Wednesday, January 2, 2008

New Year's Fun Playing with Iron Chef Food

Bob and I, together with our friend and fellow food photographer Edsel, attended the early seating at Lola Bistro New Year's Eve for a "Next Iron Chef" themed dinner. Since we arrived a little early, we got to watch all of the action in the open kitchen, which was just starting up when we were seated. It was an amazing dance to watch, as the courses progressed and the staff got a little overwhelmed. But they recovered very nicely, thank you, and served an amazing meal to a fully packed house.

We began with a wine that was so perfect for both the nature of the evening, and all of the food that we were served, that we ordered a second bottle when the first ran out without even looking again to the wine list. And it was very reasonably priced.

Black Bubbles Sparkling Shiraz

Bread Service

The butter was soft and creamy and delicious with the fresh bread. I will confess right here that I did, indeed, play with my food and clean my plate with bread not once, but three times this night.

Amuse Bouche
Lamb Tartare with Olives, Citrus and Greek Yogurt

I could not imagine that raw lamb could melt in the mouth as this did - and the yogurt topping was perfect with it.

First Course
Choice 1:

Potato and Truffle Soup with Chives and Garlic Confit

Edsel ordered this selection. I enjoyed my taste of this soup; a gentle, silky yet intensely flavorful sensation. Edsel commented that the garlic confit was extraordinary.

A word here about our server, Robert, who is a truly wonderful and professional server. We've enjoyed his service before, but he was really on his game NYE - he picked up on our manic food energy and ran with it! As we started to discuss sharing tastes of the soup - there he was with extra spoons for us! He followed up with extra silver and small plates later in the meal, so we could each taste anything on the table that didn't belong to us!

First Course
Choice 2:

Lobster Bisque with Crispy Bacon and Poached Lobster

Having eaten this bowl of soup - I now understand the Vita-Mix (which Michael Symon is a spokesman for, and which some of my food friends have sung praises for - heck, it got a write up in Tuesday's Cleveland Plain Dealer). I have never before experienced such finely pureed soups - this one was pure essence of lobster, with Michael's bacon and the lobster pieces almost a bonus to the exquisite, rich broth. The silkiness of the Truffle Soup was likewise, I am sure, due to the Vita-Mix.

Second Course
Choice 1:

Grilled Quail with Salsa Verde and Blackberries

Husband Bob and Edsel both enjoyed this course (though Bob gave me a drumstick and a berry to sample). The meat was succulent and tender, and the sauce and berries were amazing. I applied bread to this dish's plate, but just to taste, not to clean - playing with your husband's food can be fun, too!

Second Course
Choice 2:

Sweet Potato and Crab Salad with Grilled Corn, Bacon and Aioli

A perfect salad. Warm crab - with not a hint of off smell or flavor - just crabby sweetness caressed by sweet potato and corn that sang with a flavor you don't get this time of year in Cleveland, plated over an Aioli that offered a flavorful, yet mild range of spice. I was shameless in my application of bread to plate for this course - I wasn't letting any of that Aioli get away!

Lemon Creme Fraiche Sorbet

This was our first taste of Pastry Chef Cory Barrett's amazing talents this evening. I never think "creamy" when I hear "sorbet" - but this was so much more than sorbet, though not quite ice cream. And the fresh lemon resounded through and truly cleaned the palate for the amazing goodies to come. It was served in a shotglass - just perfect.

Third Course
Choice 1:

Swordfish Sous-Vide with Fennel, Dill, Mint and Cucumber

This was fantastic! Though the fish certainly tasted like the bold fish Swordfish is, the Fennel, Dill and Mint were perfect foils, and the sous vide preparation left the fish mellower than you might expect. Oh - and I'm sure that if you liked cucumber, you'd find that a perfect touch also. I was amazed at the beauty (if not the taste) of the perfect tiny squares of cucumber - what poor soul was assigned to cut these all day?

Third Course
Choice 2:

Soft Polenta with Crispy Mushrooms and Marscarpone (no one at our table tried this one, so I have no photo). We heard that this was outstanding, and we've all had the incredible Polenta at Lola's sister restaurant Lolita. We all just wanted the Swordfish more!

Fourth Course
Choice 1:

Roasted Venison with Parsnip Puree and Roasted Carrots

Again, Bob favored meat over fish, to our advantage since we all got to taste it. The venison was buttery tender and cooked perfectly medium-rare. But the item we raved about the most was the pureed parsnips - what an amazing preparation of a mundane winter vegetable! It had the texture of perfect mashed potato, without the starchiness and with more flavor.

Fourth Course
Choice 2:

Grilled Swordfish with Chorizo

This dish was simply perfect. The Vita-Mix was evidenced by the creamy smoothness of the tomato-based sauce, which picked up amazing smoky flavors from both the house-made Chorizo and the Grilled Swordfish itself. I don't know how they infused the fish with such a rich smokiness. I tried to clean this plate with the last piece of bread, but couldn't quite finish it all. The only disappointment for me in this dish (indeed, in the whole dinner) is that it was originally supposed to include swordfish collar - which was raved over by the judges on Next Iron Chef, and it is not a delicacy one encounters often.

While dessert was being served, Michael Symon stopped by our table, and explained that the swordfish collar he received was not up to his standards - so he refused to serve it. I've had a lot of sub-standard fish and seafood products in my life, so I truly admire any chef who does this. I hate being told "but it's supposed to taste like that."

The desserts were served with a complimentary glass of bubbles.

"6 a.m. Special" with Bacon Ice Cream and Brioche French Toast

This dish just keeps getting better every time I have it. I didn't remember that it had slices of fresh apple between the French toast and the ice cream, but it was perfect. Chef Cory also stopped by our table, and mentioned that he made the ice cream with bigger chunks of bacon for this special night, and adjusted the toast a bit to accommodate for the evening's mass production.

Warm Chocolate Cake with Peppermint Ice Cream

What can I say besides "yum"? The artisan salt on top combined with the ice cream and warm chocolate cake to create a delectable combination.

There was a third choice on the menu - A Selection of Artisanal Cheeses.
We didn't try this one, but someone at a neighboring table said the cheeses were excellent. I'm sorry - I can't even consider a cheese plate for dessert when Cory is in the house!

Freshly Baked Raspberry Filled Macaroon

As if we were not already stuffed - each table received a plate of these warm little gems to complete the repast. The nuttiness resounded through my palate and the fruit filling was a most excellent addition to these cookies, which were light but rich at the same time.

This was a truly fabulous culinary experience. And the jazzy-contemporary band, which started playing after we finished our entree course, was a delightful and festive counterpoint for the evening. We greatly appreciated that Michael Symon stopped by the table - he was not playing celebrity chef this night; he was on the line cooking! Michael says he "lives to cook" - and I can't tell you how much fun that I have playing with that food he cooks!

1 comment:

  1. What a fantastic meal! Thanks for taking us along!