I think I’m still full.
It’s been a full 17 hours since I stopped eating at the very first Seasonal Gathering, held last night at the home of The Benefactor. Since I’m still so full (as is my husband), I’m thinking that somewhere along the way, our “tasting portions” got a bit bloated.
But what an evening! Thirteen people, a hundred dirty dishes, conversations ranging from food-and-wine-centered awe and joy to tear-shedding, side-busting laughter; getting to know new people, understanding new and old friends in enlightened ways; it was the kind of night that made you think world peace could be grasped if everyone could just have a meal like this.
I don’t think I’m seeing the night or the food through rose-colored glasses; we were still able to be critical, and at the end of the night there was that matter of being unbearably full (not the result we sought). The actual menu, with last-minute additions and wine pairings, looked something like this:
butternut squash soup with mapled creme fraiche & balsamic drizzle
LADY GRACE VERDELHO LODI 2006
spinach salad with pears, buttered pecans, maytag blue cheese
& shallot-thyme vinaigrette
BEAUREGARD MUSCADET SEVRE ET MAINE 2007
pumpkin ravioli with sage butter reduction
GAMAY NOIR, CHATEAU GRAND TRAVERSE 2005
seared scallops with wilted spinach, arugula, & orange salad
ESTRELLA DAMM INEDIT 2009
norwegian cedar-grilled salmon with dill, sweet peppers and arugula
SMITH HAUT LAFITE BLANC 2005
orange-glazed pork belly with winter couscous
& balsamic roasted brussel sprouts
SOLITUDE COTES DU RHONE 2007
grilled eye of ribeye with whipped potatoes, chimichurri,
and simple jus
SILVER OAK CABERNET NAPA VALLEY 2004
pear streusel pie with vanilla ice cream
pumpkin bread pudding with caramel sauce
CHATEAU D-YQUEM 2003
CHATEAU D-YQUEM 1994
In what is perhaps a gross understatement, I will say that I don’t know much about wine. Except, of course, whether or not I like what I’m drinking. This is why I am so happy there are people out there who do a good job picking your wine for you. We rarely go to a restaurant where the server has helpful tips on wine (only because we don’t often go out to really good restaurants); anytime we ask, and the reply starts with “well, I always get the…” or “the most popular one is…” then we politely listen, and then take our own charge, because the server will be of no help. When you come across a server who knows what they’re talking about, you might as well try what they recommend, based on your food order. Even if you end up ordering a wine that you haven’t typically bought for home consumption, chances are you’ll have a better match than if you order that old standby.
Anyway, the people who teamed up to pair our wines with our courses knew much more than I. And overall, I believe all guests were pleased with the results, and also in general agreement about what worked well and what didn’t. As a whole, the group was not wild about either of the wines with the first two courses (both whites). That being said, most of us admitted that we just don’t feel capable of discerning complexities as much in a white wine as in a red. It didn’t help that, after the two disappointing whites, we all tasted an unbelievable red from Michigan: the Grand Traverse Gamay Noir (this was worth every penny and more of its $12 price tag… to me it tasted like a much more expensive bottle of wine). I dared pipe up that I thought it might rival the Silver Oak (which I’d had at our last fun food gathering with our host), but I was swiftly and gently put in my place. I personally was beginning to feel a bit discriminatory against white wine when we moved on to the Estrella Damm beer experiment. For those of you familiar with El Bulli — the restaurant in Spain that has won “top restaurant in the world” a record five times in the past seven years — it was their team of sommeliers and chefs who created “the world’s first beer specifically created to accompany food.” Upon first taste, it reminded me of a wheat beer, and I just wanted a squeeze of lemon. Or something. But then, we actually began eating the scallops with it, and the beer changed. We thought it was an excellent pairing — even our host, who wonders aloud at times whether they still make beer, enjoyed it.
When the Lafite Blanc was served, we moved on to another realm entirely. This was the wine that kept me believing in whites. The complexities here, we could all taste, and it was lovely. From there, back to two more exceptional reds (yes, The Oak was still a crowd-pleaser), and then to the reason we all came: the yquem. We were served a taste of the ’03, which we immediately noticed was paler in color than the ’94 we had enjoyed back in August (apparently, white wines become richer in color as they age). The taste revealed many of the same modifiers we discovered with the other vintage, but we were noticing a lack of earthiness as well. As we continued to sip and ponder, while also enjoying the delicious desserts, our host brought out a second bottle of yquem — a revisit to the ’94. He opened it, and we were able to instantaneously compare the two vintages. It is probably safe to say that this is something I will never do again in my life. Those of us who were still throwing out our opinions seemed to agree that we liked the musty earthiness of the older wine. Sort of like a blue cheese; there is something immediately slightly offensive about the taste of decay, but then as you drink you come to appreciate it for what it is, and relish the process that takes something that is rotting and turns it into something exquisite. It is metamorphosis of flavor, an altogether unique transformation.
As far as the food goes, it was — really — all so delicious. Even with most of us preparing foods we’d never worked with before (Kimberly attacked pork belly for the first time, with success; and Wolfy took a maiden voyage in the art of homemade pasta for his pumpkin ravioli), there were no duds. Not one. I think this is pretty amazing, considering the sheer volume of food. From our first taste of the sweet, creamy butternut squash soup to the last finger-lick of caramel sauce from our dessert plate, we consumed the month of October.
We enjoyed ourselves so much, we’ve tentatively planned to make the dinner a seasonal event. I’m sure the follow-through on this will be difficult, considering the number of lives that must find a way to align for one night; but I do hope it can happen in one form or fashion. I’ve found myself wondering, more than once, if all these lovely people who participated are stage actors hired by my husband to woo me into being utterly charmed with this city; but then I remember that it goes against my dear spouse’s nature to hire anyone for much of anything — he would rather pull an Eddie Murphy and play all the characters himself. Too good to be true? Doesn’t seem to be; we’re just here, counting our blessings.
A mighty thank you to our hosts — MB, the Lady of the House, and their team of All-Stars.