Monday, July 18, 2011

Fun Playing With Birthday Dinner in the Dark

As readers of this blog know, I am a huge fan and supporter of Cleveland's Dinner in the Dark, and its three founding Chefs - Brian Okin, Jeff Jarrett and Ellis Cooley. I was a little surprised and a lot delighted when they announced that July's edition would be on July 11. Took all of the usual planning out of my birthday this year, which was kind of nice. And to make it even better, Brian asked me if there were any particular chefs I might like for them to invite. First - I asked him to cook, since he seldom has at DITD. Next - I gave him a short list. Of course, I was in the dark as to who actually said "yes."

The dinner was held at the newly opened Market Garden Brewery, next to the West Side Market in Ohio City. We arrived a little early and walked through the spacious outdoor beer garden, into the restaurant, and began with a stop at one of the two comfy bars for a "beer cocktail" that totally pleased the Birthday Girl: The Sweet & Stout. House-brewed St. Emeric's Stout is mixed with Pernod, Godiva Dark, Cynar and Aztec Chocolate Bitters. An unexpected combination that worked brilliantly as a pre-dinner drink.

Working our way into the back room, which looks like it can accommodate private parties up to at least 60 people, we took our seats and noticed the lovely centerpiece.

Buckeye Zakuska Featuring KJ Greens' Produce

Our host in all things cocktail, Joe DeLuca, announced that we would be enjoying the traditional accompaniment to zakuska (cold pickled vegetables) - ice cold vodka, provided by Buckeye Vodka out of Dayton Ohio. Let it be known throughout the land that yours truly not only tasted and enjoyed the KJ Greens radish, but actually had a second! And since our host venue produces craft beer, our meal was accompanied by the juice of the barley rather than wine this month.

David Chin of The Market Cafe & Wine Bar provided our amuse (as well as the intermezzo later in the meal):

The sweet smelling and tasting shrimp were accompanied by nori, fried noodles, KJ microgreens and a chili-soy dressing.

Our first course came from DITD co-founder Brian Okin, who enthusiastically embraced the "open mic night, jam session for chefs" concept with his dish:

Veal Calf Fries

Brian was "unavoidably delayed" coming up from the kitchen to describe his dish, so everyone dug in, still in the dark about what we were eating. The star of the plate was the perfectly fried orb at 12 o'clock in this photo. The contents were pink and so tender that it melted in the mouth - delicious! Sort of like a sweetbread, but not quite. What could it be? I guessed calf brains, which I knew couldn't be right because bovine brains are definitely a no-no these days. Turns out  that I wasn't that far wrong (depending on how you look at it) - "calf fries" are calf testicles that have been, well, fried. This version was served with two delicious relishes: corn, ramps, speck and radishes, and a warm roasted tomato marmalade. The final touch was a from-scratch carrot oil. All I can say after eating this is that we've gotta find this guy a restaurant to cook in!

Chef Rocco Whalen of Tremont's Fahrenheit offered a sort of "surf and turf" for the next course:

East Coast Tuna, Topped With Asian Dressing Over Salad and Sweet N Spicy Shortrib Slider

Simply beautiful and finger-licking good. Thank you Chef Rocco!

Ohio Beet Salad

Our next course came from Chef Mike Nowak, Executive Chef of sister restaurants Bar Cento and Market Garden Brewery. The salad included gorgeous Gold & Red Beets, Orange, Ohio Honey, and Chervil and was accompanied by creamy Lucky Penny Goat Cheese, Verbana and Black Truffle.

The intermezzo presented in an unusual fashion. First, an ice-filled glass:


Then - the opportunity to play with our food - thank you Chef David Chin!

Fresh Blackberry Puree

Mixed Melon Puree

The idea was to combine the flavors and textures to make your own snow cone. Most refreshing!

I was already feeling rather full by the time the next course, chock full of seafood, made its way to the table:

Cioppino (fish stew)

Scallop, shrimp, mussels, squid (including tentacles!), and lobster, topped with grilled bread and bathed in a velvety tomato-based sauce prepared by Bar Cento and Market Garden Chef De Cuisine Adam Lambert.

The final savory course was presented by another of the chefs I'd suggested to Brian - this will be the ONLY DITD where they'll be allowed to do a course, because they (usually) provide a complimentary meal to all of the volunteers involved in putting on each month's event every month! And what a doozy Chefs Walter Hyde and Scott Slagle (of Fat Casual BBQ) came up with!

Picnic on a Plate

"Chicken & Grits" - whole bone-in breast split and stuffed with Gorgonzola cheese, coated with grits and smoked - and a dry-rubbed smoked rib, rest atop a green salad, julienne of sweet potato, whole strawberries, candied pecans, and the meats were topped with BBQ sauce made from Ohio Honey, fresh strawberry and local maple syrup. The Gorgonzola and the grits picked up such a unique and smoky flavor. This dish succeeded in evoking the picnic of my dreams; thank you Walter and Scott!

Dessert came from the able hands of Megan Jenny of The Cleveland Cupcake Company, though most of this went into a box for Tuesday's breakfast because I was too darn full to eat it. Each bite was wonderful, and if you are anywhere near Cleveland Heights, you need to give her sweets a try.

I feel truly honored that DITD was held on my birthday and it was a most fitting way to celebrate. Next month's edition will be held on a Saturday rather than a Monday, but will otherwise remain true to the formula ($65 plus tax and tip gets you 6 courses+ of food, wine pairings, and a fabulous time) at a unique location - the Culinary Vegetable Institute. I hope you can join us on August 27 at 6:30pm for another amazing dinner, which will benefit as always a local charity. July's event benefited Cleveland's Saint Martin de Porres High School; August's dinner will benefit Veggie U, which brings the joys of local, sustainable and whole food into elementary school classes!

1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much for your beautiful photography! I had a great time making the tiny desserts for everyone. :)