Nine courses. Eight people. Seven wines.
Before Sunday, a dinner party for Mr. Doom and me meant a whole bunch of friends and a few big pots of something stewed. We’d never been to a multi-course meal with wine pairings, linens and printed place cards. Our linens are usually paper. Our seating arrangements are yoga balls on the floor. Our etiquette motto: “We cook, you bring the booze.” Then Creative Loafing’s food critic, Jon Palmer Claridge, invited us to a dinner party with some of Jon’s friends and family.
When we walked in the door we were immediately greeted with glasses of Janisson & Fils Brut Champagne. Nancy LaMott cooed in the background. Jon gracefully maneuvered the confines of his smallish kitchen, apron and all.
For the amuse-bouche, we noshed off a tray of salmon tartare with red onion crème fraiche. The room heated up from the feast brewing in the kitchen, so Jon moved the oscillating fan to the dining room. It’s not a real summer dinner in Florida without an oscillating fan.
First course was a crab and spinach timbale with Champagne beurre blanc, paired with Domaine Sangouard-Guyot “Clos de le Bressande." The plateaued cross-section of spinach and crab shreds was topped with a roasted red pepper cut into a star. The crab was sweet, the spinach savory, and the tiny red pepper star added the slightest roasted flavor.
Let’s be clear. I love wine, but I know very little beyond the basics. Jon is a willing and patient teacher, showing everyone at the table how to properly taste each wine.
“I really recommend you sniff and taste twice before tasting the food,” he said. We followed suit and searched for hidden flavors. Don’t chug the wine, just sip it slowly — apt for a meal that was more sensual meditation than feeding frenzy.
Our second course was a two-melon soup with garden mint and crème fraîche, a yin-yang of cooling deliciousness, served with Elephant Mountain Voigner Rose. Silence fell over the table; that’s when you know it's good.
For a mid-meal treat, we were served small bowls of lemon-rosemary sorbet with a side of homemade thyme liqueur.
“You made the sorbet and the liqueur?” I asked.
“Well yes, it’s not that hard,” Jon responded matter-of-factly. He'd cured a whole bottle of dried thyme in vodka with sugar to replicate a French liqueur he’d enjoyed.
His efforts paid off. Everyone at the table moaned like satisfied beasts.
The next course was the highly anticipated herb-crusted lamb carpaccio with Caesar salad ice cream. Jon and his lovely lady had enjoyed this dish on their trip to the Inn at Little Washington a few weeks ago. When the cookbook containing the ice cream recipe arrived at the office last week (a collection of recipes by James Beard-winning chefs), the photos alone made me drool. Small fragments of black pepper dotted the tiny mound of creamy tart ice cream, which was salty from the cheese and briny from the anchovies. The ice cream and lamb were served with Chateau Sainte Colombe.
Our salad course was a configuration of mixed baby greens, dried cherries, and toasted pine nuts topped with a warm panko-crusted goat cheese medallion. I’ve got a serious addiction to goat cheese, and am positively helpless when it’s served warm. The pine nuts were toasted in a dry pan before hitting the salad; they were still warm and tasted like tiny dumplings.
As always, dessert tends to be my favorite course, and this meal was no exception.
I watched as Jon carefully slipped the French crème from the molds and onto each plate. Each molded crème starburst was drizzled with fresh berries and small sugar granules. That was served with Arrowood Late Harvest White Riesling from Alexander Valley, a sweet golden honeysuckle sip that tasted the way blooming flowers smell. A sip of sweet wine, a bite of cream and berries.
For the final course, Jon gave each guest an individual tin containing a homemade caramel with sea salt and a Glenfiddich 15 Single Malt Truffle (cue the Archer theme song). We sipped Two Mountain Wineries’ Vinho Vermelho, which worked its way into every bite of caramel and chocolate. It felt like a scene from Chocolat.
At the end of my first grown-up dinner party, we sat with chocolate-stained fingers, smiling like kids in a candy shop.
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