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04 March 2012

Tonight's Episode: Paired Perfectly

One of the highlights of the BB&T Charleston Wine + Food Festival is, in my mind, the Perfectly Paired Dinners. A host of local restaurants welcome in world-class chefs from around the country to craft a singular dining experience. Tickets for these dinners go on sale 6 months in advance. Many of them sell out within minutes. When they went on sale at 10AM, I was ready and waiting, and boy did we score.

Our dinner was at Tristan, home of one of Charleston's most imaginative chefs, Nate Whiting. Nate has a whimsical grasp of modern cuisine that deserves recognition far in excess of what he receives. Joining him are two Top Chef Masters. First, Portuguese impresario George Mendes, the man behind NYC's Aldea  The second, Canadian superstar Hugh Acheson, Chef/Partner of Five & Ten in Georgia. Also joining in is Andrew Rich, owner of Andrew Rich Wines of Oregon's Willamette Valley.
 I am not sure what George is doing, but Hugh is waxing philosophic

Chef's Compliment, one bite to please them all

We start the night with a Chef's Compliment from Chef Whiting, King trumpet mushrooms with aloe-peach condiment, espelette, and lemon argumato. This one-bite wonder is elegantly smooth, earthy, and bright. Wonderful start!

I would rather this be stacked like a sandwich, but thats just so I can eat it faster

First course, from Chef Mendes, is cured foie gras with Bosc pear jam, radish/nasturtium, and Canadian maple syrup, paired with a 2009 Andrew Rich Tabula Rasa White. This iteration of foie is creamy and smooth, and tastes faintly like an earthy sorbet. I love it. The Girl finds the richness a little overpowering, so I enjoy a half-portion extra. The Tabula Rasa has a floral acidity, and a nice weight, but maybe a touch too acidic for the foie.

Yes, those are beets, she doesn't like beets. I LOOOOOOVE beets. 

Second course, also from Chef Mendes is a Bacalhau confit with burnt bread emulsion, smoked baby beets, and spiced yogurt, paired with a 2009 Andrew Rich Pinot Noir Verbatim. Bacalhau is a Portuguese salt cod and has a firm texture and beautifully clean flavor. The burnt bread emulsion has a delightful caramel flavor. The smoky beets give this dish a presence. The smoke also changes the character of the wine, which has dark berry and licorice notes. The smoky beets and the wine combine to exude an even deeper layer of flavor.

Genius on a plate

Third course, from Chef Whiting, may be one of the most memorable dishes I've ever had. Even now, days later, I have the taste of the sauce firmly in my mind. This is a lobster & veal marrow agnolotti with pomelo cells, carrot puree, and sea urchin & ginger espume. The pasta on its own has such a depth of flavor, add in the filling and sauce and you have a buttery rich, decadent, and all around BAD-ASS dish. The wine with this dish is a 2007 Andrew Rich Roussanne Ciel du Cheval Vineyard. This wine has massive fruit and acidity and is perfect for the rich raviolis.

Yep, thats a can 'o soup

Chef Acheson's first dish is a playful and simple-seeming Quebecois pea soup in a can with tiny fried gnocchi, deviled ham meatballs, and pickled radish. The meatballs were way too much for The Girl, but I loved them. The depth of flavor in this soup is amazing, and the pickled radish gives it a fantastic balance. This was paired with the 2008 Andrew Rich Pinot Noir The Knife Edge, a wine spectator 90 point behemoth of crushed raspberries, restraint, and acidity. One hell of a Pinot.

Chef Hugh can do elegant too

Chef Acheson's second course was a Gum Creek pork loin with lard, Brussels & barley risotto, pickled blueberries, spring onion soubise, and hard cider. The pork was spot-on, perfect, amazingly good. The Girl, surprisingly, loved the risotto. So there is a way to get her to eat Brussels sprouts after all. Her one complaint, not enough blueberries. These pickled blueberries taste more blueberrish (that is a word) than any I've ever had. In probably the best pairing of the night, we have the 2009 Andrew Rich Syrah Prometheus, a blueberry and licorice blend with an amazing mouth feel. 
Andrew Rich, bringing a little taste of Oregon to Charleston

Desert, sadly for The Girl, not chocolate

Our final course comes from Tristan's Chef Amanee Neirouz, captain of the After-Dinner menu. A Meyer  lemon curd with cardamom biscuit and aerated pistachio. For me, with my dislike of really sweet desserts, this is a home run. For The Girl, it is somewhat of a let down. She really wanted SWEEEEEEET. For the sweetness we turn to the 2008 Gewürztraminer Vin de Glace, packed with tropical fruit, this almost-ice wine is sweet but has enough acidity to not be cloying or syrupy.

I think he is surprised at how good things are going

This dinner was exceptional. Having one chef turn out a meal of this quality is hard enough, never less having three men coordinating. These three pulled it off. The Girl is beyond pleased, which means I'm beyond pleased. The only down-side? Not being able to order these dishes on the regular menu.

The Girl and Chef Mendes

#Forkandtell #Charleston #Tristan

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