Charleston Food + Wine Fest report

03/07/2011 12:00 AM

06/14/2011 11:08 AM

One of the most coveted tickets to the Charleston Wine+Food Festival was to one of the restaurants in the Friday evening Dine Around. Twenty of the downtown restaurants closed their doors to the public in order to serve a private dinner featuring a menu created by the resident chef and a guest chef and paired with wines from a featured winemaker.

I was lucky enough to get in at Tristan (10 Linguard St.), where Tristan’s Executive Chef Nate Whiting and guest Chef Tarver King of The Ashby Inn & Restaurant in Paris, Virginia, put together a five-course “dream dinner” paired with the wines of Simi Winery of California.

The two chefs alternated courses for the meal and Amanee Neirouz, the Pastry Chef at Tristan, followed up the meal with dessert.

The menu:

Amuse bouches: White peach curd with diced green Cerignola olives and black sea salt from Whiting; salt & vinegar anise crackers with creme fraiche from King. Whiting’s offering was an interesting blend of sweet (peach curd) and salty (olives and salt) that was well balanced in flavor and texture. Alone, the peach curd was a sweet, creamy beginning that really needed the earthy saltiness and bite of the olives in order to whet the appetite for more. King’s cracker was gobbled in a single bite and therefore became more of a palatte cleanser for the first course.

First Course: Crispy Pig Ear and Parsley Salad with pickled cipollini onion, grilled dough and lemon argumato from Whiting paired with Simi Russian River Chardonnay. OK, I like pig. The crispier the better and this small sampling was a wonderful way to kick off the meal. Throughout the weekend I was to experience more pig than I thought possible at various tastings but this light, refreshing salad was one of my favorites.

Second Course: Corned Golden Tilefish with rosemary, country ham, preserved lemon tempura and mayonnaise from King paired with Simi Russian River Pinot Noir. The tilefish had been lightly brined before layering it with the other ingredients and served atop a wooden plank. The salt from the thinly sliced country ham that the fish laid upon was really the only seasoning that was needed. A sprinkling of the tempura gave the dish just a hint of crunchy texture.

Third Course: Whiting’s Acquerello Risotto with calabrese broccoli, Bouchot mussels, anchovy and chili threads paired with Simi Sonoma County Merlot. Forgive me for not having a photo of this dish available. Once it was set before me, with the aroma of mussels and anchovy and chili, the dish was simply too irresistable. The creamy risotto (that is harvested and aged a year in Italy before shipment) and the perfectly steamed mussels were a delight with the hint of heat that came from the chili threads. More than one of the diners at my table were left wanting more.

Fourth Course: King’s Wild Venison from the Virginia Mountains with hawthorn jus, caramelized parsnip, apple and bacon hollandaise paired with Simi Alexander Valley “Landslide” Cabernet Sauvignon. A grand way to end the meat course. The flavor of the tender venison was enhanced by the earthiness of the hawthorn berry/wine reduction and the hollandaise. The creamy parsnip puree was scooped up with every bite of the meat.

Pre-Dessert: Hazelnut “Butterfinger” with Colombian dark chocolate and white miso. Don’t. Lay. A. Finger. On. My. Butterfinger. Especially when there’s dark chocolate involved.

Fifth Course: Chef Neirouz’ Carrot Cake Pain Perdu with a disk of melting foie gras and Tasmanian pepper syrup paired with Simi Late Harvest Riesling. Is it possible to go over the top? Warm spicy carrot cake and rich foie gras drizzled with pepper syrup. Amazing that there was room left for dessert. Then again, this was an amazing dessert.

Extra: Chocolate Cups with Chocolate “Pop-Rocks” and peanut butter dust. A fun way to end the evening. And yes, the pop rocks one instance across the table.

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