I've really begun looking forward to the monthly Dinner In The Dark series. The first two months, the chefs took us on amazing gastronomic journeys. Sadly, I had to miss the dinner in December due to the atrocious conditions of the roads. I'll drive far for good food, but not when I risk getting into an accident. Fortunately, when it came time for the January dinner on the 17th, the roads were clear, our stomachs were empty and our palates eager for stimulation.
This time around, the event was to take place at Jeff Jarrett's new restaurant, Palate Restaurant and Lounge in Strongsville. Joining Chef Jarrett this time around were some familiar faces as well as some new blood. My companion and I arrived about fifteen minutes before the scheduled start of the event and found our way to our as of yet unoccupied table for eight. As we waited for the others to arrive, I took a snapshot of tonight's menu:
As always, the Dinner In The Dark events benefit a local charity. In tonight's case, it was an organization close to the Jarretts' hearts, the Cleveland Sight Center. The CSC was the location of a fundraiser called Cleveland Chefs Cook For Jewel, a gathering to help raise the funds required to bring one of the Jarrett's newest sight-impaired daughters back from a Chinese orphanage. The CSC is doing absolutely fantastic work in delivering services to Cleveland's sight-impaired folks as well as educating those of us without sight problems as to the needs of those who do.
On the opposite side of this page was the somewhat cryptic menu:
As opposed to the first dinner, courses had been described by simple pictures. Some were easy to decipher, others, not so much. I guess we would just have be adventurous and try whatever was put in front of us!
While we waited for the rest to arrive, Joe DeLuca from Apothecary served us up a tasty pre-dinner cocktail called "A rose by any other name...":
Consisting of Four Roses single barrel bourbon, a pinot noir syrup, rose water, and just a touch of bitters, this was a delicious way to whet our appetites for what was to come. It was expertly mixed and blended and each flavor component was present without dominating the others.
Chef Adam Bostwick from Melange, no stranger to these dinners, presented us with our amuse bouche, a Caramelized Onion and Fig Tartlet with Crispy Sweetbreads and Blue Cheese Ice Cream:
It was a mouthful to say and an even better mouthful to eat! The shortbread crust was incredibly tender and simply melted in my mouth. The play of salty, sweet, crispy and soft all worked so well together. The flavors were definitely strong and while I don't think I'd want to eat a large portion of this, as a one bite starter, it worked incredibly well.
The first course, a Wild Mushroom Bread Pudding with Herb Smoked Onions and Truffle Oil, was presented by Palate's own Chef Jarrett. It was accompanied by a Boffa Dolcetto D'Alba from Piedmont:
As this was being placed in front of me, the heady aroma from the truffle oil filled my nostrils with anticipation. As Jeff has done in the past, he played with textures and flavors that both competed with and complemented each other. The fresh sorrel on top gave the finished dish a herbaceous note to match the already earthy one from the mushrooms. This was a mushroom masterpiece and if the fungus appeals to you in general, you would have loved this. I know I certainly did. Fortunately for all of you gentle readers out there, this dish also appears on Palate's current menu, so you can try it out for yourself.
For our second course, Chef Matt Mathlage from Light Bistro decided that instead of pairing a wine with his course, he picked beer instead:
This was a Menabrea Bionda Biera from Piedmont and paired remarkably well with the dish it accompanied, a Mini Reuben with 14 Day Cured Apple Kimchee:
Of course, it wouldn't be Dinner In The Dark if there wasn't some playful twist on the classic Reuben. Tonight's version had been made with calf tongue and had I not known what the cut was, I would've assumed it was corned beef. The sauerkraut had been cured for seven days using Napa cabbage and the kimchee cured for fourteen days and made with a ninety day vinegar. The results were stunning. The Reuben, for all intents and purposes, ate like a really great sandwich. The kimchee acted all the part of a great side with notes of acidity, spice, salt, and sweet.
Our taste buds fully awake and firing now, Chef Steve Schimoler from Crop Bistro decided to give us a Roasted Beet Salad with Pistachio Crusted Blue and Goat Cheese Crotin, Blood Orange Vinaigrette, and Blood Orange Gelee. He paired this with a Joe Dobbs Jovino Pinot Noir from Oregon:
Made from local Ohio red and yellow beets that had been perfectly roasted to bring out their sweetness, the blood orange vinaigrette and gelee added a bright acidity to help cut through that very sweetness to balance the flavor out. The saltiness from the Blue/Goat cheese combination added just the right amount of "tang" to give the salad another dimension of flavor. As a final touch of flavor and color, Chef Schimoler added an herb-infused oil to dress the plate. Even with the heaviness from the cheese, there was something very refreshing and light about the flavor of this salad.
The fourth course, a Brown Butter Poached Arctic Char with Crisp Aromatic Salad, Smoked Corn and Truffle Risotto, and Basil Sauce, was courtesy of Matt Mytro from StoveMonkeys. This was paired with a Demetria Chardonnay from Santa Barbara:
Words can hardly do this picture justice. The arctic char was cooked perfectly, seared crispy on the outside while the interior flesh was moist and tender. The smoke on the corn added such a unique flavor to the risotto and while it might not have passed recent Top Chef critiquing, it was certainly a delicious version to this taster. The salad that dressed the fish consisted of thinly sliced red onion and fennel mixed with a bit of arugula, which gave it a spicy, anise-flavored kick. Of course, what plate of food wouldn't be complete with a great sauce? The basil sauce delivered its herbaceous kick with serious aplomb. I was worried that the basil flavor might overpower the rest of the dish, but it complemented the other flavors nicely.
It was at this point in our meal that the palate cleansing intermezzo made its appearance. Delivered to us from Ray Garman from Melange, it consisted of a rock hard frozen kiwi slice that had been topped off with an orange granita and a sliver of basil:
When I say that the kiwi was rock hard, I really mean it. Several at my table tried to cut it without success. In the end, the only way to eat it was to simply pick up the entire slice and quickly pop it into your mouth. The flavors were great, but for those of us susceptible to "brain freeze," this was a bit of a nightmare. In the end, this "in the middle" course did its job and we were primed to receive the last two courses.
Our final savory course, a Spicy Espresso Rubbed Petite Veal Striploin Steak with Jalapeno Risotto Croquettes and Haricot Vert, was served by US Foodservice veteran Chris Quinn:
This dish was accompanied by a glass of Sineann Red Table Wine from Oregon. The croquettes very much reminded me of arancini and the spice from the jalapeños was present, but definitely not overwhelming. While the steak had been spice rubbed before grilling, it had also been dressed with an almost mole-like sauce and had hints of dark chocolate or cocoa. In a surprising twist, the chef informed us upon delivering the dish that the plated sauce was a Dr. Pepper and veal demi-glace reduction. It was interesting to see how Chris had incorporated these well-known tastes into a more refined rendition. I should also mention that the steak was melt-in-your-mouth tender while the haricot vert were nicely crispy-tender.
With the savory portion of the evening finished, we finally arrived at our final course of the evening, Caramelized Local Apples, Lucky Penny Goat Cheese, and Black Walnut Granola. This had been paired with a Monmousseau Vonvray from Loire Valley in France:
Delivered by Chef Matt Anderson from Umami (not to be confused with the food truck Umami Moto), he had also incorporated five spice powder and sorghum to create this sweet, but not too sweet finish to our meal tonight. A tiny bit of caramel sauce had also been drizzled on top of the combination to add a touch of cooked sugar savoriness to the dish. Having just eaten an amuse bouche, five courses, and an intermezzo, this was a light way to finish. The apples were tender but also retained a bit of crunch and the granola contrasted well to the softness and delicateness of the Lucky Penny chevre.
Tonight's dinner, with tip and tax, had essentially come out to $80 per person. While I will agree that this is a bit expensive, considering that this was a wine-paired dinner, proceeds were benefiting a local charity, AND an amazing meal cooked by some of the leading Cleveland chefs, I think it was definitely worth the price of admission. The next Dinner In The Dark is being held at Melange restaurant in Beachwood on Monday, February 21st at 7 p.m. Reservations are required as is an adventurous nature when it comes to eating a menu over which you have no control. But then again, that is part of the fun when it comes to participating in these dinners. I plan to be there and I hope to see you there, too!