Thursday, April 26, 2012

A look back on something COMPLETELY new...

Back in the days when I was a fan of Def Leppard and Firehouse – among other bands whose least menacing addiction was probably Aqua Net, the prized trophy  from one of the concerts would have been a drum stick, or a guitar pick (if you were so lucky as to be within throwing distance). At the more “indie” shows and smaller venues, the Hipster “Holy Grail” seemed to be the band’s setlist – I have a few of those myself, including the one from the farewell show of A Northern Chorus.

I was sitting at home about a week ago, just reading over some news articles when I noticed that one of the tabs in my browser was flashing. I looked up and it said that I had a message from Zack Bruell, and I found that very peculiar. Bewilderment quickly turned into elation when I read that I was one of the four winners of the “Blast From The Past” dinner at Table45!

The dinner was held on Tuesday, April 24th at the Chef’s Table in the kitchen of Table 45. It featured menu items from as far back as 2007. All entrees were paired with wine. My husband and I met with six others (the other three winners and their guests) in the glass-enclosed seating area and marveled over the kitchen before the first course began. Regrettably, I had forgotten to bring my camera – but I can tell you that the kitchen at Table 45 is compact, efficient and linear. The kitchen was pristine and bright, a far cry from the kitchens I worked in many years ago, when the phrase “mise en place” would have gotten you a gezundheit or a strange look from the BOH staff.

For the duration of the evening we had a host that was dedicated to our table, and were in constant communication with the Chef. Before we started dinner, we were served some of the House Naan bread with different dipping sauces. Table 45’s kitchen features a Tandoor oven, which is ideal for making numerous dishes but works very well with Naan. Cooked on the side of the oven, the bread ends up crisp and slightly charred on the outside, but soft and chewy on the inside.

Before long, the first course came out.

Course One (2011)

Grilled Hearts of Romaine Salad with Shaved Red Onion, Parmesan Cheese, and Smoked Paprika Vin

The salad, a lightly grilled wedge of romaine, was simplistic and thanks to its short time spent on the grill, needed little to no seasoning. Many of us agreed that the smokiness of the grilled lettuce was complimentary to the other flavors. My husband and I have also vowed to try grilling romaine hearts at home!

Course Two (2010)

Vegetarian Lasagna with Red Pepper Coulis

There were a couple of fascinating aspects to this lasagna, the first being that it contained absolutely no pasta. Secondly, there was no tomato to speak of in the sauce. I’m not normally a vegetable type of person (something I am trying to change) and might have turned my nose up at a lasagna made completely of vegetables – save for a little cheese baked in as a binder – had it not been made so perfectly. The coulis was innovative and added a little bit of heat and zest to the dish, something that might have been harder to do with a tomato based sauce.

Course Three (2009)

Rice Paper Wrapped Crab Cake with Carrot-Daikon Salad

The crab cake drifted away from the traditionally heavy, cornmeal based cake that you’d find. The cake itself was light, and borrowed some Thai flavors. The remoulade had a little heat, and the spring roll wrapping made the cake slightly crispy.

I’ll break from the menu descriptions here just to comment that one of the most delightful things about the dishes I experienced was that they were all “true” flavors – and what I mean by that is that everything tasted exactly like what it was, without any excessive seasoning and no attempt to mask the true flavor of the meat or veggie we were tasting. It was one of the most wonderful things about the evening!

Course Four (2008)

Thai Coconut Broth wth Shrimp, Scallops, and Fried Rice Vermicelli

I voted for this entrée when I entered the contest, and it was undoubtedly my favorite. The very moment that the eight of us tucked our spoons into the slight spicy, velvety coconut broth – a hush fell over the room. There was nothing to say for a moment, because it was just that perfect. In addition to the shrimp and scallop, we were also treated to a mussel (the best I’ve ever eaten – perfectly cooked and smooth) and a small clam. I would have this dish – even the broth by itself – again and again without ever becoming tired of it.

Course Five (2007)

Rack of Lamb with Indian Mint Sauce, Mashed Yellow Lentils and Tomato/Cucumber Salad

The lamb was placed atop a pillowy portion of the mashed lentils, which were actually very spicy. I’d also like to add that at this point, I had begun to “hit the wall” in terms of how much I could manage to eat.  The lamb was lightly spiced, and the accompanying  raita-like sauce helped to calm the heat of the lentils, as did the tomato and cucumber salad. I loved this dish, but wished that the lentils would have been a little creamier. I was also getting pretty full!!

After the final entrée course, I think that Chef sensed that people were a little full, and we had a short pause to reminisce over the dishes we had just tried. It really was a great group of people, with all but two of us being bloggers/Tweeters of some sort.

Sixth Course (2009)

Apple Galette with Minted Crème Anglaise

The galette was enormous yet very light, and the accompanying sauce tasted like a classed-up thin mint. The flavors went very well together, and our host snuck in a SIXTH wine pairing!

Contented and slightly tipsy, we took our leave after another bit of good conversation. The Chef’s Table at Table 45 is available for booking and is listed on their website as a two-hour, multiple course experience. This was my third time at a Chef’s Table (first at Table 45) and was just as memorable, if not more so because of the direct contact with the Chef.  Speaking of which, during one of our exchanges I mentioned using smoked sea salt, and let him know about the Bonfire salt at Urban Herbs. I tend use smoked sea salt (and only the salt) when seasoning steaks for the grill. This produces a completely awesome steak that requires no additional sauces or seasoning.

At the end of the dinner, the Chef came in with a small container of a charcoal-smoked salt that he uses in cooking. To me, this was the foodie version of scoring the drummer’s stick or the band’s setlist. I don’t know exactly when I’ll use the salt, but I know that I’ll remember the amazing food that we had that night!

I will also disclaim that while I attended this dinner as the result of winning a contest, I am not writing this blog under any responsibility or urge by Table 45. My opinions and evaluations are my own.