Tuesdays with TT: James Beard House- Fusion of Flavors
Last month, I got an email from my Dad asking if CT and I were available to go to a James Beard event. As long time members of the Foundation, they regularly get discounted offers to events at the house that are not yet sold out. Although CT recently started a new job that has a much longer commute, nothing would keep her from attending a dinner at James Beard.
The guest chef was Mike Andrzejewski of Seabar in Buffalo, NY. While I do not think of great food coming out of Buffalo besides their famous chicken wings, the Chef’s menu looked pretty delicious. He is known for Japanese fusion with traditional upstate New York dishes.
Here is a meta pic of the Chef and his assistants at work in the tiny kitchen.
The Chef wrapping up the pierogies that will be served later.
The hors d’oeuvres were especially interesting that night and all paired with Gekkeikan Zipang Junmai Sparkling Sake. I’d never heard of sparkling sake before. It was similar to a very light white wine with just a bit of carbonation. Very drinkable, especially at a cocktail hour.
On the left, Pulled Pork Tempura. I could have eaten these all night. Fried BBQ? Yes please. The pork was nice and smoky. The breadcrumbs gave a good crunch to the dish. It was fried perfectly as there was very little grease left on my fingers after popping it in my mouth.
On the right, Seabar Signature Chicken Wings. This was what you would call the Chef’s interpretation of a chicken wing, considering there were no bones and it was wrapped in a wonton. The bite was plated in a bit of buffalo sauce that was lacking in the spicy punch you’d expect from the traditional Buffalo wing.
CT says: I liked both of these, but definitely the pulled pork tempura more. It was very unique and had a nice crunch to it. The chicken wing was good too, but I also would have preferred a little more kick to it.
Next was some beef sushi. I realize now that this was not listed on the menu, so I cannot give a complete description. It was actually really good. Basically it was sushi rice and a bit of meat wrapped in a beef carpaccio wrapper. The white sauce on the bottom may have been a horseradish mayo to complement the beef.
CT says: This was the first thing I ate that night and it was delicious! The meat had a great, fresh beef flavor. The accompanying rice and horseradish sauce were perfect additions, without taking away any flavor from the beef. I hate when sushi is wrapped in so much rice that you can’t taste the fish. That’s probably why I usually stick with sashimi. However, even though the picture may look like it had a lot rice, it was very nicely balanced.
The next item passed around were Oysters with Cucumber-Chile salsa. This was a mouthful of briny goodness. The salsa brought some nice acidity to the bite. I am not sure what the yellow crunchies were on the bottom of the oyster but they were good for some texture.
CT says: As I’ve recently become a huge oyster fan, I loved this and could have eaten many more.
Last to come out were Lobster Buns. The lobster was more of a lobster salad since it had a bunch of mayo with it. Eventhough I prefer more of a naked lobster roll, this was quite tasty. My Dad noticed in the kitchen that the micro-greens were taken straight from the potted plant. Talk about fresh!
CT says: These were also pretty good. The mayo didn’t overwhelm the lobster – which was quite sweet! However, the bun threw me at first, as it also had a slightly sweet aftertaste. It tasted similar to a Chinese bun, like the steamed kind you’d get stuffed with roast pork at dim sum.
It was so easy to keep eating, but we had to save room for dinner.
First course: Razor Clams with Bacon Consommé, Potato Pavé and Sherry Vinegar Cream. It was pretty funny that we were served razor clams because the day before the NY Times came out with an article stating that razor clams are becoming the new, hot menu item at lots of top restaurants. I don’t think I ever had razor clams before. They are noodle like in appearance and texture. The potato pavé was interesting. It was very lightly seasoned in order to retain the true potato flavor. The texture was pleasing as it was made up of slices of potato that were slightly firm, yet tender enough to cut with a fork. The bacon consommé was fantastic. It could satisfy the most savory of palates. It is quite amazing that a brown, clear broth packed so much flavor.
CT says: This was a nice opening dish, not too heavy or too spiced. I had never had razor clams before either, but really enjoyed the flavor and texture. I thought the potato pavé was just ok, but I enjoyed using it to sop up the bacon consomme and top with cream. After I had enough of the potato, I just started drowning my bread in that bacon goodness. It was really fantastic.
Second course: Unagi and Foie Gras Torchon with Radish Salad and Mustard–Soy Emulsion. My Japanese is a little rusty, so I did not realize unagi is eel. Once I learned that, I was intrigued by the combination. After a bit of Googling, I found out that Joël Robuchon has served a similar dish for years. For those of you know that know me, I am not a huge foie gras fan. This dish changed my mind for one night. The firmness of the eel complemented the creaminess of the foie perfectly. The mustard-soy emulsion reminded me of wasabi- it really opened my sinuses. This was one dish where you are truly supposed to have a bit of everything for each bite.
CT says: Unagi and Foie Gras? Yes please! By now, most readers will know my obsession with foie gras and this one did not disappoint. It was rich, smooth and creamy – just heavenly. The eel also had a great taste, but I didn’t think it was earth-shatteringly new in its preparation. Unlike TT, I wasn’t blown-away by the combination and ended up eating most of the two separately. I really enjoyed each part, but thought some of their individually fantastic flavors were lost when combined. I also appreciated the small portion of salad on the side as a palate cleanser.
Third course: Seared Shrimp with Shrimp and Goat Cheese Pierogi and Red Wine Sauce. This was my least favorite dish of the night. The pierogi wrapper was too thick and doughy for my preference. I also felt that all the components were underseasoned. This may have been due to the fact that the previous course had some pretty aggressive flavors.
CT says: I liked this dish for what it was. I agree with TT that it was an interesting choice to serve this after the stronger-flavored Unagi and Foie Gras. However, I appreciated the “break” in flavors. While the wrap was a little doughy, it’s more what I would expect from a pierogi as opposed to a potsticker.
Ugh, I am getting full already. Note also that each course also was paired with a wine, which added some sleepiness to the fullness.
Fourth course: Seafood Loco Moco with Seafood Sausage, Fried Rice, Egg, and Gravy. Loco Moco can be considered as one of the quintessential Hawaiian dishes. This time though the hamburger was replaced with a seafood sausage patty. What’s not to like about a runny egg over sausage? The only problem was that I was not hungry enough to appreciate the dish.
CT says: Like TT, I think I was getting too full to really appreciate this course. I’m always happy to find a runny egg on my plate, but like at Back Forty, mine was just a touch overdone. It was still runny but didn’t quite ooze all over the place like TT’s. Honestly, I didn’t expect to like the loco moco, as I usually prefer to have my seafood components separate and distinguishable. However, they did a pretty good job with this patty. There were large pieces of each type of seafood, including shrimp, crab and lobster (if I remember correctly). Overall, a good dish and not something I would’ve ordered myself.
Fifth course: Chicken and Waffles (Crispy Dark Meat, Savory Herb Waffle and Maple Butter). I found some spare room in my stomach for this, how could I not? The chicken was quite tasty, but unfortunately lost its crispiness after sitting for a little while with the sweet sauce on top. My parents never heard of the chicken and waffles combination before since they were both raised north of the Mason-Dixon line. I am pretty sure they both came very close to cleaning their plates. The waffle wasn’t very “herby,” but that was just fine by me.
CT says: While I’ve heard of chicken and waffles, I never actually had it before. I agree with TT’s assessment that the waffles suffered from timing as the syrup made it a bit soggy. However, the flavor of the chicken, waffle and syrup were all really good. I still cleared the plate! A perfect slightly sweet, slightly savory dish to transition into dessert.
Lastly, we get to dessert. Warm Chocolate Rice Pudding. What is that red stuff? Oh, it’s probably a raspberry sauce or some other berry to complement the chocolate. Yes, it was a berry sauce but with the added surprise of chili pepper. The chef went a little heavy handed with the chili. This was fine for CT and myself who like the spicy heat, but I was worried about my parents. They actually did ok with it especially considering none of us could come close to finishing dessert after the mammoth meal.
CT says: If you know me, you know that I always have room for dessert! However, I was a little disappointed with this dish. I was excited for chocolate, but thought the chili flavor overwhelmed the whole dish and I ended up leaving most of it. I tried to dig into the middle to get some pudding without chili, but found another layer of the sauce in the middle. Not bad, but just not my preference.
All in all, it was another great meal at the James Beard House. I could have done just fine with one less course, but such is life. I was quite impressed by the sophisticated dishes that Chef Andrzejewski sent out. If I ever find myself in Buffalo, I now know that I won’t go hungry.