Thursday, September 10, 2009

Dinner with the Chef @ Piccola Italia

Disclaimer: The camera battery died. Damn!

We hit up the most awesome Piccola Italia in Ocean, New Jersey for a "Dining with the Chef" culinary demonstration of using mushrooms, one of my favorite ingredients. A cool experience, with a large communal dining room and the chef up front showing us how to prepare all the food we were eating. I liked the idea of being able to ask questions of the chef as he was talking and cooking, and I'm proud to say that my questions (differences between white/black truffle oil, the best way to save mushroom stems and prep mushroom stock at home) were a little more insightful. Whatever - let's talk about the food.

First Course:  Wild Mushroom and Goat Cheese Strudel, Truffle Butter, Pears
I'm not the biggest fan of working with phyllo, but I'd do it just for this recipe.  Sauteed "wild" mushrooms (a misnomer since all mushrooms are cultivated these days) mixed in with some goat cheese (and cream cheese for body), then encased in the phyllo and roasted.  Truffle butter provided awesome flavor, and some diced ripe pear was a nice foil.  We drank some 2007 Carmel Road Monterey Pinot Noir.  Delicious.

Second Course:  Cream of Porcini Soup
I love mushroom soup.  Absolutely freaking love it.  This was even more amazing than my normal recipe for mushroom soup.  This is where I was able to sneak in my question about making my own mushroom stock, because I think that it just makes the final dish that much better (you may very well see some for the upcoming Meatless Monday), so now I'm saving all my mushroom stems.  Porcini powder?  Buying it as soon as possible.  I also need to pick up some white truffle oil as well.  The end result was a dish that I was sponging every last bit of soup up with bread - my plate was clean, literally.

Third Course:  Fresh Perciatelli with Crab, Chanterelles, Roasted Corn and Shaved Truffles
I've paired seafood with corn and truffles in the past, but I would not have thought to add mushrooms to the mix.  My shortsightedness - this was absolutely ridiculous in flavor.  The truffles didn't add too much to the flavor, but the aroma really kicked the dish up to a whole new level.  I don't particularly like corn that much (I know, I'm a bad Jersey kid), but this is the 2nd dish in the last few weeks that has had corn as a component that I've really enjoyed.  I'm going to add it to my list of veggies to find ways to like.

Fourth Course:  Foie Gras French Toast with Truffle Zabaglione (FTW!)
They should've just called this "Decadence on a Plate".  A chanterelle-foie mousse piped into a brioche block, then soaked in eggs/rum/cinnamon/awesome and fried up?  Then topped with a Madiera and truffle oil-laced zabaglione?  Holy crap.  It was everything I was hoping for (and more) when I read it on the menu.  Plus, we had a tasting of a ridiculously super-sweet Hungarian dessert wine called Tokaji (or Tokay, in English).  Really strong honey flavors in the nose, carried through the the taste, along with a lingering nuttiness.  The only way this would be able to be consumed is with a super-rich dish like the foie gras french toast, as it cut through all the flavor nicely.

I find it funny how my own job as a teacher affects my life outside of the job.  Every time Brian started talking, all I wanted to do was shush everyone so we could give our attention to the 'teacher' in the room.  Every time I had a question, I had such a hard time just yelling it out, I found myself raising my hand at one point, waiting to be called on.  Silly me.

Props to Chef Brian and to manager (and our friend!) Andrew for a phenomenal evening!  There's a beer event going on in October (natch), but something tells me that Steph and I will be back before then.  If you live in the area, you should go eat there too!