Thursday, January 15, 2009
Fantasy Dinner: Toast?
I'm sure I've mentioned my recurring fantasy before. Not the one about Prince Charming riding up on his horse and sweeping me off my feet. Not even the one from junior high that had Mr. Spock beaming down and carrying me away to the Enterprise where he'd cock his eyebrow and murmur "Fascinating!" in my ear. I've got my prince right here, and no horse poo to clean up. And I'm sure Spock's Vulcan half wouldn't be too crazy about cleaning out the dishwasher or picking up after the dogs.
No, this fantasy has to do with the seemingly endless chore of making dinner. In my fantasy, it magically appears on the doorstep, piping hot and delicious. Or someone rings the doorbell and announces, "We just dropped by to kidnap you and take you to dinner."
And then, the other evening, it happened. My friend Lindsey phoned to say that Donald Kotler, owner of the charming Toast in the Woodstock neighborhood, had called and said that someone canceled their reservations for a private dinner and would she and I like to take their places. Before she had finished saying the guest chefs were Jameson Maspaitella of The Farm Café and Jason Tom from a Cena, I was knocking on her front door.
We arrived just in time to sit down at what were now our places (thank you, whoever you were!) to a tiny liqueur cup of piping hot apple, celery root and fennel soup (left, above) and a glass of the butteriest pinot gris I've ever tasted. The pureed soup was smooth and comforting, and the smallest sprinkle of bacon crumbles added a nice crunch. The gris, from Mt. Baker Vineyards, was the chilled counterpoint to this course and the next, a trio of spreads (an olive tapenade, a baba ganoush and a trout rillette) with a sweet-and-sour pickled fennel compote (right) served with cracker-like flatbread shards.
Next up was a small endive and mache salad (left) dressed with a refreshing yogurt vinaigrette and garnished with segments of tangerine, pink grapefruit and a shower of candied walnuts. Having dispensed with the last of the pinot gris, an '03 Ridge Crest Syrah was poured with the raclette cheese melted over roasted root vegetables. It was also the choice for the pasta course of handmade pappardelle with braised lamb shank, cipollini, shaved brussels sprouts and little chunks of chevre (right, below).
And, yes, I was feeling like this fantasy dinner was working out pretty darn well to this point and no one had better try to wake me up just yet. This was a standout, with the pasta perfectly al dente and the shanks fall-apart tender.
I was ready to call it a night, knowing there was probably a dessert yet to come, when Donald started carrying out platters of sliced, roasted pork loin on a bed of sautéed kale along with sauce boats of bernaise (left), a totally, insanely delicious capper to an already over-the-top dinner.
When the dessert, a blessedly petite vanilla panna cotta with blood orange marmalade, a fennel seed and sea salt shortbread cookie and a shot of madeira (top), were brought out I was practically comatose from the incredible combination of amazing flavors. But a cup of coffee made it possible to rise from my seat and make my way home, this particular fantasy having been a very real treat.