Friday, February 1, 2008

Fun Playing with Food with Jonathon Sawyer and the Wonderful Crew at Bar Cento

Last night was the inaugural "Sawyer Wine Supper" at Bar Cento restaurant, recently opened on the near West Side of Cleveland, across the street from the storied West Side Market. Bar Cento is the creation of former Michael Symon apprentice Chef Jonathon Sawyer. We had played with Jonathon's food once before, at a pre-opening tasting party sponsored by the Northeast Ohio Convivium of Slow Food. I didn't take any photos that night, so this is my first opportunity to share some of the goodies that Chef Sawyer is offering. I can highly recommend future wine and beer dinners at Bar Cento - they are off to a wonderful start!

We began with one of the restaurant's signature items as an Antipasto - handcrafted pizza!

Prosciutto Bianco Pizza Topped with Acorn Fed Lardo, Bird Chilies, Myer Lemon and Marjoram

I've only had lardo once before - and it was served at room temperature. As much as I've grown to like pork fat - that lardo experience was just a little too intense for me. As you can see here, though, the lardo served last night was rendered, leaving bits of meat that tasted like bacon on steroids on the pizza slice, and depositing a lovely puddle of rendered pork fat on the plate. We all sipped delightfully from that pool! And the chilies added an intense bite, which was tamed somewhat by the Toffoli Prosecco di Conegliano that accompanied this course. Overall, an amazing way to start.

Vitello Tonno - Warm Crispy Veal Sweetbread Over Chilled Veal, Sicilian Tuna Aoli, Capers

Without question - the most enjoyable sweatbread I've ever eaten - it made me go "mmmmhh" when I savored the first bite. I don't know if this was due to the fact that the sweatbread was from a younger animal, or the preparation (Chef Jonathon explained that it was not soaked in milk, which is the traditional prep - it was soaked in broth and seasoning overnight prior to cooking). Honestly, the sweatbread was so rich and tasty (and contrasted so perfectly against the chilled slice of meat below it) that the Tuna Aoli almost overwhelmed it - though it was a brilliant touch to infuse the Aoli with Tuna. The 06 Maggio Vini Rosato accompanied this course well.

Insalata - Grilled Scamorza (Fresh Mozzerella Cheese) Topped with Dandelion Greens and Mint, plated over Oilo Sancto ("Sacred Oil")

This is my idea of salad! (Just kidding - I'm all for healthy green salads. But damn, this tasted good!) Chef Jonathon explained about the Olio Sancto, which he cold-infused with anchovy and mint - either of which could have overwhelmed this dish. But there was no clash - only sweet, rich harmony between the crunchy, chewy cheese, the pungent and slightly bitter greens, and the oil. Again, Tracey English was right on with her choice of the 04 Fatalone Primivito for the wine pairing - we liked this wine so much, we wanted to buy 4 bottles of it, but they ran out and we had to settle for two.

Pesca - Wild Striped Bass Macinare

Another example of how you have to make due in Cleveland sometimes when it comes to fish (see my New Year's Eve post about Michael Symon's swordfish collar), Chef Jonathon mentioned that he had hoped to serve Fluke for this course, but had to take what quality fish he could get.

This dish was wonderful. The bass - described on the menu as "the Miller's fish", was served with a fresh herb salad and myer lemon. The filet was topped with a disk of chopped pork of some kind - but this component was not identified on the menu and we didn't get the opportunity to ask what it was. Who cares - it may not have been kosher, but it was delicious! And it went very well with the 06 Vigneti di Marchi Erbaluce di Caluso.

Spring Abbondanza - Roasted Kid Goat, Milk Poached Calf, Suckling Pig, Salsa Verde, Roasted Potato

What a savory trio! The goat meat, which came mostly from the legs of small, tender, young goats, was the standout here. It melted in the mouth! The veal was also lovely. And the pig - I missed a photo-op with the head shortly before service - but this was served with crispy skin and tasty fat. The potatoes were the perfect accompaniment to wipe up every drop of the heavenly drippings! The wine was again well chosen - 05 Podere San Matteo Morellino di Scansano "Sammetteo".

Formaggio - Cheese Course

I am trying to use the flash less; unfortunately, I think these photos really could have used it. Oh well. We were served two cow's milk and one sheep's milk cheese - sorry, I'm not sure which cow's milk was which. I think, from right to left, they are Veneto e'stats Cow's Milk, Cow's Milk from Piedmont and Sheepsmilk from Lombardia. They were served with a gently toasted crostini that had a slightly sweet element in the topping.

And now - a first for my blog, and probably my life. Hold onto your hats, folks:

After a quick taste of each cheese in the proper order (mildest to strongest), I ignored Paul Minillo's advice about the ordering of cheese, and actually consumed my entire portion of the Bleu. I did not give it to anyone at the table - I have witnesses! I ate and enjoyed my Bleu cheese! I need to know exactly what this was and where to get it!

I also very much enjoyed the other two varieties of cheese, and the wine they were all paired with - 04 Valpolicella Classico.

Dolce - Tenuta Il Corno Olive Oil Gelato, Blood Orange, Myer Lemon

Talk about playing with your food! Who'd have thunk you could put olive oil in gelato? But Chef Sawyer did - and it was fantastic, especially with the blood orange. I'll have a gallon of that, please. And speaking of gallons, we tried to acquire some of the sweet and heady wine that accompanied this course and the next - 95 Tunua Il Corno Vin Santo, IGT - but they sold out of it before they got to our order.

Grazie - Chocolate Salumi Style, Grandma's Cookies

Note the bits of pepper at 6 o'clock on the Chocolate - there was also a hint of red pepper somewhere. The heat combined with the rich chocolate and nuts to create a taste sensation that was accentuated by the cookie - which started crisp and finished soft as it had been drizzled wtih liquid - I'm not sure what. A perfect finale to a symphonic meal!

Bravo to Chef Sawyer, to Sommelier Tracy English from Private Reserve, who supplied the wine pairings, and to all of the staff who worked very hard to make this first wine dinner a great success. And please, Chef, feel free to fill in any blanks or correct any wrongs I may have put in this post.

If Bar Cento was closer to home - I'd be a three-times-a-week regular. As it is - we need to get there more often!

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