Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A Dinner of Hope: Sunset on the Serengeti - a menu review

For the most part, this year’s edition of A Dinner of Hope: Sunset on the Serengeti came off without a hitch. The food was interesting & vibrant and the chocolate station at the end of the night had a longer line than the silent auction checkout. The only thing missing was yours truly as the Master of Ceremonies but you can’t have your cake & eat it too. Unless of course you made the cake and you live alone but then again that would be an entirely different blog for entirely different time but that is neither here nor there and what we really want to do is get to my review of the offerings that were presented by the various chefs. So without further ado….

Cocktail Reception-All authentic African foods7 passed HD’O
Charmain Sithappah, Bronx NYThe Seasoned Pot

Now I don’t have a full list of the offerings but I do know that the star of the hour had to be the pumpkin & spinach wrap that was served with a fig chutney. I will definitely be trying to emulate this bad boy come SuperDuperBowl Sunday. The various lamb appetizers were also good as was a small banana fritter that looked like a crabcake and did not taste like a plaintain. The chiken satay was just that and almost forgettable. All in all though it was a good start to the evening.

Oh I forgot – there were designer martinis – hot apple pie, pomegranate and something else but I quit drinking 21+ years ago and even if I did still drink, I wouldn’t have had one of those because as far as I am concerned a martini is gin with the word vermouth whispered softly over the glass.

First CourseWarm Sea Scallop with Corn and Acorn Squash Chutney
David Haviland Castle on the Hudson

A very nice opening dish. My scallop was quick seared to a golden brown on the outside and almost raw on the inside. The Corn & Acorn Squash Chutney was less of a chutney and more of a sauce most likely due to the inclusion of some ridiculous foam. I hate foam on my food. It usually looks like someone walked my plate too close to the dishwasher before it got to me. It was truly a very nice dish despite the foam and the sauce as opposed to chutney and it was well received at the table.

Second CourseVeal Cheek Ravioli with Braised White Asparagus
Scott Cutaneo Restaurant Equus, Bernardsville

Ladies & Gentlemen, we have a clear winner by knockout in the 2nd round. This was probably the best dish that I have ever had at this event and that dates back to 2002. the veal was tender and shredded finer than the finest pulled pork. The ravioli itself was huge and the lump of shredded veal cheek was slightly larger than a golf ball but as I now remember it, it was more like the size of a tennis ball and by the time I tell this story again, it will be the size of a baseball or small grapefruit. The other component of the dish that was knock your socks off great was the braised white asparagus. What a great addition to the dish. I may have to go out and buy some this weekend if I can find 5 minutes between shows of Willy Wonka to actually cook. Equus will be the next stop on our restaurant tour of the area once we finally get a chance to go out again.

Third CourseHerb Crusted Baramundi, Stewed Tomato, Fava Beans and Preserved Myer Lemon
Robert Albers, The Pleasantdale Chateau

A very nice piece of fish that suffered by having to follow the excellence that was the veal cheek ravioli. It was served with a Meyer Lemon Sauce that surprisingly played well off of the stewed tomatoes. The fava beans got more jokes about Hannibal Lecter than anything else. Ok, I was the one telling the Hannibal Lecter jokes but that is neither here nor there.

Fourth CourseHoney Laquered Sonoma SquabBacon Braised Cabbage-Mustard Spaetzel
John Halligan, The Park Steakhouse

Now maybe it’s just the events I go to or the time of year of some of these events but squab seems to show up on the menu more often than I would actually care for it to show up. It never seems to be prepared in the same way either. It almost seems like chefs don’t know what to make of it either. Unlike some others at the table, I am willing to bet that the squab wasn’t actually undercooked or raw but that squab is actually a denser, gamier bird and thus has an almost red meat appearance & appeal to it. While it was quite good, it really wasn’t ever going to be my first choice and I will admit that I did not finish the plate. The spaetzel was a little bland almost didn’t seem to go with the dish but the sauce was enough to cover for the spaetzel’s shortcoming.

Fifth CourseBraised Venison over sweet slab bacon with petite apples and Brussels sprouts
Richard Kennedy,The Terrace, Hilton at Short Hills

I hate deer. They are long legged rats in my opinion so they aren’t exactly tops on my list when it comes time to strap on the old feedbag. So despite my preconceived notions, Chef Richard Kennedy was able to deliver an entrée that I found to be quite tender & tasty. I also quite enjoyed the sweet slab bacon though it was considerably less than a slab and I also really liked the petite apples. My wife leaned over and stole all of the petite brussels sprouts so I can’t tell you if those were any good or not but considering my aversion to then in the first place, it was probably a good thing she did take them.

Dessert Buffet- Muslin tent with Amarula for coffee (an African liquer) and sumptuous chocolates
Balsamic Caramel : handmade carmel with aged balsamic vinegar ina dark chocolate shell, sprinkled with Fleur de Sel
Banana Cinnamon : dark chocolate ganache infused with Tung Hing cinnamon and banana puree
Cinnamon Clove : coffee in a dark chocolate ganache in cased in a colorful pyramid shape
Jacqueline : milk chocolate hearts containing green tea infused white chocolate ganache and flavors of lemongrass, caramel, coconut
Balsamic Dark Chocolate Ganache : infused with rosemary and flavored with 12 year old balsamic and organic honey
Olive Oil and Sea Salt Chocoalte : the signature chocolate of Donna and Company
Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter Ganache : flavored with ginger, coconut and African piripiri pepper
Chocolate Torte : flourless truffle cake with a mango filling
Chocolate and Cointreau Mousse : a mini chocolate cup with mousse
Diane Pinder, Master ChocolatierDonna Toscana Chocolates and Lounge

What can I say about the dessert other than the long lines at the chocolate station were well deserved and never ending. I didn’t get to try all of the chocolates but the clear winner in my jaded opinion was the Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter Ganache flavored with ginger, coconut & African Piripiri Pepper. It was sweet & creamy in your mouth and then the heat hit the back of your throat and exploded your senses. I am really hoping that Santa Claus finds it in himself to recognize what a good boy I have been this year and leaves me a few of those bad boys under the tree.

So that is my well sated review of the menu for “A Dinner of Hope: Sunset on the Serengeti” from Behind the Shades….swampy abides

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