After the amazing dinner I experienced during the first Dinner In The Dark in October, I was greatly looking forward to November's outing. Not only was it an almost completely new line-up of chefs, but the venue had been changed from Verve (which has sadly closed since the dinner in October) to AMP 150 located at the Cleveland Hopkins Marriott on West 150th Street. Since Verve was only open for breakfast and lunch, we had use of the entire restaurant for the first dinner. In contrast, AMP 150 serves dinner and I was curious to see how they would fit our large crowd plus the regular restaurant patrons all in the same space.
In addition to the location change, the time for the dinner was also moved up by thirty minutes to 6:30 PM. This actually suited me much better since I was traveling from Akron to attend and consequently, I hoped I would be able to return home at a more reasonable hour (it was a school night after all). I arrived around 6:00 PM and after checking in with the reception stand, I was told that seating wouldn't open up until exactly 6:30 PM and I was free to sit in the lounge and have a pre-dinner cocktail if I desired.
It wasn't long before my other dining companions showed up (there were supposed to be ten of us in total) and before I knew it, the appointed time had come and we were helpfully shown to a large table positioned outside of the private dining room. I hadn't realized how spacious the entire dining room at AMP 150 actually was until I considered that the private dining room in use tonight easily sat half the number of guests participating in this second dinner.
After seating myself, I began the evening by taking photographs of both sides of the lone piece of cardstock placed at each diner's position at the table:
Similar to the last dinner, one side contained tonight's "menu" while the other detailed the Dinner In The Dark's mission as well as announced the beneficiary for tonight's charitable contributions, the Grace & Lucy Rothgery Fund. Apparently, Grace and Lucy were small children in a local Cleveland family where the father, in a less-than-stable state of mind, shot his wife and then committed suicide, thus rendering the children instant orphans. Besides the obvious tragedy of their story, it was also nice to know that we would be helping out these local Cleveland girls.
As with the first event, dinner began with a cocktail, this time a Pear Buck from Joseph DeLuca:
Comprised of Grey Goose La Poire (pear) vodka, ginger infused simple syrup and lime, this was a delightfully refreshing way to start the festivities. I had thought that the ginger and lime flavors might overpower the pear, but it was a delightfully balanced cocktail and served to stimulate my appetite for what was to come.
Our first plated course soon came out from the kitchen, an amuse bouche:
This was a seafood sausage with Japanese togarashi, soy pudding, cilantro "caviar," and a dehydrated carrot chip to garnish. While the dish initially had a slightly fishy odor, the flavor was anything but. The slight sweetness from the seafood sausage, coupled with the herbaceousness of the cilantro and the salty soy pudding made this a quite tasty way to start off the meal. The togarashi added just a touch of spicy heat to the dish.
Our first course came to us courtesy of Pamela Waterman of Duet Catering and was served with a Terlano Classico, Alto Adige, Italy:
This was a Caribbean jerk-rubbed grilled octopus salad with papaya, mango, and avocado in a jalapeño smoked paprika sauce and orange sauce. The flavors were amazingly complex and the spice was just at the right level to be interesting but not overpowering. At first we thought that the mango might be cantaloupe, but after Chef Waterman came out and explained the dish to us, the mystery flavor seemed to lock itself better in my brain. The octopus, which is a notoriously hard type of seafood to cook correctly, was firm without being rubbery.
Our second course was presented by Chef Mike Nowak of Bar Cento and was served with a Bouchard, Bourgogne Rouge, Burgandy, France:
Chef Nowak served an item that has made a regular appearance on his daily specials menu, a smoked and braised pork roulade that had been breaded and deep fried and served with a remoulade made with capers, pickles, anchovies, and celeriac. The pork in this dish was made entirely with the pig's head. While one might think that a fatty remoulade sauce might not pair well with a fried item such as the roulade, the acidity and saltiness of the remoulade's ingredients worked well to cut the richness of the pork. While this was a well-balanced and tasty dish, some people might have some reservations with the fairly big pieces of completely tender pork fat that seemed to occupy portions of this croquette.
The third course of the evening came from Chef Brian Doyle of World's Fare Culinary Services and was served with a Anne Aimee, Muller Thurgau, Willamette Valley Oregon:
He playfully called this a Menage a Trois de Canard, or in layman's terms, a trio of duck/goose. On the plate were three tastes involving duck and/or goose in some fashion. At the bottom left were red corn kernels from Covered Bridge that had been popped in duck fat and tossed with truffled salt. At the top of the plate was a small tossed salad that had been studded with small duck skin cracklins. And to the bottom right was a duck rillette croquette that had been flavored with cinnamon and allspice and perched atop fresh pomegranate seeds. Each taste was unique and different and yet the duck tied them all together quite nicely. After the octopus salad from our first course, this was probably my second favorite course.
As was the case with the last dinner, we were now presented with an intermezzo to help cleanse our palates and prepare us for the remaining three courses. Chef Adam Bostwick from Melange presented us with this surprising treat:
This was a grapefruit and fresh thyme gum drop. It sounded a little unusual to us when the chef was describing it and unusual it was! By far, this was the most flavorful single bite of food I ate tonight. The tartness from the grapefruit combined with the earthiness of the fresh thyme were a complete surprise to all of us at the table and the common sentiment was that we could easily scarf down another plate of these marvelous gelatin-based candies. While one would normally expect something like sorbet as an intermezzo, these performed their magic perfectly, too.
Our tasty mid-meal treat complete, we continued on our journey with Chef Derek Clayton from Lola Bistro and a Monmouseau, Sparkling Brute Rose, Loire, France:
Chef Clayton presented us with a trio of heavily seared scallops in a dashi broth with scallion, daikon, carrot threads and fresh shiso which had been dressed in a yuzu vinaigrette and sat atop a combination of matsutake and shiitake mushrooms. Whew! That was a mouthful. And what a mouthful it was, too. Shiso, a Japanese herb related to mint, has such a unique flavor that once you have had it, you will always know when it is in a dish ... kind of like cilantro. The scallops were tender and juicy on the inside and really the only complaint most people had of this dish was that there was simply too much of it. While some at my table only ate one of the three scallops, I greedily scarfed them all down.
Our final savory course of the evening was from Chef Karen Small of Flying Fig and was paired with a Luis Canas Rioja Crianza, Spain:
This was an Ohio-raised goat that had been slow-braised and flavored with both ancho and guajillo chiles, fennel and cumin and served over French lentils and long grained saffron rice. The plate had then been dusted with a bit of paprika for presentation. While the flavors on the plate were well balanced and the seasoning was good, this course didn't really do a lot for me. The goat, which had none of the gaminess that I've experienced in the past with this cut of meat, just didn't grab my taste buds the way that Chef Jarrett's chocolate braised beef short ribs did at the last meal. It wasn't bad, it just wasn't great.
The savory potion of our meal now complete, Chef Adam Bostwick again appeared and delivered our final course, dessert:
Chef Bostwick presented us with a jalapeño corn bread, lone scoop of ice cream made from Ohio corn, bacon brittle and caramel sauce with a single blackberry for garnish. I give the chef much in the way of creativity for blending savory and sweet. The entire dish had a restrained sweetness which I really enjoyed and the tiny bit of heat from the chile in the cornbread was a clever way of integrating an additional layer of flavor.
Accompanying the dessert was our final pairing of the evening, an Old Fashioned made with a bacon-infused bourbon:
With the addition of orange and maple flavors, this was an interesting twist on an old classic and it actually paired well with the dessert that Chef Bostwick had presented to us. Mercifully, Joe DeLuca had given us only a small pour of this tasty beverage, considering we had enjoyed a pre-dinner cocktail and five additional wine pours throughout the evening.
I received a bit of surprised when the check came. The original Dinner In The Dark had been $50 per person and I had thought that this was the price for all of the dinners. I was wrong. Tonight's dinner was $65 per person. While I still think that this was a worthwhile cause to which I didn't mind contributing, it would be helpful if the Facebook page for the Dinner In The Dark group clearly listed the price for the dinner so that it won't be a surprise to diners who plan on attending future dinners.
While there were a few high points during this second dinner, overall I wasn't as impressed as I was with the first one. That being said, these dinners are a chance to try out the talents of Cleveland's best chefs and as each dinner benefits a local organization or fund, I definitely see it as a way to give back to the community on several levels. I am excited about attending the third Dinner In The Dark, again at AMP 150 on Monday, December 13th at 6:30 PM. If you'd like to join the festivities, call the restaurant at 216-706-8726 and make your reservations now.