Friday, April 11, 2008

Fun Playing with Tom Burgess Wines and Baricelli Inn Food

It seems that April is Tasting Dinner Month. There are wine, beer or tequila tasting dinners scheduled at many of the best Cleveland Area restaurants every week in April and May, it seems. Restaurants having such dinners include Christopher's in Aurora, Blue Canyon, Momocho, Flying Fig, Boulevard Blue, fire, Fahrenheit, North End Wine (Hudson), and Restaurant Dante, and I am sure that there are more. Honestly, I was overwhelmed to learn of all of these events - we don't have the time or the money to attend more than a few events every few months.

So, with great difficulty, we picked out two dinners to attend in April - last night's Burgess Wine Dinner at the Baricelli Inn, and Tuesday's Westerland Vineyard dinner at Blue Canyon. Tom Burgess came all the way from California to present three of his wines, together with his friend Katherine Eddy, who also has a small winery nearby to Burgess. She offered a very soft red, Ilona 2002, which perfectly complimented its food course.

The evening began with a pour of Schramsberg Blanc de Blanc 2004, and a few words from our host, Chef Paul Minillo. I have written about Baricelli once before; it is a place I wish I could get to more often.

Chef Minillo began by explaining the menu and the wines that would be paired with each course, then said a few words about the extraordinary Olive Oil served with the bread, and also used for the fish course (a bottle of which was on each table).

He was right about the extraordnary quality of the olive oil - I mean - how often do you sigh with delight over the taste of the olive oil you moistened your bread with? This product is very special.

Chef Paul then introduced Mr. Burgess, who proved to be a delightful speaker.

And then - it was on to the food! Bread service, as per usual at Baricelli, was made one piece at a time from a server-carried basket. I note this because there is a lively chat going on EGullet right now about bread service, which some restaurants are charging for, and whether this approach makes more sense than putting a whole basket on the table. See the discussion here.

Striped Bass with Fava Beans, Scallions & EVOO

Chef Paul mentioned that he had hoped to make this dish with ramps, but they were simply not yet available to him, so he went with scallions. The fish had a very assertive flavor that was complimented by the beans and scallions, and it became even better when drizzled with a tiny bit more of that amazing olive oil. We drank the sparkling Blanc de Blanc with this course.

Second Bread Service

Cavetelli with Giancale & Roma Tomatoes

This lovely dish was served with the Ilona. As I noted, the wine was very soft, and perfect for pasta. The pasta was cooked to toothy al dente, the jowl bacon (which I usually see spelled as "guanciale") delicious, and the sauce just right in texture and amount - enough to enjoy, but not too much so as to overwhelm the plate. The cheese, like all cheese used at Baricelli, was a joy to taste.

Our third course was served with the Burgess Cabernet Sauvignon 2004.

Pork Tenderloin Scaloppine with Rapini

This dish had our entire table sighing with delight. Beautiful meat, elegantly seasoned and cooked to perfect medium-rare, with a little bitterness from the Rapini for contrast.

This is not "the other white meat" - this is pork perfection!

Our final savory course was accompanied by the Burgess Syrah 2004, a last minute switch with the prior course, and a wise decision by Chef Paul - the Syrah was as perfect for this dish as the Cab had been with the pork.

Lamb Ribs with Five-Spice Rub, Slaw & Mango Chutney

Chef Paul told us that this dish is about to go on the menu as an appetizer (in a larger portion of 4 ribs) - if you go to Baricelli, you MUST try this! Tender lamb - the meat melted off the bones. A bit of zing in the sauce awakened the palate, which was then refreshed by the tangy slaw and sweet mango chutney.

For dessert, we were treated to a pour of Burgess Library Cabernet Sauvignon 1994. Time had made the cab mellow and silky, and a great accompaniment to the dessert.

Chocolate Semifreddo & Biscotti

How could a dessert with four chocolate elements not be delicious? The semifreddo was silky and cool, the chocolate cream light and lovely, and the shavings just a touch of bitter. Add to that the crunch of the biscotti and the coating of dark chocolate thereon - and our meal ended as wonderfully as it had began.

"Beverage" dinners can be a wonderful way to play with food, for several reasons. The multiple courses (in smaller portions) allow the diner to sample more varieties of a kitchen's offerings than a regular "appetizer or salad plus entree" dinner might; also, the kitchen tends to knock itself out to impress. These dinners also offer the opportunity to learn about the particular beverage being sampled, often from a producer or distributor of the beverage. And last - these kinds of dinners seem made for groups, and sharing the experience with other diners is a great way to play with your food!

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