Thursday, July 7, 2011

A Belated James Beard Birthday

Not much in life makes me smile as big as sharing an amazing meal with a deeply special person. The only thing that makes it better is if that special person is a dear friend. Though it's way past my birthday, I got to celebrate it a couple of weeks ago with my close friend, Kristine. As my birthday came around in March, Kristine completely surprised me saying she wanted to take me to have my first James Beard dinner. I'd heard of this fabulous dining experience through her a couple of years ago when she treated Allison for her birthday and I've wanted to go ever since. Kristine is one of the most generous people I know when it comes to her friends and she does not disappoint in the area of making one feel special. She even indulged my request of waiting on this dinner until after lent since I'd given up bread and pasta. Let's face it, having something to look forward to after your actual birthday is awesome anyway.

The James Beard Foundation is an organization where people can really get involved with all things foodie. There are events happening all month long, from lectures to cooking classes, conferences to readings, workshops to dinners. It's a really educational organization and allows people, professional or not, to tap in to their inner culinary creativity. The dinners showcase chefs from all over the world and you're able to go on the JBF site to view menus, bios and information on up and coming dining experiences. I had the toughest time narrowing down what to choose but I finally picked the 'Five Diamond Luxury Dinner with Kristin Butterworth' of Lautrec at Nemacolin Resort. My oh my, was I in for a treat.

We met at 7:00pm and the way it works is you walk through the kitchen to get to the outside garden where cocktails and hors d'oeuvres are being served. This was the first thing I saw and I was automatically giddy:
All those beautiful soup bowls...! I wanted to jump right in. That's actually Chef Kristin putting final pepper touches on the dish, too. We kept walking and I spotted another lovely platter:
I'd learn in about two more seconds that I was about to indulge in that fabulous peekytoe crab maison (meaning 'made on premises') on brioche. It was delectable. Without skipping too far ahead though, we exited the kitchen and walked out into a lovely small garden area. They were serving crisp, clean champagne that paired perfectly with the deviled quail egg, the above-pictured peekytoe crab and a lovely truffle scone with house cured ham and cream cheese. I felt like I'd escaped the concrete jungle and walked into a fancy Southern cocktail party. Sign me up, people.

After an hour or so, we were shown to our table. The James Beard House seats only 74 people and, should your party size be smaller than enough to fill a table, you will be seated communal style. That was more than fine with me as the other guests at our table were the perfect mix of private and social. I enjoyed not feeling pressured to talk to people yet being involved at the same time:
The server came around to begin pouring wine and, soon enough, the first plate was served; a chilled heirloom tomato soup with local goat feta, olive oil powder and basil:
It was divine. It was cool, silky, pungent and clean. I am not a tomato soup fan but this was quite unique and it won me over.

I'm so mad because I forgot to get a photo of the second plate. It was a fabulous papardelle with black truffle, confit farm egg and parmigiano. I loved it's texture with the contrast of perfectly cooked pasta to earthy truffles to creamy farm egg.

The third plate was chilean sea bass with potato butter, lobster sausage and caviar butter:
This was hands down my favorite. It was absolutely perfect in ten different ways. The butter, the sausage, the perfectly prepared fish, the was divine and melted together harmoniously with every bite. I seriously did not want this to end.

The fourth plate was Elysian Fields lamb with summer squash, vidalia onion risotto and honey mustard jam:
This was my least favorite dish but only because I am not a fan of lamb. It was certainly prepared in a lovely way but I don't like lamb's distinct gamey flavor. How can you not like vidalia onion risotto or summer squash, though?

The fifth plate was the cheese course and I just loved that they chose epoisses. They served it with local honeycomb, blackberry preserves, brown butter pecans and sea salt:
This might sound silly but I died over those pecans. They were delicious! I'm so glad there were only three on the plate because I would've made myself sick on them. Taking a bite with a little of everything was just the right blend of sweet and savory. Epoisses is a delicious cheese that almost has both a brie and blue quality. Excellent!

Finally, it was time for dessert and I couldn't have been happier. It was strawberry-rhubarb consomme with creme fraiche panna cotta and basil tapioca:
The tapioca was so unique and it popped with huge fresh basil flavor. I have no idea how they did it but it was terrific. I wasn't crazy about the consomme. It was a neat idea but far too sweet for me. Who cares though when you have creme fraiche panna cotta to enjoy!

It was truly a remarkable evening and I was so deep in my element. That's what made it even more special because Kristine knows me that well and understands how much a fancy dinner would mean to me. It was a wonderful birthday celebration and I would have waited even months longer to go if I had to. Now, it's a question of when we're going back... :) 

1 comment:

Kristin said...

I was searching around the web and found your blog...thank you so much for your kind words about the dinner, my team and I enjoyed reading your view of the food and experience. If you are ever in the Pittsburgh area we would love for you to come and join us in Lautrec!

Culinary Regards,

Kristin Butterworth