past post, my wonderful husband, Gary, has long passed his days of giving blue ear muffs and VCR tapes for gifts. At last, he gave me the gift only I could have completely wished for: a dinner party. And, not just any dinner party but one prepared by Mike Isabella and Bryan Voltaggio of Top Chef fame, not to mention a string of restaurants right in the DC Metro area.
|Table is set|
|Outside lit up...and, no, the hot tub was closed for the night.|
We went back and forth and finally agreed to let the chefs decide. Lucky for me, they thought it looked fine and was doable. Maybe they just took one look at my face and were scared to disagree with me at the eleventh hour. Either way, it worked and no tables were knocked off their blocks. Thank God for that because, otherwise, I'd still be hearing about it from my dear and so understanding husband.
With the yard spruced up, flowers planted, the house clean, nails and hair done, children sufficiently threatened not...to...touch...a...thing, we were finally ready for the big day. I am not ashamed to say I was a nervous wreck. I don't think the chefs had any idea how anxious I was to meet them and have them in our home. And, now the day had arrived.
|Mike Isabella and Bryan Voltaggio cooking away|
The sous chefs arrived soon after. They quickly surveyed the kitchen to plan their setup and to see what we already had. I, of course, had to apologize for the small space but was assured that they could work in any space. And, I guess that is the point of Top Chef, right? However, I certainly didn't want my kitchen to go down as one of the challenge rounds on the show. Needless to say, they ended up multitasking, too,entertaining that same four-year-old by practicing soccer moves with him. At this point, I am thinking it is time for him to go.
|Smoked Apple Martini with Bacon Twist|
Mike and Bryan arrived about thirty minutes before our guests. It was just enough time to change, grab an apple and smoked gin martini with bacon (yes, I did say bacon) prepared by Angel, and to sit and chat with the both chefs. Having never met Mike and Bryan in person, I felt like my tv had been moved and placed right in my living room. They looked and acted exactly the same as on tv.
Bryan is quiet and a little more reserved, while Mike is always smiling and laughing. We didn't even talk much about food or restaurants. And, of course, the next day I was kicking myself wishing I could pick their brains or get their opinions on restaurants and different chefs, not to mention ask who the biggest jerk is on Top Chef. However, it's probably a good thing because I'm sure they get tired of answering questions about the shows.
|Chefs hard at work|
As our guests began to arrive, the chefs headed to the kitchen and we took it outside. The weather was incredible with no humidity or mosquitoes to bite us. A miracle in the middle of August for these parts!
|Some of the men|
|And, some of the ladies|
|Hanging out with friends|
By the time we sat down to dinner, we all had a few drinks under our belts and dresses. Needless to say, the laughter and chatter was loud, and we were up for more poses and ready to see what these chefs had prepared.
|Our menu...Gary insisted on using a flash. Now, you see why you don't use a flash.|
Tonnato is a creamy sauce made with tuna and lemon. The incredible part of this dish was the beets. They were infused with tuna and had a chewy texture with a smoky flavor, giving the beets the flavor and feel of sashimi. I dipped mine repeatedly in the creamy tonnato, and I can only say I was sad to see my first plate empty.
Our second course was prepared by Mike, and it happened to be my favorite of the night.
Bucatini pasta made with maitake ash, uni, yellow tomato, and purslane. Maitake is, of course, a mushroom, giving the pasta an earthy taste. Uni is the edible part of a sea urchin, commonly prepared with sushi. The presentation was beautiful, in my opinion, but as one of my guests noticed it looked like a bowl full of worms. This was no concern to me. I loved the way the colors looked in my white artisan bowl (hah!). Plus, the promise of an earthy mushroom flavor mixed into thick and chewy noodles was complete perfection. I know, come the cold winter days that are not far off, I will be thinking of this satisfying bowl of pasta. Give me a creamy Chardonnay like we were served with the dish, and now we are talking!
The third dish was prepared by Bryan and seemed to be a favorite among our guests. Lamb neck with charred yogurt, meyer lemon, and a fava bean puree. Yes, first lamb's heart and now the neck. Yet, have you ever had lamb's neck? Well, me neither. Honestly, though, it was delicious and tender with a hidden sweetness in the rich lamb meat. Paired with the sweet citrus taste of the Meyer lemon and the tangy yogurt, it was a very well-rounded plate that filled the mouth with so many perfectly paired flavors.
|Milk Chocolate Cremeux|
Dessert was prepared by Mike. I was surprised at first when watching Top Chef how many chefs are intimidated by dessert. Desserts are for pastry chefs, but I guess I just assumed if you love to cook that means all things. Mike did not fail us, however, in his choice of dessert. He prepared a milk chocolate cremeux with tangerine yuzu, chestnuts, and pistachio-sesame tuile. Cremeux is similar to a chocolate custard made with cream, milk, sugar, and eggs for its base. This warm mixture is then poured over chocolate, which then melts, and is chilled. Mike added the yuzu flavor, which paired nicely with the milk chocolate, of course. The chestnuts and pistachio-sesame tuile added the perfect crunch to the creamy concoction. To polish it off (and us), we were served a sweet dessert wine that officially sent me over the edge.
|Mike and Me|
The chefs ended the night by posing for yet a few more pictures and signing my cookbooks. They very quickly cleaned up and departed in a blur. Mike had to go back to work after all of this at Kapnos, and Bryan was flying to LA for a food festival. Knowing how busy their lives are, it meant so much to me to have them come for one evening into our little abode.
The night ended with some very happy folks, full of drinks and good food. A small group, including the lovely Angel, hung around the fire pit until the wee morning hours. Cigar smoke and loud voices filled the night air. I smartly chose to switch to water.
Satisfied and relieved it went smoothly, I slept like a baby. And, then I woke up to talk about it some more the next morning, not to mention get to work on cleaning all of those empty wine glasses.
And, with the party complete and kids back in school, it's time to post all of the many recipes I've been cooking. Stay tuned.