Sunday, May 25, 2014

S.V.Underground Pop-Up Game of Thrones Themed Dinner

It sure sounds like a mouthful, and it was. Based in Silicon Valley, chef Gale Tan hosts secret themed dinners at locations only revealed a couple of nights before the event to the lucky few who nab reservations. When I received an email announcing a Game of Thrones themed dinner, I decided to try it out with my husband Brad, a big GOT fan.

Businesspeople know that scarcity makes things more valuable in people’s minds. S.V.Underground dinners play up on that idea. They also tap into the mystery of secret locations, as well as the uniqueness of a one-of-a-kind, never to be repeated meal. Gale hosts ten pop-up dinners a year, and they sell out within a couple of days after announced in her emails.

This meal promised to feature an elaborate menu of items inspired by GOT using fresh, local, organic, seasonal, and foraged ingredients. The menu looked enticing and I couldn’t clearly imagine what any of the dishes would taste like:

Lannister Goat Cheese, Walla Walla Onion and Sweet Pepper Potato Pie
Piment d’Espelette, Cowgirl Creamery Goat Gouda and Feta
Meyer Lemon, Rangpur Lime and Coone Valley Thyme Marmalade

Tyrion's Orange and Wild Strawberry Lemonsweet
Castle Black's Dairy Free Creamy Chestnut, Macoun Apples
and Chickpea Soup
Pureed Apple Gelee, Pine Nuts

Cersei’s Lemon Sponge Cakelets
Yuzu Infused Pearls
Salladhor Saan’s Mulled N.A. Wine
Daenarys’ Chilled Atkins Ranch Lamb, Tangerine Lace
and Wild Berries Salad
Red Micro Shiso and Ruby Radish
Baby Microgreens, Arugula and Frisee,
Blood Orange, Mint and Balsamic Vinaigrette

Dragonstone Caramelized Green Apple and Basil Granita
Granny Smith Apples, Micro Basil
Hibiscus Crystals

The Red Keep's Sausage Stuffed Cornish Game Hen
with Sweetgrass, Firepods, Honey and Milk Glaze
Joffrey's Aromatic Forbidden Black Rice
Nasturtiums and Borage Blooms
Margaery’s Edible Flowers, Cinnamon and Spice Tart
Black Sesame Saint Germaine Puree
Sansa’s Sweet Biscuits

We showed up at the secret location in Palo Alto promptly as instructed. About thirty other diners joined us in a cozy and communal table setting. We were wondering if anyone would come in costume, but no one did since the focus was more on the food than cosplay.The communal setting worked nicely and we enjoyed meeting some interesting, lovely people who also enjoyed trying new food and drink.

Each dish dazzled in a different way, all tasted unusual and good, and looked wonderful on the plate. Chef Gale’s unexpected way of combining flavors and textures made each dish worth paying attention to. She explained how she liked combining unlike flavors and elements together, like putting her french fries into soft serve ice cream when she was a kid. Sweet and savory, creamy and chewy, fruity and meaty, tart and nutty, the meal unfolded as a culinary adventure from one dish to the next. I enjoyed the artistic embellishments such as colorful edible flowers, a sweep of black sesame puree to garnish the spice cake, and strawberry boba in a refreshing orange-lemon drink. Everything was gluten-free too, although I wouldn’t have realized that if I hadn’t been told.

It was fun to experience a meal that only thirty-two of us will ever have, to enjoy some innovative and special dishes that I could not have imagined, to eat it in such an unusual place (a church!) with people who all appreciated the meal, and to be served by a chef who obviously enjoyed creating her tasty and playful concoctions for our pleasure.

If this sounds like something you would enjoy trying one day, sign up for the S.V.Underground mailing list and you’ll receive notice of future themed dinners. It’s a unique, fun, and delicious adventure worth trying!

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Danny Kaye’s Lemon Pasta from ‘Comfort Me with Apples’

I found an old autographed copy of Ruth Reichl’s food memoir ‘Comfort Me with Apples’ at Bell’s bookstore in downtown Palo Alto. Ruth is an exquisite food writer, an excellent storyteller with a gourmet palate. Her description of a meal at actor Danny Kaye’s house is my favorite section of the book, and her recipe for his lemon pasta, a fragrant take on fettucine alfredo, is rich and refreshing.

Even though it’s against the rules to copy verbatim in a blog, there really isn’t any excuse not to here, both for Ruth’s description of the meal (pp. 244-246) and for her recipe (p. 255). Enjoy.

I stood in the doorway, staring at the scene. The table had been set with bowls of clear, golden broth that sat steaming at each place. The fragrance drifted intoxicatingly through the room. “Lemongrass!” I said.

“Sit down!” Danny shouted irritably from his post at the stove. We stopped milling and each of us rushed for the nearest seat, as if this were a game of musical chairs. We threw ourselves down as he commanded, “Eat!” We obediently picked up our spoons.

With the first bite I knew that no lies would be necessary. Danny’s soup was extraordinary, with that resonance that goes on and on, like a bell still humming, long after the last note has been struck.

Danny did not sit down. As we ate he stood at the stove like a mad scientist, enveloped in the steam that billowed about him from a huge cauldron. I heard the sizzle of butter hitting a hot surface and sensed the high, clean note of lemon juice being added to the pan. Now there was a richer scent--cream, I guessed--and then the aromas began to mingle, so that lemon and cream and butter were dancing through the air.

Water drained; wet pasta hit a skillet with a hiss, and a cover went crashing down. Then Danny was rushing to the table with a plate in his hand and setting it in front of me. “Eat it now,” he insisted, “don’t wait for the others. This is a dish that can only be served to people eating in the kitchen. In a few minutes it won’t be any good. I made the noodles myself.”

I twirled the pasta around my fork and took a bite. And then, in spite of myself, I gasped. The pasta was so thin that it seemed to have vanished, leaving only a memory behind. What was left was simply the subtlety of the sauce, pure and light, as if the liquid had somehow taken solid form. It wasn’t food; it was magic on a plate, and for a moment I disappeared into the flavor. When I returned Danny was standing over me, watching me so intently and with such pleasure that I knew I didn’t have to say a single word.

I didn’t listen to the conversation after that, or think about much of anything at all. I just ate, conscious of my luck at being there, trusting that each dish would be extraordinary. The liver was like little pillows of velvet between satin slivers of onion, and so sweet it was as if it had been dusted with sugar. “It’s the onions,” he said, answering my unspoken question. “They’re grown in special soil. And, of course, the way they’re cut.”

The conversation flowed around us, background music, but I didn’t try to join it. I understood that in his kitchen Danny was desperate for an audience; cooking for people who didn’t pay attention ruined it for him. He was a creator, not a consumer, and the only thing he required was appreciation. And so I said nothing as he snatched the lemon souffle from the oven and rushed it to the table. High, light, rich, and eggy, it fell, slightly, as it was cut, collapsing onto itself with a fragrant sigh. I ate it slowly, savoring the way it disappeared in my mouth, and drank the espresso he served me at the end without sugar, liking the bitterness against the sweetness of the souffle.

“I think it’s the best meal I’ve ever eaten,” I said as I left. Danny nodded. “You have to come back,” he said. I understood that this had been a test, and I had passed.

Danny’s Lemon Pasta

I never asked Danny Kaye for the recipe for his lemon pasta--or for any of the other dishes that he cooked for me. But I loved the pasta so much that one day I simply tried to make it myself.

It took me a long time to perfect the recipe. It isn’t as good as Danny’s--nothing could be--but it’s the closest I’ve been able to come.

½ stick unsalted butter
1 cup heavy cream
3 T fresh lemon juice
1 pound fresh egg fettuccine
2 t finely grated fresh lemon zest
freshly ground black pepper
freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Melt the butter in a deep, heavy 12-inch skillet and stir in the cream and lemon juice. Remove the skillet from the heat and keep it warm and covered.

Cook the pasta in a large pot of salted boiling water until al dente, 2 to 3 minutes. Reserve ½ cup of the pasta cooking liquid and drain the pasta in a colander. Add the pasta to the skillet with the lemon zest and 2 tablespoons of the pasta cooking liquid and toss well. (Add more pasta cooking liquid 1 tablespoon at a time, if necessary, to thin the sauce.)

Season the pasta with salt and pepper and serve with Parmesan cheese. Serves 4.