Dinner party: March 24, 2012

When I did my big 6-course dinner party last month, I had originally invited my friends Laura and Mike, but they had to bow out at the last minute to deal with a sick child. Enough time has passed since then that I felt able to work up another menu of restaurant-level dishes for them. Here’s the rundown of what I cooked on Saturday night.

First course: 21st Century Tortilla (Ferran Adrià, el Bulli)

All the elements of a classic Spanish tortilla, but lightened considerably in texture: caramelized onions, sabayon and warm potato foam with olive oil. I think this is the first warm foam that I’ve ever made. I’ve had mixed feelings in the past about my iSi Thermo Whip, because it takes much longer to chill gelatin-based foams down to serving temperature than it would in, say, a Gourmet Whip. But with my immersion circulator otherwise occupied for most of the evening, I was glad it could keep this warm foam warm.

Second course: “Oysters and Pearls” (Thomas Keller, The French Laundry)

The dish that, famously, Keller has never tasted. (Is that still true?) I skipped the caviar, due to the expense, but it was still a home run. Even my husband, who dislikes tapioca, enjoyed this course. I served a fairly nondescript Muscadet-Sèvre et Maine with it, and the dish really elevated the wine. There’s a reason oysters and Muscadet are a classic pairing.

Third course: Citrus-cured salmon and potato gnocchi with balsamic glaze (Rob Feenie, Lumière)

Last summer, I picked up a second-hand copy of the cookbook from Feenie’s defunct Lumière restaurant, but I hadn’t cooked anything out of it until now. I like to make sure at least one course in these meals is from a Canadian chef, and this time, it seemed appropriate to feature Gold Medal Plates 2012 silver-medallist Feenie. The balsamic glaze is more than a little 1990s, but the bigger problem was the gnocchi. When I boiled them, they held together fine, but when I sautéed them, they fell apart. It ended up being more like “cured salmon with mashed potatoes.” I did modify the dish slightly by poaching the salmon sous vide with some olive oil in the bag (109°F for 15 minutes), rather than heating up a pot of oil; that’s why you can see the cross-hatching marks from the Foodsaver bags. The wine for this course was a 2007 chenin blanc from Vineland Estates.

Fourth course: Malt sorbet with olive oil and black pepper (Daniel Humm, Eleven Madison Park)

I continue to be inspired by the Eleven Madison Park cookbook. This dish, which I ate at the first EMP tribute dinner in Ottawa, is one that I’ve wanted to make myself since I first read the book. There’s something about the spareness of the plating that speaks to me, and I love the flavour of malt. Sadly, this is the last dish my dehydrator will ever contribute to: it died while drying out the meringue. (At least it finished the job!) Also, I found the sorbet difficult to quenelle: it went from “frozen solid” to “puddle of liquid” very quickly, a phenomenon I’ve seen with other EMP sorbets. I imagine they must be formulated to work better with a Pacojet than a home ice cream maker, but I can’t afford both a Pacojet and a new dehydrator… In fact, I can’t afford a Pacojet at all!

Remembering how excited Marc Lepine got over drinking beer while eating this at the Ottawa dinner, I served Innis and Gunn rum finish oak aged beer alongside.

Fifth course: Pork, grapefruit, sage, honey(comb) (Grant Achatz, Alinea)
(Pictured at top.) This is probably one of the simpler Alinea dishes, especially for the size of the plate, and yet it was still a challenge to put it together. There are “only” nine elements on each plate: cornbread puree, grapefruit segments, sous vide pork tenderloin, deep-fried pork shoulder, caramelized fennel, sage fluid gel, sage leaves, fennel fronds and a drizzle of honey. (Lacking a honey extractor, I skipped the honeycomb and added the honey in the kitchen.) This was a favourite of the night, and was served with my favourite wine of the evening: 2009 13th Street old vines riesling.

Sixth course: Château de Bourgogne cheese with a mixed apple napoleon (Rob Feenie, Lumière)

I decided on cheese as a transition between mains and dessert, rather than a sweeter pre-dessert course. The Château de Bourgogne I served is not the cheese called for in the Lumière cookbook, but it worked with the apple napoleon, which consisted of white wine-poached Fuji apple dice sandwiched between two Gala apple chips. Simple and tasty.

Seventh course: Grapefruit panna cotta, Greek yogurt, grapefruit gelée, avocado, basil, olive oil (Michael Laiskonis, Le Bernardin)

This is the first dessert recipe I ever downloaded from the blog of former Le Bernardin pastry chef Michael Laiskonis, and a prime example of why I like doing these dinner parties: if I didn’t, I would never make a fiddly little dessert like this one, and it’s far too good for me to go without making it. The grapefruit gelée is missing from the final plate, unfortunately, because the sheet pan I made it on wasn’t flat enough, and I couldn’t get enough useable pieces. Even without that component, it was a remarkably delicious dessert, and one I’ll likely make again, albeit in a less sophisticated form.

As is now tradition, I closed the meal with a macaron, this time chocolate, filled with hazelnut gianduja.

I ended up doing too much of the prep at the very last minute, still working on some of the components as my guests arrived, but my husband and a bottle of sparkling Vouvray kept them entertained while I worked. Compared to last time, service went much smoother: with only one significantly complex dish on this menu, I didn’t have any overly long pauses between courses. As always, it was a fun experience for me, especially when I could sit down at the end of the night and have a glass of wine with my friends!

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