Monday, April 28, 2008

Wrap: 2008 Chef's Alliance Dinner

Reports are starting to trickle in from all quarters on a number of events this weekend. I, for one, can say the 4th annual Chef's Alliance dinner was terrific. Seeing these chef's working together?! What a treat! Courses were a little slow coming out, but once plates were done, they were on tables in a flash. We asked for bread at our table since we're all sauce soppers and a couple were *that* good. But the real treat was getting to meet all the wives, girlfriends, husbands, and friends of the chefs afterwards. Getting to see these professionals shed their chef's coats and relax was one of the best parts of the evening.

The stars of the show? Dave Tallent's Duo of Indiana Rabbit with a "ragout" of spring peas and a violet-mustard jus. It takes skill to make forcemeat like Dave Tallent -- and this dish of rabbit prepared two ways was a perfect plate. (And paired with a rich and earthy Louis Jadot Moulin a Vent "Chateau des Jacques", oh, so good.) Karl Benko's Scotch cured and tea smoked salmon with Brown County onions, cucumber served on a spring asparagus "soup" was so richly wonderful. He cut the salt back and it made the fish really shine -- and the texture of the soup (really served as a base for the salmon, almost a thick sauce), was a perfect compliment to the smooth smoky fish and crunchy vegetables.

More amazing dishes? Greg Hardesty's simple but perfectly seasoned starter of Maine lobster and halibut ceviche with a mango-avocado puree all served on perfectly crisp tortilla chips! If anything was a theme at this dinner, it was balance and spicing. Skilled chefs get it right -- and this simple ceviche was a good example. It had plenty of lime, good crunchy salt, and just enough heat to make a sink in. Another example of perfect spicing making the dish shine? Regina Mehallick's deconstructed "tongue to tail" tamale with perfectly tender beef tongue (with a tiny "crust" on it to make it crispy) and tender oxtail with just the right combination of peppers and polenta -- and the right spices -- to make this simple dish come together. The polenta was wrapped in banana leaves instead of the traditional corn husks -- which held their beautiful green color on the plate. And Ryan Nelson's braised baby octopus with roasted garlic, olives, tomatoes and Parmesan broth was the most incredible octopus I've had. So tender -- almost cakey -- with just a hint of fish. (This dish had the most mixed reactions at our table -- some people loved it and others didn't.) The Parmesan broth with olives and tomato also made us send our waiter in search of bread -- we wanted every last drop!

Oh, so many chefs and dishes -- Tony Hanslits gave us spring lamb with ramps on a wheat berry and kashi "risotto" topped with a smokey tomato sauce and goat cheese creme fraiche. (And a really enjoyable Foley Estate Pinot Noir.) And two dessert courses! A wonderfully tangy and light yuzu pound cake with rhubarb compote, yuzu curd and a yogurt sorbet with pink yuzu "pearls" from Eli and Nicole Anderson at H20, and a blue cheese panna cotta with a pear compote on top from Marc and Deidra at Taste Cafe.

Thanks to all who planned, served, cooked, and in general made this yet again one of the premier evenings in the city's culinary calendar. (Wines from Kobrand.)

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