Thursday, November 5, 2009

Nicholas Wine & Cookbook Release Dinner

Steph and I went to Restaurant Nicholas last night for a cookbook release dinner.  I've made my love of Nicholas clear, and Steph and I went into the evening with high expectations.  Needless to say, we were NOT disappointed.

We entered the lower dining room (which has such an intimate ambiance) to a glass of Sauvignon Blanc and some passed hors d'oeuvres.  Lobster Salad with Grilled Scallions on Crispy Wontons were rich and buttery and had great texture. Potato Pancakes with Bacon and Quince Puree were pretty much the most perfect little potato latke, with bacon brunoise (these were both mine and Steph's favorite of the hors d'oeuvres).  Shrimp Tempura with Spicy Soy Sauce were prepared perfectly, although I did not get the 'spicy' in the sauce, but they were still delicious.  Skewers of Curry Marinated Lamb with Curry Yogurt was also excellently prepared, especially since they were just bites, and they could have been easily overcooked (props to Steph who tried them even though she doesn't like curry).  There were Asparagus Crostini with Parmesan and Truffle Vinaigrette, which I tried and didn't particularly like, but Steph was more than happy to eat my share.  All these little bites were perfect to warm up our taste buds and get us ready for the coming feast.

At this point, Chef Nicholas came out and was ever-so-gracious when thanking us for sharing the evening with him, and promised us he'd hurry so we could get home in time to watch the World Series (side note:  I'll trust the chef who is a Yankees fan).  Turns out he invited one of his friends from Italy, Gianluca Grasso of the Elio Grasso vineyard, who brought a truckload of wine along with him, so we'd be eating food paired with a bunch of his wines, primarily Barolos, but with others in there.  While the chef retreated to the kitchen, Gianluca discussed his family's history with winemaking.  It was clear how passionate he was for his craft, and it really shone through with the wines we were poured.

The first course was Venison 'Carpaccio', Jicama and Fig Salad, Pine Nuts.  Steph is a tremendous fan of carpaccio, but she was especially excited because she had never had venison before and was eager to try.  The venison was very rich tasting, without any overwhelming gaminess that sometimes can accompany it.  The jicama and pine nuts provided a textural contrast, and the figs brought along some sweetness to balance out the richness of the meat.  It was paired with a 2008 Chardonnay that is named 'Educato' since the grapes that Gianluca grows are mostly Nebiollo and they had to 'educate' the chardonnay grapes to grow in an area traditionally ruled by red grapes.  An excellent wine - very assertive and stood up well to the strong flavors of the dish.

Next up was the dish I was most looking forward to, and one that I knew I could make my dear friends Meghann and Mike jealous that I was eating it:  Crispy Braised Pork Belly, Gingered Pluots, Napa Cabbage and Peanut Salad.  In a word - WOW.  I love all things pork, and I love bacon especially, but there's not much better than eating pork belly, which is essentially the cut of pork where bacon comes from, but then braised until meltingly tender and crisped up under the broiler.  All the garnishes on the plate accentuated and cut through the richness of the pork, especially the pluots (which neither Steph nor I had ever had before).  I texted Meghann to say 'I have pork belly in my belly - be jealous!'.  Not to fear, MegWow, I have the recipe!  This course was paired with 2008 Dolcetto, which had a very fruity and slightly spicy flavor.

The third course had my favorite of all fungi - truffles, in a Hen Egg Ravioli, Black Truffle, Truffle Butter Sauce.  This dish was inspired by a dish the chef and his wife had during their honeymoon to Italy (which made me enjoy the dish that much more since I knew his inspiration for creating it).  Essentially, this was a ravioli filled with a small amount of ricotta, topped with an egg yolk, then covered and sealed in the pasta, boiled and topped with truffle butter and some fresh shaved truffles.  One of the greatest things I've ever eaten, the odor alone made my mouth water, and the flavor...unreal.  Every bite was rich and earthy and creamy all simultaneously.  This was paired with not one but TWO wines, a 2004 Barolo Ginestra and a 2000 Barolo Runcot.  The difference between the two was the soils in the vineyards they were planted in - one was more sandy and one was more clay - with a definite change in the flavor.  I don't remember as much about these wines as I should - I just remember they were very strong in flavor (not shocking since they were Barolos) and that I had to slow down because I was going to get rather tipsy if I didn't.  The hazards of going to a wine dinner!

The last course, unfortunately, both Stephanie and I felt was the weakest.  Even though Sirloin of Veal, Scallion Whipped Potatoes, Royal Trumpet Mushrooms sounds amazing, it fell flat.  Don't get me wrong - I love me some baby cow, and the meat was excellently prepared, but I felt that all the components of the dish didn't come together as well as they should have.  I don't think it helped that I thought the potatoes were too 'scallion-y', or that I didn't enjoy the mushrooms as much as I should - I also don't think it helped that I had overindulged in the wine.  However, the Barolos (two wines again) were also very assertive and strong in flavor.  Stephanie liked the contrast between a Barolo in this course and from the last, which were from the same vineyards but different years.  Too bad the dish wasn't as great as the others in the dinner.

Finally, some coffee, a quartet of Molten Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Ice Cream, Chocolate Creme Brulee, Pumpkin Hot Chocolate with Mini-Marshmallow, and Chocolate Ganache with Caramelized Bananas and Peanut Cookie.  Everything was delicious (minus the banana dessert) and was a great end to a delicious meal.

A note about the cookbook:  AMAZING.  Easy to read, easy to follow, lots of pictures of the end results.  It has recipes for all the dishes I hoped it would:  braised pork with cinnamon jus, parisienne gnocchi with artichokes and peas, scallops with truffle-green apple vinaigrette.  I picked one up for my mother as a birthday gift, and I'm really excited about this, and add it to the 'autographed' shelf, too!


Rob Timko said...

I got a new reservation for Wed!

Also, a good brunch coming up at Stage Left this Sunday. Dale DeGroff mixing cocktails. 39pp. 4 courses. It's for the release of his wifes book.

I know you were getting into cocktails at one point, and Dale is the undisputed king of the cocktails.

Ms. Meg said...

I am terribly jealous of you and Steph for eating this meal. It sounds absolutely beautiful.

Rob Timko said...

So, we went last night. It was VERY good. It was well worth the 95pp.

For Hors D'oeuvres I loved the Potato Pancake the most, Asparagus Crostini with Parmesan and Truffle Vinaigrette, second....the rest were good, but nothing 'special'

Our menu was slightly different. We had a butternut squash soup in place of the venison, which was absolutely awesome. Probably the best dish of the night for me, and it was a I'm lying, the ravioli was! We had crispy Halibut in place of your pork belly. I'm not a seafood guy, like....I've only once ordered seafood from a menu, and that was to fulfill a new years resolution, but the halibut was good. Our wines were paired well, however we seemed to have had different pairings, we had a Sauvignon Blanc for Hors D'oeuvres..Riesling woth the squash, I can't remember what with the halibut...a The Willamette Valley Pinot Noir for the Hen Egg (MY favorite dish). THIS wine pairing was PERFECT. Then a Cab with the Veal, which I didn't think paired well (slingshot cab).

A "french" port wine for dessert which I thought was the weakest of all dishes. Perhaps I'm just not ready for those fall/winter/xmas spices, especially in dessert. Very Jean-George.

The cookbook I've been looking for for a while. It's French Laundry meets Julia Childs....amazing food and quality pictures, with recipes that don't involve spending 20 hours for an ounce of sauce!! stay tuned!!!

Alex said...

Soup - I'm glad it tastes as good as the recipe looks. I'm on soup for Thanksgiving, and I think a triple batch is just the ticket. I wonder though - could be made on Wednesday then fridged until Thursday? Look at the recipe and let me know what you think.

I agree that the ravioli was amazing, but for me the pork belly stole the show. However, making the ravioli is very high on my list of want-to-cooks, especially once truffles are in season.

I'm with you on the cookbook. I can't wait to start getting in to it. Maybe even guest write on that blog of yours :-P

Rob Timko said...

making the soup tonight, I'll let you know!!

20 Italian wines tasting at Catherine Lombardi today, 25$pp. (10 if you reserve ahead!)

Just gotta figure out where I can get some lemon oil....healthfood store maybe?

Alex said...

I know Wegmans has a lemon olive oil. Maybe at a health food store, but be careful you don't use lemon essential oil because you'll get yourself sick, unless you're knowledgeable on how to do dilutions.

If you lived close to a Williams-Sonoma, you might be able to find THIS but if you're in EB, I think the closest one is Bridgewater. Bleh.

About The Blog said...

it calls for a very very small amount, so if I don't find it. I'll just twist a few lemon peels, like I do in cocktails as a substitute.

From what I understand, it's simply just the oil that's squeezed from the rind.

stay tuned!

Rob Timko said...

let me know whatcha think! btw - whats your email?