15 of 2008. It was a good match with this dish and is a very food friendly wine. I really love this wine and was happy to see it at the dinner.
Next up, Braised French White Asparagus with king trumpets, coddled farm egg, cured olives, white asparagus coulis, and paprika oil. I dislike asparagus so this was not a dish I particularly liked. I did enjoy the mushrooms and egg, and even tried the asparagus though I still did not care for it. But, those around me who liked asparagus, really loved this dish. Everything was really fresh and they very much liked the sauce too. Even though I dislike asparagus, I can appreciate the quality of this dish.

This was paired with a 2006 Alois Lageder Riesling, a biodynamic wine. This was a full bodied wine with a bit of sweetness to its citrus flavors. Asparagus is considered a very difficult food to pair with wine. This Riesling though was probably as good a pairing as possible, the bit of sweetness helping to offset the taste of the asparagus.
The Milk-Poached Lemon Sole with crispy ginger, fines herbes salad, red curry sauce, lime confit and powder was a compelling dish. The sole was fantastic, tender, flaky and moist and the spicy curry sauce added some "fire" to the taste. The limes helped to quench the fire of the curry. This was superb, and I loved its spiciness. Even the little things, like the crispy ginger, was delicious. The red curry sauce would be a versatile sauce that would go well with many different seafoods or meats.

The wine pairing, the 2007 Pieropan Soave Classico, was a nice match. This was not the forgettable Soave you might have had in the past. This was a dry, crisp wine with plenty of delicious citrus flavors and a nice minerality. Lots of character and the wine went well with the spiciness of the Sole.
For an Intermezzo, we had some Raita Sorbets, cucumber and yogurt. Raita usually is intended to help counter spicy foods so its place after the sole with red curry sauce was appropriate. I was a bit wary of cucumber sorbet, not sure how it would actually taste, but my worry was quickly put to rest. The cucumber flavor was subtle and it actually made for a tasty treat. Even the yogurt sorbet lacked that chalky flavor you sometimes get with yogurt. A good palate cleanser.

The Wagyu Beef Short Ribs came with dapple dandy pluot, vanilla bean & thyme, macomber turnip puree, radish salad, and sauce cacao. The braised meat was super tender, just melting in your mouth. The sauce added some intriguing sweet flavors to the meat and even the turnip puree was delicious. The pluot, an apricot/plum hybrid, was a tasty fruit with its own unique taste. Another top notch dish.

The wine was a 2007 Matane Primitivo/Merlot, Primitivo being similar to Zinfandel. A dark purple wine with bold flavors of ripe black fruit with spicy notes. Quite delicious with a lengthy finish. It went well with the chocolate sauce and beef.
Dessert was an Heirloom Carrot Cake with mascarpone icing, fig molasses, and carrot coriander ice cream. I have always liked carrot cake, though have never been a fan of cream cheese frosting. I always felt that it overwhelmed the taste of the cake. The mascarpone icing though complemented rather than hid the flavor of the carrot cake. In fact, everything on this dish complemented each other, nothing overpowering the other items. There was just the right amount of sweetness and I eagerly devoured the dish, despite all of the food I had already eaten.

With the carrot cake, was the 2008 Ascheri Moscato D'Asti, an excellent dessert wine. It is crisp, fruity, refreshing and with only hints of sweetness. An absolutely delicious wine and one I would highly recommend.
Yet there was still more to come, a dish of Mignardises, including a Coconut macaroon, Yuzu jelly cookie and Marzipan apple. Light, bite-sized treats which you just have to eat. I really enjoyed the macaroon, especially as they are one of my favorite cookies. And this was an exceptional macaroon, crunchy on the outside and soft inside.

So, as to my initial questions. Yes, the quality of this dinner was as good as the previous one and the dinner itself was very different. Chef Ungár maintained an excellent consistency and is not just a one-trick pony. He is a creative and talented chef. I enjoyed the dining experience very much and would return to the Chef's Table again and again. And once again, I did not hear a single complaint from anyone about the dinner. Everyone else seemed to love everything we ate.

The Chef's Table event remains one of the best dining experiences in the local area, though it still seems a culinary secret. But, if you get the opportunity to go, make sure you make reservations. You won't be disappointed.

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