Dinner Ticket

I made the reservation –or rather, bought the tickets–  a month or so ago, because I finally could make a reservation there.

Didn’t tell him where but nearly begged him to ask me

That day, advised him to eat a light lunch, as an experience involving at least 14 tasting courses would start at 5:45pm

We drove, drove then drove: through two cities and into a third

Parked, we walked by windows showcasing glimmering wine glasses lined up like a fragile, lethal army, beneath cured meat slices hanging by hooks on the ends of string. Then, past a bright blue industrial freezer door, you know, with a chrome handle as wide as the door? It opens and the bearded Helpful calls to us “guys! C’mon back here! You here for dinner?”

YES

You’ll be sitting with these fine 6 people. That centerpiece that looks like it might have food in it, slide it away to help open up conversation with them. We went to college with one of them, anyway

Hopefully my response to “are you lawyers?” did not offend

Two bites came before our drinks did: a tasty toothpicked canape dipped in “porcini garlic dirt” and then several gems of vegetables and fish, arranged on personal granite trenchers

boubon drink
I already drank the smoke

My drink emitted smoke

Bourbon and smoke go together

The drink for one of the lawyers hissed, foamed and probably glowed in the dark, too. This was … unexpected. The server came back with a cleanup rag and more of the beverage, to top off the class

The evening moved forward, upward, outward with several courses that didn’t require a utensil, one that involved walking though kitchen to have the artistes assemble the course in a plate as we walked it through the line

Smoke (steam) came out everyone’s noses: a roomful of dragons, we were. Such trust in the guy with the bucket of pearls

My first taste, I think of fiddehead fern, raw scallop. And first and maybe final bites of morels, this year

Pork belly that ruined all bacon in the future, forever. Well, for a few days anyway. Bacon can’t be ruined, if it’s still available

menu
This came with the drink bill

The bread in the meal came all in one course, just over halfway through, and we seasoned it with amaretto and bone marrow butters

Ever had a deconstructed beef wellington?

Ever had beef wellington and were able to comfortably move away from the table, when done? Why do that? Perfect portion, cutest little pastry. A plank of tidbits

So, part of the centerpiece was, in fact edible: I KNEW IT. Chocolate breadstick.

The macaron! It was unfair to all other macarons, to dip one end in chocolate, and help it stand up

And just like an rollicking evening spent by a campfire, with scary stories, unfamiliar and sometimes eerie views of familiar things, and much laughter: the last bite was of marshmallow.

20 courses of familiar flavors, unusual textures, exuberant specialists and thoughtful presentation.

Happy birthday to my sweetheart. I’m glad you enjoyed the meal at Travail.

Please pardon -or maybe you enjoyed? – my semi-poetic stream of descriptions. I wasn’t sure how else to describe this ride of a meal, and there was rarely a moment, much less an appropriate moment, to stop and take a picture of all the edibles that came our way, nor of the wide range of facial expressions all over the room, during our time there.

Dervish I mean Derby Party

still life with julep recipe
Teach a man to fish…

Well, it’s still not quite as good as being in Louisville for the festivities, but it sure is fun bringing a little bit of Churchill Downs to Saint Paul for a few hours. We hosted another Derby Party last weekend, and made a few modifications that I think went well: I spent more of the party outside of the kitchen, and didn’t have too many leftovers of sweets. I still collapsed in a heap after the last guest left, but that may be more due to the fact that I’m in the middle of marathon training and did a 9-mile hilly run, the morning of the party. And no, I didn’t keep count of the juleps I’d enjoyed over several hours… but at least the cups were small, and the whiskey not as strong.

Changes we made this year, that I hope to remember for the future. I wholly confess to heavy use of Pinterest to find some (all) of these recipes:

  • Hot browns! This is apparently a tradition for the event, though we didn’t experience them at all, in Louisville. After reading one recipe for these (in a “slider “version… baked all in one pan) and knowing full well how fond a certain individual (who wore seersucker) is of sandwiches, turkey and cheese… I added it to the menu. And it was amazing, even with the parmesan accidentally omitted.

Hot browns, resting now but bound for baking. #kyderby

A photo posted by Steve Morman (@stephen.morman) on

 

  • Benedictine spread: another one we never saw in Kentucky, but it’s a keeper that has just a tad more vegetables than the pimiento cheese spread/sandwiches we did last year. We made up a few white-bread sandwiches (I didn’t have the nerve nor time to cut off the crusts) and left the rest out for dipping with hearty crackers.
  • Kentucky Butter Cake: So few of the bourbon balls I made last year got eaten that I decided to try a dessert without nuts or chocolate. Also: making a bundt cake is a bit less time-intensive than chocolate-dipped candies. This was a great pound cake-like recipe that I’ll do again, though only a few of us enjoyed it at the party. We’ve been happily chipping away at it at breakfast, in the days since. I suppose people got enough sugar for the day from their juleps?
  • A bag of crushed ice. I am so glad I was able to buy this, the night before the party from Shamrock Group! Last year I was making crushed ice on a nearly per-julep basis with the VitaMix, which was terribly noisy. I spent a good part of the afternoon alone in the kitchen making juleps. This year, we converted most of the food table to a beverage station, complete with julep recipe, the appropriate supplies and tools, the world’s best muddler (the souvenir bat you get at the Slugger Museum), and a bowl of ice that we just had to replenish from the cooler on the back porch, from time to time.
  • There’s a hat store at the Mall of America now: Chapel Hats! I found a great fascinator there just a week before the party, for just $20. To be fair, it wasn’t … big enough if I were trying to impress (or win our own hat contest), but it was fun to wear, and saved me a ton of time.
  • I’d love to say I planned this, but alas: it simply happened. It was a gorgeous day out and people were able to sit out in our backyard and on the front porch, sipping and conversating. I gave a few tours of our garden. It has yet to reach its full potential (of course: it’s only May) but still had a few blooms to offer up: a ton of scilla, and a few bright tulips.

Some great things we didn’t intentionally change and yet they happened:

Mary's handmade cloche
I dared her to make it
  • One most excellent hand-crocheted Derby hat (see photo at right)
  • Everybody looked great! It was fun to see friends dressed up a bit, sometimes with ties, a waistcoat, a great hat or fascinator here and there, and some festive spring dresses.
  • A tie: three of our most excellent and non-underdog-picking friends decided to bet on American Pharoah. And yet no one placed actual bets, likely because we were too busy socializing to lay down the rules: the money jar was empty. So… we had to battlefield-promote most of the best-hat/tie prizes to race winnings. I’m not sure anyone noticed?
  • We shared a treasured treat with friends who appreciated it: some of our Angel’s Envy Rye.

It was so enjoyable to spend some relaxing time with good friends, and to share some specially-made food and drinks with them! Some of them traveled from pretty distant burbs/busy lives, and that was a super special treat.

I was really happy that I wasn’t frantically trying to make a fascinator, 30 minutes before the party, like I was last year. However, I was frantically trying to prepare the list of horses and the julep recipe, and facing frustrations with my computer. And a plate of veggies never made it out to our guests. For the most part, I think paring back our food plans made it easier for me to squeeze in the “necessary” 9-miler the morning of the party – but when we do this party again, I’ll make sure to keep the morning more open for party prep.

Onward! To the garden. And maybe the Angel’s Envy Rye.

Park City and Food

garlic bulbs
From Betty’s garden (and Sharpie)

In the middle of the party, Carol – a longtime Utah resident – asked me what I most liked to do, when I visit family in Park City, which I’ve done several times now. We’ve skied, hiked, visited a farmer’s market or two, shopped ’til we dropped, checked out amazing views via automobile, and now mountain biked, all in addition to enjoying some great meals out and in. We were in a room that had at least 15 dishes brought by people in the room or made by us, all of which featured some form of garlic.

At that particular moment I was so full that I was about to burst and was afraid of failing in my duties to choose and announce a “best dish” for the party. Still, my answer for Carol was, “the eating.” I’m not sure, but I don’t think she was impressed. She went back to asking more questions of the highly amusing and adorable (and 7-year-old) fellow party guest, Tanner.

“Garlic Fest 3″ has come and gone, and it was great fun! The winningest dish is now facing controversy so let me just say that the dish that I thought was best was brought by the chef for the US Ski team, Allen Tran (featured here): a quiche with roasted garlic and sage. Not only was it gorgeous to look at, but it was delicate, delicious and something I’d really like to have for lunch today. It shouldn’t be surprising that it would be good, so it was ruled out of competition.

Another item that was ruled out was the dish my brother made: garlicky sliders. All evening, he was grilling more of those savory patties for pleading guests, and I think they were even better when dressed with the super-sharp (HOT!) toum that I made for the party.

garlic sauce: toum
Toum-tastically hot

The toum kind of suffered from misrepresentation – it really needed spicy kebabs – but people still seemed to like it as a dip. I’ve had a much better (fluffier and not quite as hot) toum while dining out at Shish Café in Saint Paul. Laura’s awesome KitchenAid food processor wasn’t up to the speed (literally) needed to whip that stuff up into a proper frenzy. I may try it again – here’s the recipe if you are interested; thanks go to Splendid Table for the fun radio episode featuring it, a few months back. Ahh, I’m going to miss this marathon training, if only because the drive over to Minneapolis early for the Saturday morning club runs has given me quality time with Lynn Rossetto Kasper.

Garlic Fest is a an annual party that my brother and sister-in-law host, for fun, friends and food. It was great to meet and spend some time with these amazing people, most of whom are or were involved with the US ski teams or the US speed skating teams, with whom my hosts worked or have worked for a few years now.

Dishes that came to the party included gazpacho, a roasted-vegetable salsa, cheesy potatoes, a quinoa pilaf, Chicken Kiev, roasted garlic, wings with a super hot garlic sauce (hotter than my toum), cheesy grits, and a dip with crudités arranged in athlete shapes. A little disappointingly, no dessert came but I figure it was due to the fact that these people all work in sports medicine and science, and sugar’s place there may be questionable. It’s also kind of a tough puzzle, to identify a garlicky dessert!

mountain biking in Utah
Fearless riders

The next day we selected an activity to help our bodies sweat out all the garlic: a couple hours of mountain biking on the trails around Park City. This was a first for all of us, and we had a blast, especially the two of us who rented full-suspension bikes. The trails were good fun, though a little rocky in parts, and so the adrenaline surged a few times. That morning was beautiful, if a little chilly, so we got started late enough that our next stop was lunch at High West Distillery and Saloon, a favorite for their great whiskeys and cocktails.

The rest of the weekend saw some flavorful/amazing wasabi-shunning sushi (at Sushi Blue), a Sunday brunch buffet with such an oeuvre of sweets available that it was even labeled as the dessert table (at Sundance), french toast and some great pulled pork at No Worries Café, and some delicious (hot) Thai food down in the valley (at Skewered Thai).

mackerel sushi
3 kinds of mackerel

I also managed a training run, on as flat a trail as I could find, and I’m happy to report that at 4,000+ feet it was easier for me to keep my effort low than it was during my long run yesterday at home in Saint Paul, at about 600 feet. Go figure. Perhaps credit can be given to the love I got from their two friendly cats: pets are clearly great for stress management. But maybe not when one of them repeatedly wakes you up in the middle of the night for snuggles…

Given the volume of food words in this post, it’s fairly clear that I came for the food this time. I certainly wouldn’t want the food without the terrific visiting time with family that lives so far away. I’m looking forward to visiting for the powder too, in March. Bring on the schuss!