It is time, once again, for the next monthly installment of the Dinner In The Dark series, this time held in Tremont at Bistro on Lincoln Park. This was only the second time since the series of charity dinners began back in October 2010 that the event was held at a restaurant location other than one owned and operated by one of the founding three chefs, Brian Okin, Ellis Cooley, and Jeff Jarrett. This was also the first dinner to employ the new method of reserving a spot at the table using EventBrite. Whereas before, the dinner was more akin to a typical restaurant dining experience since you paid at the end of the meal, starting with this dinner and continuing forward, you instead pay for a "ticket" in order to reserve a spot at an upcoming one.
Bistro on Lincoln Park was located at 2391 West 11th Street, Cleveland, Ohio 44113 and can be reached at 216-862-2969. Parking was essentially wherever you could find it, and my carmate and I managed to snag a spot just a couple of hundred feet from the entrance to Bistro on West 11th. Once inside, we joined our epicurean compatriots and the six of us settled into our front dining room table and waited for the festivities to begin.
While we waited, I took my usual snapshots of both the front of the menu as well as the back:
As usual, each of the Dinner In The Dark events benefited a local charity. In tonight's case, it was a combination of the Tremont Farmer's Market as well as the Urban Community School. While I don't know much about the Urban Community School, I do know that there are some fantastic vendors selling their wares at the Tremont Farmer's Market (such as Humble Pie Baking Company and Posh Pierogies, just to name a few) every Tuesday from 4:00 PM - 7:00 PM.
A little bit before 7 PM, this marvelous cocktail, the Spring Blossom, was delivered to each diner at our table:
Comprised of gin, St. Germaine, and fresh lemon juice, this was incredibly light and very refreshing. For some reason, "Easter" popped into my head and the only thing I could come up with was a correlation of the floral notes from the St. Germaine and the smells and tastes growing up during Easter in my house. Strange, but there it is.
As with all of the DITD meals, it was to be a six-course wine paired dinner with two extra courses thrown in, and we started out with Bistro's own Cory Hess serving us an imaginative amuse bouche:
This was a vanilla scented macaroon filled with a foie gras buttercream and rolled in poppy seeds. Some of us at the table may have questioned the execution of the macaroons, but no one uttered a single negative thing about the luscious foie gras buttercream that filled the two halves. The poppy seeds added an interesting crunch that offset the creaminess of the buttercream and the softness of the macaroon.
Our first course of the evening was presented to us from Chef Michael Nowak from Bar Cento and was a Wild Mushroom Vol-au-Vent with Fennel Puree and Parsley and was paired with a Domaine Aime Cabernet Franc:
This was tender and flaky and the five types of mushrooms used added an amazing earthiness to the dish. The fennel puree had notes of anise which acted in a supporting role to really make this dish superb. Chef Nowak also has a Vol-au-Vent dish on his own menu at Bar Cento and this was a definite riff off of that.
Our second course was brought to us by the Plucky Cluck Restoration Society's own Jeremy Esterly and Mike Schoen and was a dill pickle brined quail, heirloom fingerling potato salad with a warm bourbon vinaigrette, bread and butter green tomatoes, and micro kale. This was paired with a Yali Wetlands Merlot Rose:
Not to steal from the Colonel, but this was "finger lickin' good." The quail was incredibly juicy, the potato salad nicely dressed, but the real showstopper on this plate was the bread and butter pickled green tomato. The interplay between sweet, sour, and crunch was magnificent and I think once Plucky Cluck gets settled into their permanent home, this ought to be on their menu year round if possible. It was simply that good.
Our final course of the first half of the meal was provided by AMP 150's Chef Ellis Cooley and was paired with a last minute wine substitution from Lamb Valley, Oregon:
At Dinner In The Dark, the organizers encourage chefs to play with their courses and make them unique. Chef Cooley delivered exponentially tonight by serving up ... are you ready for this? Marinated hamachi in soy balsamic, olive oil and chili; red cabbage kimchee puree emulsion on yellow beets and olive oil; pea sprout juice, salty mushroom pudding, and lemon aioli; edible flowers, micro chervil, toasted rice pearls, baby greens, beet paper, sweet pickles, Wakami Jelly, and Finnan Haddie Foam. Holy crap, the description alone needed an entire paragraph! While I can confidently say that this has been the most adventurous dish I've ever been served at a DITD, what really mattered was how it tasted.
Part of the adventure of eating such a dish is that the experience is different for every diner because of the way you combine different elements on the plate. Personally, I like to play with my food (a nod to Nancy's excellent food blog) and this dish was perfectly suited for this task. Would I want all six courses to be like this? No, but I think one like this every once in a while keeps things fresh and diners on their toes.
Cory Hess again delivered during the intermezzo course with an interesting Prickly Pear Sorbet and Coconut Foam with several crystals of Black Cypress Sea Salt:
While prickly pear juice wasn't an everyday flavor to the diners at the table, when we were finally told what it was, lots of head nodding happened. However, NONE of us would have guessed at the coconut foam. The sea salt acted in the same way it did in something like salted caramel, adding slight notes of savory to compliment the sweet. The sorbet did a great job at cleansing our palates.
The first course of the second half of the menu began with Bistro on Lincoln Park's own executive chef, Pete Joyce, presenting a salmon and asparagus dish paired with Wine By Joe Jovino Pinot Noir:
This was a farm-raised poached Canadian salmon with blanched white asparagus, vanilla brown butter vinaigrette, sweet and sour red peppers, shaved sweet onion, grains of paradise, caramelized grapefruit, grains of paradise and shaved white chocolate. First, the highlights of this dish. The agrodolce treatment of the red peppers were a welcome and delectable touch on the plate. The vanilla brown butter vinaigrette and white chocolate on the white asparagus were an unusual, but interestingly complementary pairing. While the salmon at first appeared to be cooked perfectly medium rare, once you got into the piece, it was closer to rare/raw than medium-rare. Sadly, this was the case not just with my portion, but almost everyone at the table.
The fifth course of tonight's meal, and the last savory one, was presented by Chef Aaron Guzik of L'albatros Brasserie and was a Braised Brisket over Celeriac Polenta with Kale and Roasted Beets and was paired with a Wirra Wirra Catapult Shiraz Viognier:
Sauced with a mushroom jus and topped with kale micro-greens, this was definitely a hearty way to finish up the savory courses for tonight's meal. The celeriac polenta was smooth and dense and the roasted beets added a wonderful sweetness to the dish. It was also nice to see kale represented two ways, both braised as well as a garnish. The only real downside was the brisket. While brisket is normally cooked for hours on end to make it fall apart tender, which tonight's version was, it was also dried out. All of us at our table had high hopes for this dish and for the most part, it worked.
Not to be outdone, Chef Heather Haviland, from Lucky's Cafe, delivered a final course that knocked all of our collective socks off, a 30 layer crepe torte with chocolate butter-creme, cashews, salted caramel butter-creme and chocolate ganache butter-creme:
This was served with a Montaribaldi Birbet. The layers of ultra-thin crepes were filled with utterly delicious and very delicately sweetened smooth and creamy buttercream flavors. After all of those heavy savory courses, it would have been all too easy to over-sweeten this, but I think the remarkableness of this dish was how well balanced it was. It really reminded me of authentic European pastries I've had in the past that had a similar restraint to them. This was a fantastic way to wrap up the meal and even with how full I had been after the fifth course, I had no problem putting away the entire thing.
The courses now complete, all of tonight's chefs came out for a well-deserved round of applause:
There were some prizes to be auctioned off, but my carmate and I needed to return to Akron and since the dinner was pre-paid, there was no need to stick around and wait for checks to be doled out. The next Dinner In The Dark is this coming Monday, April 18th, at Palate Restaurant and Lounge in Strongsville and I strongly encourage you to attend if you are willing to be a bit adventurous and leave the dinner completely up to the chefs. My experience has been that sometimes some of the dishes can be slightly off from time to time, but when a dish is spot on, like at least several have been every time, it is pure magic in your mouth.
To purchase tickets for the next Dinner In The Dark, visit their EventBrite site. Dinner is $65 per person, but once you factor in tip, tax, and the EventBrite fee (think of it like the TicketMaster convenience fee), it comes closer to $86 per person. While this may seem a bit high, remember that these dinners are not lining the pockets of the chefs cooking the dinner, but local charities that can use the community support. I know that I'll be there and I hope to see you, too.
I'm still dreaming of that bread and butter pickled green tomato.