One issue we do tend to run into when trying to find a restaurant when celebrating a special occasion, is finding one place that covers all of the flavors and components that we're looking for. After much toil and debate, we just decided to prepare dinner at home and completely customize the menu. I wanted to let you all share in the amazing feast we prepared today and give you the opportunity to recreate elements of it yourself, if so inclined.
As our amuse, we began with a Tempura Squash Blossom stuffed with creme fraiche, Greek yogurt, freshly shaved parmesan and romano cheeses, chives, thyme, oregano, vanilla and Szechwan peppercorns. The yogurt lightened up the richness of the creme fraiche and the salty cheeses, the vanilla added an unexpected softness and the intensity of the herbs and peppercorns definitely served their purpose of waking up the palate. I also make my tempura batter with club soda to aerate it and keep the coating light and crispy.
Continuing with the light feel of the meal, our second course was a Wild Berry Gazpacho. Inspired by the Chilled Raspberry Soup at Manchester's XO on Elm, I wanted to take their bright, yogurt-y concoction and take it up a notch with blood oranges and fresh wild strawberries. It was a great balance of sweet, tart and rich flavors that didn't overwhelm one another and played against each other beautifully. I froze the bowls with a dollop of whipped Greek yogurt and blood orange zest in the bottom and poured the slightly chilled soup over for a subtle temperature contrast and topped it with freshly picked thyme for an herbal note.
Our third course was a duo of Seared Diver Scallops with Blood Orange Vinaigrette, Tangerine Gelee, Micro Arugula and Toasted Pinenuts. James actually credited this dish as being one of the most completed platings I've prepared for him. The dressing was a combination of freshly squeezed blood orange juice, blood orange zest, almond oil, champagne vinegar, honey, fresh thyme, oregano, chives, lavender and Hawaiian red sea salt. Texturally, I was aiming for a gradual progression from the subtle crunch of the pinenuts and the arugula to the creaminess of the scallop and the gelee.
For the entree course, we seared a Snake River Farms American Kobe Ribeye with Crispy Duckfat-fried Fingerling Potatoes and Wild Mushroom Hash. If you haven't tried beef from Snake River Farms beef, you're missing out. Their facility is one of the most humane I've visited and the output of their product is truly exceptional. The marbling on the steak gave the whole dish an rich, unctuousness that really elevated all of the components. The mushroom has was a compilation of cremini, shitake, miatake, oyster, lobster and black trumpet mushrooms, slow roasted with white truffle oil, cognac and wild boar bacon and served with a quail egg yolk nestled in the center. Finally to finish off the plate, thinly sliced fingerling potatoes crisped in duckfat with shallots and sliced chipolini onions.
I kept the cheese course a bit simpler than I usually would opt to, based on my innate love of cheese, mainly because I didn't want to ruin dessert and I knew we'd be pretty full by this point. Lincet Delice de Bourgogne, Chocolate Stout laced English Cheddar Cheddar, a raw milk aged Provolone and Bellavitano with a Merlot-washed rind paired with sweet cappicola, procuitto de San Danielle and Wild Boar Salami.
Capping off this incredibly fulfilling dinner was my personal favorite course... dessert - Praline Bacon Sundaes. I started with a strip of my signature, homemade praline bacon (see previous blog entry for the recipe) and added a homemade honey graham ice cream, toasted pine nuts, Valrhona chocolate whipped cream and a bourbon burnt caramel shell (think magic shell only without the processed, plastic aftertaste). Although not the prettiest, this might be the best dessert I've ever made.
As for wine, we started with a 2002 Napa Rubicon Estate Cab, which was good, but not amazing. We've had the 2001 before and it was definitely more complex and a bit bolder than the 2002. Unfortunately, contrary to what one would expect of a California Cab, it mellowed out almost completely before we could finish the bottle. With dessert, we opened a bottle of Alcoyne Tannat from Uruguay which was rich, velvety and had strong chocolate notes that really brought out the bitterness in the whipped cream.
All in all, I have to say we made the right call preparing our dinner at home rather than seeking out a restaurant to fulfill precisely what we were looking for. My waistline is however quite glad that our anniversary only comes once per year.