Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Dinner Party

I know my regular readers have been waiting with baited breath to hear about the dinner party.  After all, if you've spoken to me personally in the past month, you are probably just thankful you won't have to talk to me about it any more. Of course I'll be more than happy to relive every detail I can remember, but at least you won't have to hear me talk about the dishes, the planning, the worries about getting it all together.  Unless, that is, you want to hear about it all now...

Dinner Party with Food Therapy
As I mentioned in a 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
Preparing for the party was quite an undertaking.  The menu was sent to us a month in advance.  With each course, the chefs specified the exact type of dish the food should be served on.  Square bread and butter plates, 8-inch white pasta bowls (artisan, if possible), white dinner plates with no rim, and an 8-inch glass dessert bowl.  Do you know how hard it is to find an 8-inch glass bowl? Six inches? Yes.  Eight inches, not so easy.  However, I didn't want to disappoint the chefs, right? Honestly, they probably didn't care so much about the details, but I wanted everything to be perfect.  And, as Gary can attest, I demanded that everything be perfect.

Outside lit up...and, no, the hot tub was closed for the night.
My biggest issue was having a table set for eleven people.  Our dining room table wasn't big enough for eleven, even with an extension.  So, the situation was set for what has become "The Edmonds' Great Debate" (episode 5).  Gary suggested the solution was to put some of our guests at a separate table in the kitchen.  In return, I wisely pointed out the obvious in my not-so-calm shrill: "You've got to be kidding me? What, are you going to put our guests at a kiddie table? Because you do realize that's what it is.  And, who will get the honor of being sent to said kiddie table?"  So, suffice it to say, I added a small table at the end that had to be elevated with blocks.  It was covered by a table cloth, but the blocks were still exposed.  Now, I agree that it wasn't ideal and looked pretty cheesy, but what other option did I have?  Of course, Gary hated it and would not let up.

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, 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.

Oh, dear
Our first arrival was Angel Cervantes, head mixologist at Capella.  All smiles and warmth, Angel was a friendly presence that immediately put me at ease.  He went right to work setting up and multitasking by engaging our four-year-old, who wanted to talk to every person who entered the house.  Lucky for all concerned, we had plans for Logan to be transported away before the guests arrived.

Mike Isabella and Bryan Voltaggio cooking away

Mike Isabella and Bryan Voltaggio

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
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.

Mike Isabella and Bryan Voltaggio
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!
Dinner Party with Food Therapy
Some of the men

And, some of the ladies

Our first bites were passed around.  My favorite was the grilled lamb heart skewers.  I know...lamb heart! Trust me, I don't eat lamb to begin with, let alone hearts.  Yet, I had to try it on this occasion and I really couldn't help but enjoy the spicy bites matched with my ginger martini (my second martini of the night, yikes!).  Gary enjoyed the foie gras on crackers the most.  Having recently acquired a love for pate, this definitely hit the spot for him.

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.

The first course was created by Bryan.  Smoked beets with yellowin tuna, cured egg yolk, and tonnato.
Smoked Beets by Bryan Voltaggio
Smoked Beets
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 by Mike Isabella
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 by Mike Isabella
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.

Food Therapy with Mike Isabella
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.

Dinner Party with Food Therapy
Party's Over
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.