Aug 26, 2011
09:31 AMCafé Connecticut
A "Grand" Evening at the Food & Wine Festival
My first and most influential consumptions took place in the Elm City in the 19th century duplex my grandfather and great aunt shared on Alden Avenue in the Westville neighborhood. In that warm and inviting house, I savored the delicious, if predictable, Italian American staples of antipasta, manicotti, stuffed artichokes and anginettes.
This past Wednesday night I attended the "Grand Tasting" at New Haven's fourth annual Food and Wine Festival, just blocks away from the house on Alden Avenue. The food I ate there couldn't have been more different than the food I ate as a child.
The evening was beautiful and the weather was sublime: a sky dappled with pink and orange clouds and a cool breeze that hinted at autumn. The historic Yale Bowl stood grandly next to the modern structures that comprise the New Haven Open.
In an unassuming tent, twenty of New Haven's finest restaurants each offered a savory and sweet dish, while other participants provided wine and spirits to accompany the food. My very first taste of the evening was at 116 Crown. Garnished with a slice of fresh chive, Chef Mike Denisiewicz's homemade birch sausage had a thin skin and a nice mild flavor - it lay atop a heap of bright and tart sauerkraut. Bold flavors to ignite my taste buds.
Not only does Heirloom make an irresistible cocktail (as they did at The Faith Middleton Food Schmooze Martini Competition), their food is distinctive, and made with the finest Connecticut ingredients. For his savory dish, Chef Carey Savona blended Royal Red shrimp from Stonington, pimento, lime, cheddar and crème fraiche and served on toasted slice of pumpernickel baguette. The orange spread was marked in particular by the unique sweet taste of the brightly colored Royal Red shrimp.
But the star of Heirloom's table, and one I discreetly returned to try several times throughout the course of the evening, was Chef Savona's Butter and Sugar Corn Doughnut. The small sphere was freshly fried and warm from the oil, beautifully crusted with lime sugar and salt, and carelessly garnished with delicate shavings of lime zest. The crusty exterior dough tasted unmistakably of the sweet corn. Biting into it, the cool and creamy interior of rich ricotta and sweet white chocolate burst forth in a lovely mess. The first time I tried it, it dripped. The second and third times I knew enough to place the whole glorious fritter into my mouth.
Next, a simple dish. Chef Francesco d’Amuri of L'Orcio boiled his ricotta gnocchi before our eyes, lifted it from the cooking pot and delivered it fresh and perfectly-cooked to small bowls. The pesto that topped it was well done--rich with the flavor of fresh basil, great quality olive oil and nutty pignolis.
I don't know that I ever want an intimate cheese talk with anyone else other than Caseus owner (and new father!) Jason Sobocinski. I tasted several memorable offerings from Jason's table including a Twig Farm Tomme and Colston-Bassett Stilton. But the most memorable aspect of the visit was the passionate way in which Jason discussed the cheese we tasted. We spoke about the effects not only of "terroir" on the taste of cheese, but the mysterious influences that can beget exquisite cheese--the way, for instance, the goats of a herd are treated and spoken to. This is a man who loves the story of food. And for me, stories make food taste even better.
My last savory dish of the evening was a sensational offering from Chef Prasad Chirnomula of Thali and Oaxaca Kitchen.
His brittle poori shell, made from flour, semolina and soda water, had a brittle and almost effervescent quality. Sprinkled with crispy wisps of thin split pea noodles, the rounded shell gently cupped the soft mixture cradled within. Prasad insisted I eat it in a single swallow, so I summoned my "dive bar" self, tipped my head back and happily obliged. A satisfying crunch, and an interior filling of complex taste and gentle heat: chickpeas, potato, sesame seed, garlic, finely chopped shallots, mint, green chili, cilantro, dry mango powder, mint chutney, tamarind chutney and sweet yogurt. Mmmmm . . .
And finally, the only way to end an account of the Grand Tasting. At the very final table I visited, Chef Chirnomula's dessert: Chai Pot de Crème. It was presented in the most lovely and elegant manner, nestled in a serving dish that seemed to be made just for this purpose. The crème itself was delicately wrapped in a thin bamboo cone, with a tiny clear spoon expectedly dipped inside. A plump chilled blueberry balanced on the surface. The reward? A light cream, rich and succulent, with intricate hints of saffron, warm cardamom, spicy ginger, and the slight delicate aroma of Darjeeling tea leaves. Velvety. Sublime. Sexy. If you want a woman to fall in love with you feed this to her with a spoon turned upside down. Slowly. And look into her eyes. Deeply. I promise you it will work.
It was a magnificent night spent indulging in small taste offerings from the large talents of a grand city. My city. How lucky I am that the boundaries of my New Haven culinary experience have expanded beyond Alden Avenue, where I first learned to love food.
To see Jocelyn's blog, go to foodiefatale.com.
A "Grand" Evening at the Food & Wine Festival