A few weeks back, Cati and I went to the Champagne Dinner at The New World Home Cooking Co. in Saugerties NY. We heard about this dinner from the announcement on Steve Barnes’s website. When it comes to appreciating/pairing champagnes, neither Cati nor I know a whole lot. It was quite a trek for us (especially the return trip after at least six champagne pours), so we got a ride there and back. Champagne-sticklers should be rolling their eyes about the use of the word “Champagne,” since technically only sparkling wines from the Champagne region can be called Champagne. But all the sparkling wines that were served that evening were either made from the “Champagne-method,” or were actually from Champagne, France.
We arrived and were escorted through the bar and casual dining area in the front of the restaurant, to the back dining room which was elegantly and festively decorated. Chef Orlando notified those of us who had arrived early/on-time that several people would be arriving late, and that things would be getting a late start. That was fine; we’re easy.
All the diners that evening were seated ten-to-a-table at tables covered in red linens. I was expecting something a bit more intimate, but we were seated with a charming lot, so we didn’t mind at all. There was an arsenal of champagne flutes at every place-setting. We were also treated to wonderful music while we dined from Jay Ungar and Molly Mason of WAMC’s Dancing on the Air. Their performances between courses were a really nice touch. I paused to listen to them several times during the night and was impressed with their talent. I took some pictures with the trusty spy camera, but they are all under-exposed and don’t represent our evening very well. I’ll share the best of the bunch.
The night was kicked off with a greeting from Chef Orlando and his sommelier colleague Michael Weiss. Orlando and Weiss seemed knowledgeable and warm, with an evident passion for food and wine. They described the first three courses and told us about the pairings we were to expect. I’ll run ’em down for you below:
Course one : Burrata cheese, herbs, semolina toast, and olive oil paired with Gloria Ferrer Blanc De Blancs. The Burrata cheese was a butterier, milkier mozzarella. Cati and I don’t typically care for mozzarella, but this stuff was the champagne of mozzarella (coincidence? Me thinks not), and it was chock-fulla creamy goodness. The center of this cheese was particularly soft and creamy. The Champagne was noteworthy for its fine bubbles and tannic finish. According to the Gloria Ferrer website, it is made from the secondary fermentation of Chardonnay, and it showed.
Course two: Duck broth with roasted ginger, Asian greens, and soft scrambled duck egg, paired with Langlois Estate Cremant de Loire. The soup was broth-based. It was dark and flavorful. I’d never had duck broth prior to that evening and I was very impressed with how savory and meaty it was (or should I say umami-esque?). The Asian greens imparted the crisp and citrusy flavor that characterize them, and the duck egg gave the soup even more body. Aside from a small “clean-food” problem in my soup, it was excellent. The Champagne was light, like a finely carbonated sauvignon blanc (even though it is not made from sauvignon blanc grapes at all [shrug]).
Course three: Lobster tamale with corn smut crema paired with Iron Horse Vintage Brut 2002. When I saw this dish on the announcement, I was intrigued. I even discussed, with other foodies, what Chef Orlando might have in mind. Was he going to serve tomalley with the tamale? Did he mean tomalley all along? Cati and I were both pretty curious about this one. This dish was rocket-to-the-moon good. Incredible. It was briny, and the sauce that accompanied the dish did include the tomalley after-all. The generous lobster chunks were served with huitlacoche infused cornmeal cakes wrapped in cornhusks. Cati and I were dazzled. We had never had corn smut before, and it was really rich and flavorful (not to mention fun-to-say, eh?). Chef Orlando mentioned that some consider corn smut as the “American truffle”; I can see that. The brut was as dry as you’d expect, and was very cava-esque. It was an excellent palate cleanser between mildly spicy bites of the stellar dish. Cati even shot me a dirty look for using my dessert spoon to get every last bit of sauce off my plate (she tries to class me up; still trying). Bravo Chef Orlando.
Course four: Hot smoked
salmon trout and kaska <sic> filled savoy with salmon roe and beet vinaigrette paired with Taittinger brut la Francaise. I really enjoyed this dish; moreso than Cati. I think it touched my inner Ukrainian [wink]. The borschty-beet vinaigrette, plump fresh salmon roe, smetana-esque creme freche, the cabbage-wrapped kasha, and the sprig of dill all gave this dish a very slavic vibe. This was my kind of food. The flavors were more Moscow indulgent than Paris chic, and I can appreciate that. Chef Orlando did a last minute substitution of the salmon for trout; fine with me. The Taittinger was good, but we were about 5 glasses in at this point, so our palates were getting a little less discerning.
At this point, Chef Orlando realized that he had forgotten to tell us about the rest of the courses after the third. He and Prof. Weiss then briefed us on what we had just had and what was to come. Read on for more:
Course five: Pheasant Kiev with game pate, sweet pea, pearl onion, and cob smoked bacon salad paired with Charles Heidseick <sic> brut reserve. This dish was good, not great. The presentation was nice. The pheasant was rolled into a cigar shape but was a bit over-breaded for our taste. The Kiev butter sauce was rich and flavorful and the peas went well. The greatest problem however, was that the pheasant was dry. It’s a delicate white meat that is easily over-cooked, and this was. A dallop of butter-sauce accompanied the pheasant to replace what had drained out during the cooking step, which helped. The brut was a Champagne-drinker’s Champage. Classic and a little yeasty; we liked it.
Course six: Poached beef filet with apple butter-marrow coating and porcini leek sauce paired with Veuve Clicquot rose. This is the kind of dish (like the lobster course) that separates a great chef from a hack. I had never had poached beef, and I wasn’t sure about what to expect. Whenever I think of poached food I think of British food; well, this must be how the Royals eat. It was incredible. The fork-tender beef was perfectly cooked and the flavors were deep and savory, but not harsh. The porcini leek sauce worked very well. Cati commented on the fact that oftentimes, beef can be heavy and hard on the stomach; however this was much lighter at no expense to the flavor. The beef course was at the other end of the spectrum from the lobster tamale, but equally impressive. The rose was the perfect pairing for this relatively subtle beef dish. I don’t know that I will make pink champagne a frequent libation, but I will think twice about my I-don’t-drink-pink mantra. I guess I can’t help thinking of Lambrusco (aka: hangover juice) when I see pink fizzy stuff.
Course seven: Hot coco-cocoa and cookies. This was a classy way to end the evening; warm coconut chocolate-milk with butter cookies.
Well, that’s it. We enjoyed a cozy and quiet ride home and reflected on all the great food we had just had. I would certainly recommend making the drive to Saugerties for dinner here to my friends (and what the heck, my enemies too). We’ll be back.
Alternate names for this post:
- “Duck and cava.” (<- except, no cava was served, darnit!). Guess I’ll have to make that myself.
- “Champagne dishes and caviar cremes”