Thursday, December 16, 2010

Dinner in the Snow...uh, Dark.

You may remember a few months ago when I blogged about a new dining concept coming to Cleveland- Dinner in the Dark. The brainchild of local chefs Brian Okin (formally of Verve), Ellis Cooley (AMP150), and Jeff Jarrett (formally of North End Wine Bar, and opening his own restaurant Palate, in Strongsville, very soon) just executed the third installment of their creative dinners. The concept is simple: area chefs come together to have some fun in the kitchen, challenge diners to push themselves out of their comfort zone by not knowing what will be served that evening, and all proceeds benefit that month's charity of choice. I've read some great reviews of the first two dinners, and this month's was no exception.

I finally had the opportunity to attend, and this was one foodie who was really excited to "dine in the dark", and put my trust in the hands of some of our area's most capable chefs by having no clue what was to be served that night. The dinner was held at AMP150 on Monday night in the middle of a snow storm, but the drive was worth it for everyone that attended. I was not disappointed...

After a tasty shrimp amuse-bouche and the cocktail of the evening- 12th Night Punch, we started the main meal with Buttermilk Fried Chicken Livers with Cheesy Polenta, Green Onion Salsa, and Spiced Honey* from Chef Jeff Jarrett.I was a little leery after hearing the word "livers", but the dish surprised me and it ended up being one of my favorites of the evening. The crispy buttermilk breading masked the texture of the liver without taking away from the flavor, and I absolutely loved the creamy polenta. The bites that included the salsa and a hint of honey just pushed this dish towards the top of my list.

Then we moved on to the vegetable course, from Chef Brian Okin. He introduced us to a member of the mint family- chrosne (honestly, none of the diners at my table had heard of this). Okin had prepared them three ways: raw, pickled, and bacon-flavored.Our table agreed that we enjoyed the pickled and bacon-flavored versions the most. Duh, everything is better with bacon! We actually tried to play a game of thinking of items that wouldn't be better with bacon. Can you?

Course three came from Chef Kimberly McCune: Panatone French Toast with Seared Foie Gras and Blackberry Caviar. Sorry no photo- I dug right in. In my opinion, the dish was good but not great (However, the two men at our table did disagree with the women and they loved this course). The "french toast" was flavored and prepared well, but I think the foie gras was lost in the dish.

A shot of warm lemonade and a frozen basil ice cube was served to help cleanse our palate before moving on to the fish course. This little drink was fantastic, and truly helped clear the way for the next three courses.

The fourth course was prepared by Chef Okin, and it was a flaky striped bass wrapped in crispy bacon with cranberries. I didn't catch the full description, but this dish was beautifully cooked and well-balanced in flavor. I may wrap my white fish in bacon from now on! See, everything IS better with bacon. This course was my second favorite of the meal.I always like to end on a high note, and Chef Adam Bostwick from Melange certainly delivered. The highlight of the meal was his take on a winter-inspired cheeseburger. This was interpreted into Braised Short Ribs in a Tomato Broth served with Aged Cheddar, a Crispy Onion Ring, and Cucumber-Tomato Salsa.
Umm, wow. I barely touched the short rib and the tender meat instantly fell apart- the true sign of a perfectly cooked short rib. The meat was so flavorful, and all of the components were paired very well together. We didn't quite get the sensation of eating a cheeseburger, but who cares- the dish was phenomenal. Kudos to one of my favorite chefs in the city!

If you know me well enough by now, you know that I will always choose savory over sweet. So I was a little hesitant to end with the dessert course after having such an amazing dish from Chef Adam. On its own, I don't think I would have been disappointed in Pastry Chef Lauren Stephenson's Lemon Chiffon Cake with Pomegranate Ice Cream. It was light and airy, and the other diners at our table were very pleased. It was good, but I would have taken another bite of short rib or Chef Jarrett's polenta over dessert any day!

Phew, thanks for sticking with me. It was an amazing meal, and I couldn't possibly leave out any of the wonderful dishes that our chefs prepared. One thing is for sure- our area's chefs are true masters of their craft. For just $65, this six-course meal was well worth the price tag, and diners can feel good knowing that the proceeds go to a very worthy local cause. This month's charity was the Cleveland Foodbank. The dinner also featured a wine pairing with each course, expertly chosen by a representative from 55 degrees. Diners have the option to purchase these wines by the bottle at the end of the event. With small raffle and auction items as well, this really is an enjoyable evening out and one that you should consider if you have not yet attended a Dinner in the Dark. Follow them on Facebook to stay updated on upcoming events.

Thank you to all of the chefs who contributed their time and talent to this fun event. I will gladly "dine in the dark" knowing that you are in the kitchen. We had a great time sampling dishes that we may have not ordered on our own, and getting to know the wonderful couple that was seated with us. Isn't it always refreshing to meet people that you enjoy talking to? I think it only proved to enhance our overall experience. "R" and I don't have too many other foodies in our lives, so dining with other food-lovers is always fantastic. And this is the right town to be a foodie in...I'm already looking forward to attending another Dinner in the Dark. Bravo, chefs!

*All descriptions of the dishes are my own. I tried to catch everything that the chefs said when they presented the courses, but I may have missed some things.


Joe Harvey said...

Great write up, as usual.. the item Chef Brian Okin used is pronounced "crones", but it's spelled "crosnes", google can help with the rest! ;)

Alicia at Poise in Parma said...

Your comment about the chicken livers makes me think of my mom. She makes her soup dumplings with chicken livers. She new my husband or brother wouldn't eat them if they knew that info. So instead, they are simply called "chicken dumplings"!

Looks like you had a fabulous meal. One of these times my schedule will permit me to go to one!

Tino said...

I wish I had been able to attend this one, but alas, the snowstorm on Monday prevented my drive up from Akron. Thanks for covering Monday's dinner and hopefully I'll run into you at the next one in January.

Unknown said...

This sounds like a good time. Are there any more being planned for the future?

Tino said...

@Hungry: The next one is planned for Monday, January 17th at 6:30 PM at Palate Restaurant near Strongsville.

B. said...

It was a great a meal! Buddy and I really enjoyed meeting you and "R" and hope we run into each other at future foodie events (or when you have a craving for an east side meal).

Now I'm hungry for short ribs.

Cheers! Beth

Bite Buff said...

Joe- Thanks for the help! You learn something new every day.

Tom- Sorry to hear that the weather had to keep you away. I look forward to seeing you at an upcoming dinner!

Alicia- Get your butt to one of these dinners- fantastic! :)

Hungry- Search Facebook for their Fan Page and "like" them to get all of their updates about the monthly dinners. The dates for Jan. and Feb. have already been set.

Beth- So glad that you found the blog! It was a pleasure dining with you guys. You'll have to send some east-side suggestions my way!

Happy Holidays to all!!!

Heather @ Get Healthy with Heather said...

Sounds like such a fun and tasty time!