Tales of the Cocktail isn't just about drinking. Hell, it's in New Orleans, so it has to be about eating as well. While you're drinking. A series of "Spirited Dinners" were held all around the city at noted restaurants where master mixologists joined forces with some of the great chefs of the Big Easy to create meals matched with inventive drinks. We were lucky enough to make reservations well in advance at Calcasieu, the private dining room of Donald Link, known for his popular local establishments Herbsaint, Cochon and Butcher.
Our group made a quick stop to check out Butcher, which is in the floor below where our dinner was being held. A wondrous display of creative charcuterie greeted us as we perused the shrine of pork in the display case. Knowing that we had five course ahead of us, we ate only with our eyes. Next time, I'm going back with a Playmate cooler and some dry ice.
In addition to chefs Donald Link and Stephen Stryjewski, our cocktail hosts were Eben Klemm, director of cocktail development for B.R. Guest Restaurants/James Hotels, and Garrett Oliver, the brewmaster of the Brooklyn Brewery. Klemm admitted to the assembled crowd right off the bat that the concept of a cocktail dinner can be sort of silly. Attempting to pair and match the varied flavors of spirits with multiple courses of a gourmet dinner is often a losing cause. The best a mixologist can hope to do is to stay out of the way of the food, and they did a great job of that.
- Eben Klemm and Garrett Oliver
With a menu as varied as Corn Vichyssoise with Louisiana Lump Crab to Duck Pastrami to Seared Scallops and Pork Belly to Curry Lamb Shoulder with Crowder Peas and Couscous, Klemm had to be at the top of his game to keep up with the spectacular flavor profiles flying out of Calcasieu's kitchen. Most of the cocktails hit the mark, but the highlights of the evening were when Oliver took over with his beer pairings. He even dug into his private stash to share some of his Dark Matter Belgian, which is unavailable anywhere except in his home kitchen. I can only assume that Yazoo brewmeister Linus Hall came up with the idea of his "Hops Projects" during his time working under Oliver at Brooklyn. The Brooklyn Chocolate Stout paired with our dessert of Blueberry Shortcake and Buttermilk Ice Cream was toe-curlingly good.
The entire meal was only $100 per person including tax and tip. For a transcendent evening of eating and drinking, it was worth every penny. Calcasieu usually opens only for private dining, but the same sort of menu items are available at Herbsaint and Cochon, so you can give them a try next time you ride the City of New Orleans south until you see the Superdome. I know it won't be long before I go back.
We talked to diners who attended several of the other Spirited Dinners around town, and the reviews were universally excellent. Of course, we all had a cocktail in our hands when we were fondly reminiscing. Mark your calendar for next July and join me at Tales. It's a helluva way to spend a steaming hot weekend!