Saturday, December 14, 2013

Divine dinners

Tuesday night Piper and I celebrated her 25th birthday with a spectacular tasting menu at Aquavit, a top Norwegian restaurant a few blocks from my apartment. I'd been there once before years ago when I worked at Agent K - a vendor took me to lunch there. But this was a much more enjoyable event, reminiscent of our visit to The Modern earlier this year ("The Modern" - March 13, 2013).

Our dinner started with a series of amuse bouches - flax crackers, lightly pickled cherry tomatoes, tiny radishes and some kind of preserved thing on a stick. There was also some excellent breads and two kinds of butters, an organic and a brown butter.

There was also an intensely flavored bite of fish served with puffed rice, cleverly plated in an anchovy tin, small bits of venison served on a woodchip with smoldering pine needles, followed by our first course, a spoonful of cod served with several textural ingredients that made a lovely play in the mouth.

The meal began in earnest with a soup tureen served in a sealed mason jar and filled with hay smoke. The jar was opened to release the smoke aroma and the soup was poured in over the rest of the ingredients (this was Piper's favorite dish). A beet gravlax served with shaved frozen foie gras, pickled mustard seed and hovmastar sauce followed, then sweetbreads and mushrooms, and loup de mer and bok choy, potato, shellfish caviar, and cranberry beans.

We had a palate cleanser of horseradish sorbet and apple mousse, which was unusual. Then came lamb neck and sweet potato puree with chantarelle mushrooms, pickled shallots, and fig and veal sauce flavored with truffle and foie gras, my favorite dish of the night.

Dessert was a lovely smoked vanilla creme brulee with shaved pears, rosemary ice cream and toasted pumpkin seeds - they even served Piper's with a birthday candle. Then came an assortment of candies, filled beneigts and other treats, and finally, like with The Modern, they left a gift with the check of a spice sachet to make Aquavit Glogg, a mulled wine drink.

I was off work Thursday and Friday, and spent a lot of time preparing a new recipe that Piper suggested for coq au vin for me and Katie on Friday. I went to TJ Maxx and got a Dutch oven, a six-quart enameled cast iron pot (my first enameled cookware ever) to cook in, and got all my ingredients so I wouldn't have to leave the apartment on Friday.

To make the coq au vin, I used the bottle of Malbec I bought on my way to Shotz! when Katie and I met up with my friends. I also used about four shots of Courvoisier VSOP cognac, which made an impressive flambe that reached all the way up to my stove hood (lucky I still have my eyebrows!). I also had to make a last-minute run to the C-store for flour when I realized my flour expired in 2012. I even got some salt pork instead of using bacon, and red pearl onions, which were troublesome to peel. I definitely will take some shortcuts next time I make this, but for the first go-around, I wanted to do it as well as I could, especially since I had the day off to take my time.

The end result was pretty tasty, and improved with a little Tabasco (as usual for me) when served over egg noodles (slightly overcooked because we were chatting and forgot to watch the clock). But the chicken itself was very nicely cooked and the carrots, onions and oyster mushrooms were also tasty. I think next time I'll use crimini mushrooms if I can find them, plus I have to figure out a way to keep the skins on the chicken. Maybe I need to use bigger pieces of leg and thigh. Anyway, it was a good first attempt and I learned a few new things about making a stew that isn't curry. It's nice to expand the repertoire a bit.

We continued our Humphrey Bogart marathon with "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre" and some Ghirardelli chocolate before she left for a late party downtown. Tomorrow I'll be making not one, but two of my bourbon bread puddings - one for Liz's party on Saturday night and one for Diana's party on Sunday. I also have Lori's concert to go to on Saturday, so it's going to be a fairly busy weekend of holiday gatherings, but that's fine with me. It's nice to have holiday functions that I actually enjoy attending.