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16 March 2013

Tonight's Episode: Charleston & Chicago, Paired Perfection

The highlight of the Charleston Wine + Food Festival for me is always the Perfectly Paired dinners. This event brings together local Charleston chefs with accomplished culinary masters from around the nation, and bring in wineries to provide from their cellars the liquid accompaniment to enhance every dish.

As with last year, we chose to do our dinner with the über-talented Chef Nate Whiting of the excellent and under-rated modernist gem Tristan. Joining him this year is Andrew Zimmerman (not the bald guy who eats testicles in mud huts). This is the Iron Chef American champ and genius behind Chicago's Sepia, a product-driven fusion of tradition and modernism. Providing libations is Washington's Hedges Family Estate.

Crab is King

Joining The Girl and I are Vino Suave, Argentinian lord of the Vine, and his lovely wife, Iron City Tipsy, whose severe shellfish allergy has led to a retooling of her menu to avoid a repeat of the Dancing With Lobster incident of '09. 

Chef's Compliment: Chef Andrew Zimmerman
      Hamachi cured with the flavors of an aviation cocktail ~ fennel, juniper, zest, violet, cherry

This is a clean and subtle dish, invoking the taste of a dry martini. Simple preparation, but delightful.

First Course: Chef Nate Whiting
     King Crab, sea urchin pana cotta, avocado, vanilla, bronte pistachio, ruby grapefruit
     2010 CMS Sauvignon Blanc

 To the right, top, we see our dish. This is a combination of the most delightfully balanced spring roll you have ever tasted, paired with a perfectly creamy and savory-sweet pana cotta. The playfulness of this dish is so typical of Chef Nate's style.  Below is IC Tipsy's veggie take on the same dish. Balance seems to be the goal of all of Chef Nate's dishes.

Second Course: Chef Andrew Zimmerman
   Glazed Veal Sweetbreads, blood sausage, celery root, ciabatta, hazelnuts
   2011 HIP Unoaked Chardonnay

The Sweetbread, buttery and decadent, was of great appeal to both Vino Suave and myself. For him, this was one of the best sweetbreads he has had outside of his native land. For me, the simple treatment grounds what could have been a flawed dish. The blood sausage crumble added little flavor, but that was hardly important with this beautifully savory dish. The sweet apricot flavors of the unoaked wine are a perfect counterpoint.                                                                                                                          
Third Course: Chef Nate Whiting
   Acquerllo Risotto prepared from scratch, eel kabayaki, local mushrooms, ponzu, crispy duck tongue
   2010 Hedges Red Mountain
                                                                         Though far from the most visually appealing dish, this risotto is beautiful and rich, perfectly executed, and with an umptousness that makes it hard to go back to those "fauxsottos" you usually get at a restaurant. The crispy duck tongue gives a good textural counterpoint, but brought little to the table in the way of flavor. 
Fourth Course: Chef Andrew Zimmerman
   Wagyu Bavette w/maitake mushrooms, cippollini, sunchoke custard, coffee soil, béarnaise
   2009 Goedhart Syrah

Deep, rich, flavorful. Gorgeous plating. How do you argue with an amazing cut of meat like this?
Fifth Course: Pastry Chef Amanee Neirouz
  Quadrello di Bufala, buffalo butter biscuit, San Marzano and rosemary condiment
  2010 DLD Syrah

Imagine the greatest croque monsieur and the greatest Parisian cafe. Pales in comparison to the cheese offering from Pastery Chef Amanee! 
Sixth Course: Pastry Chef Amanee Neirouz
  Chocolate Milk; caramelized Valrhona Ivoire pudding, malted milk crumbs, Dragon's Milk stout        
  shake, chocolate brioche
  2006 Hedges Fortified

Last year's dinner at Tristan ended with a tart pastry, much to The Girl's dismay. This year, a regal and amazing tribute to chocolate with one of the most thoughtful desserts we have ever enjoyed. Chef Amanee wrapped up this meal with a perfectly executed dish. 

The four of us reflected on the meal with cigars and single malt at the Rooftop Pavilion Bar, and the consensus was Chef Nate wowed us, Chef Amanee's two courses were a revelation, and Sepia would be top of the list when we next make it to Chicago. Do yourself a favor, and next year jump in the pool and try one of the Perfectly Paired Dinners! 

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