Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Wine Wednesday: Eating and Drinking Literally (or Literarily)

Posted By on Wed, Dec 2, 2009 at 11:36 AM

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Chefs look many places for inspiration: people they've worked with, places they've visited, cookbooks they admire. But few diners realize that chefs also read authors who write passionately about food, seeking creative insight for the kitchen.

Laura Wilson, ex-executive chef of our bygone favorite Ombi has been helping out as chef de cuisine at Tin Angel for the last few months. If you're like us and miss her deft touch with old world dishes, well, then we should all have eaten out at Ombi a little more often and brought more friends along and maybe it would still be around. But that's beside the point...the good news is that she's back, and her creative juices are flowing again.

Cooperating with Tin Angel owner Rick Bolsom and general manager Brooke Anderson, Wilson and the kitchen staff have created what they hope to be an ongoing series of dinners based on writings by some their favorite food authors. They describe the series this way in their e-newsletter:

"Once a month, or more if absolutely necessary, Tin Angel will create and host a thematic dinner with adult beverages, wine among them. After all is said and done, what drives us is an essential love of food, on its many levels, culinary, life-sustaining, cultural, tactile.

"We often recharge by delving into our libraries of, for lack of a better word, cookbooks. Many of our books are cookbooks in the traditional sense of recipes reflecting a cook or a restaurant, others reflect a culture in a time and place.

"We have decided to host a series of Private Dinners (24 people) to celebrate our inspirations and to give you all a fun restaurant night. We will take our themes from there. They may be as specific as the food served on one corner in one city, or a regional cuisine or the passion for food expressed by a great writer, and we will start there.

"It will be old world traditional in the sense that you will come to our home (yes we spend that many hours here) and eat and drink what is brought to the table (and you will like it)."

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I was lucky enough to attend their first dinner, based on the writings of M.F.K. Fisher, who published more than 20 books based on her relationship with food: its preparation, history, culture and philosophy. Fisher is probably best known for her treatise Consider the Oyster. which no less of a food authority than James Beard described thusly, "She writes about fleeting tastes and feasts vividly, excitingly, sensuously, exquisitely. There is almost a wicked thrill in following her uninhibited track through the glories of the good life."

Our small dinner dedicated to Ms. Fisher started with a Beefeater Gin Martini to open up the palate and lubricate the table conversation. Appetizers of Trout Ceviche and Zucchini Fritters were paired with a lovely Bouvet Brut Chenin Blanc/Chardonnay blend from the Loire Valley. The tangy trout sweetened the wine, and the slight effervescence worked nicely with the delicately fried fritters.

A Louis Latour Chablis was served with the dish we were all anticipating, a trio of oysters. Three small freshwater oysters were delivered on the small altar of a serving dish for our consideration. The Rockefeller version was delicate and not overly creamy, while the small cup of oyster stew was tasty if not remarkable. But the roasted oyster...my gawd! Its smoky grilled aroma was intoxicating, and I would have fought the other 23 diners in the room to assemble a full two dozen for myself rather than the single mouthful of pleasure that I enjoyed. I know that Chef Wilson reads food blogs, so maybe there's just a chance that she will PUT THIS ON THE MENU!! Please?

The next dish had a lot to compete with as we basked in the afterglow of our bivalve worship, and it was probably just by comparison that I was disappointed. J. Pinot Noir was served with a ring of roasted rabbit stuffed with a pork and chicken mousse and a cauliflower gratin. Sort of like a "rabpighen." It was hearty, but suffered from being a little bit dry and mealy.

More successful was our final entrée, Braised Shortribs with Spiced Plum Demi-Glace over Polenta. Paired with a delightfully jammy M. Consentino Zinfandel, this was one of the most delicious stews I have ever enjoyed. It was enough to make us wish that it was cold and rainy outside.

The meal finished up with Baked Apples and Gingerbread Cake accompanied by a fiery glass of Chauffe Couer Calvados, VSOP. The brandy was a perfect way to cut through the fullness in our bellies at the end of an evening of decadence.

The evening was a smashing success in concept and execution, and we're already looking forward to January's edition based around the writings of the aforementioned James Beard. At $39 per person inclusive, our dinner was a steal. If you'd like to find out more details about upcoming theme dinners at Tin Angel, check out their website. But don't take my spot at the table!

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