Friday, August 25, 2006

Heirloom Tomato Dinner

Zingerman's Roadhouse
holds a special dinner about once a month. There's always a theme, which might be connected to a special guest (like Bill Niman or Andy Quady) or a particular style of food (California BBQ) or - as in the most recent dinner - a specific ingredient. The ingredients in this case were more than 30 different kinds of heirloom tomatoes, plus heirloom varieties of potatoes and carrots as well. To take things even a step further, all the vegetables served at the dinner were grown in Chef Alex's own garden. Given that there were over 100 people at the dinner, one imagines that it's a heck of a garden!

I've already written about the cocktails, so I'll go straight to the food. Dinner was served buffet style. (Side note: I greatly prefer the special dinners that are served as a number of plated courses - they allow for better pacing, more focus, and some really well thought out wine pairings. But I decided to attend anyway, because I had a friend visiting.) The buffet line started out with two different kinds of gazpacho, a green and a red. The green had some heat and sharpness to it, and I prefered the mellower red. Then we entered into the realm of the "bruschetta bar." Bread, piles of sliced tomatoes in a rainbow of color, several different olive oils, and even multiple salts and peppers to choose from. Then several different cheese presentations - simple slices of made-that-day fresh mozarella from Zingerman's Creamery, and a couple of different marinated goat cheeses. These were all excellent.

The hot items included two different recipes for fried green tomatoes (one with bacon, one without), the aforementioned heirloom potates and carrots, roasted patty pan squash, "Three Sisters Succotash" (green beans, corn, and early winter squash), grilled California sardines with tomato sauce, risotto with leeks and celery, two different stuffed tomatoes - one with tuna and one with Italian sausage, and an incendiary green tomato pie with roasted cayenne peppers.

A lot of food. All of it excellent, except maybe the green tomato pie, which was hot enough to burn out the tastebuds you wanted to use on the rest. The risotto was probably my favorite, if I had to pick one. Oh, and my take on the bruschetta bar, where I topped a variety of tomatoes with Pasolivo olive oil, some variety of pink salt, and Balinese long pepper, then a slice of fresh mozarella. Mmmm. The freshness of all of the vegetables really shone through in all of the items.

The buffet selections were accompained by pours of three different "summery" wines:
Sauvignon Blanc, Matetic Vineyards, 'EQ,' San Antonio DO, CHILE, 2003
Vernaccia di San Gimignano DOCG, Riccardo Falchini, Toscana ITALIA, 2004
Tempranillo, Bokisch Winery and Vineyards, Lodi CA, 2002

The Sauvignon Blanc was really excellent. Very classic, aromatic sauvignon blanc nose (I always love the way these smell) with tropical fruits and green grass and grapefruit, and then nicely rounded on the palate, not as one-dimensional in flavor as even some of the best smelling sauvignon blanc can be. So I was very pleased to have a chance to taste it and will have to look for it. The Tempranillo was also much liked at our table.

But one of the highlights of the dinner was yet to come. Dessert was a delightful cookie with cornmeal, lemon zest, vanilla and (perhaps?) pinenuts, served with an assortment of three different gelatos - tomato, basil and olive oil! The tomato was flavored with a tomato butter, so had a little bit of heat and hints of nutmeg or cloves or some other sweet spice. The basil was really basil-y. And the olive oil tasted like, well, olive oil, and was just excellent - but I'm definitely a fan of odd flavors in my ice cream. Very clever and memorable dessert. Olive oil and other savory ice creams aren't unique (in fact, they're becoming downright trendy), but these were very well executed examples of the genre.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

If they do this again next year and you give me a month's notice, I'll come. God I miss tomatoes. I have yet to find a good source for really tasty ones here. It just doesn't get hot enough long enough. Sob.