The end of January means one thing; CT’s Birthday! About a month before I started my planning to see what our dining options were because as you know most fancy restaurants only allow for reservations to be made one month in advance. Last year we had a great meal at Jean Georges, so I wasn’t sure how I would top that or at least come close. Though, it definitely isn’t a competition between us when it comes to celebration dinners, she would have won last year by taking me to Per Se for my 30th. As I considered the options, I thought “Why not check out who is at the James Beard House that night?” Most dinners there (at member prices) are $130 for a cocktail hour and 4-5 courses with wine pairing, tax and tip. That makes for a helluva deal for a great dinner in NYC and at least 50% cheaper than what you would pay for a similar meal at a restaurant. It turned out that they were having a special Cochon 555 dinner at the house that night. A dinner billed as “An Epic Celebration of Pork” definitely was the best way to celebrate CT’s birthday.
CT says: I’ve said it before, and I’ll keep on saying it: I am one lucky girl!
I read about Cochon 555 since it started up a couple of years ago. They have events all over the country celebrating heritage pork and whole animal cooking with competitions among local chefs culminating in a grand champion competition at the Food & Wine Competition in Aspen. The founder, Brady Lowe talked to us at the beginning and end of the meal about the event, heritage pork and sustainability. It was quite interesting and something I stand behind along with many restaurants these days that offer whole animal cooking.
In addition to celebrating pork, we would also be celebrating the 200th anniversary of Laurent-Perrier Champagne. Each course would be paired with a different champagne. CT also loves champagne, so it would have been a disservice for me NOT to take her.
There were six chefs cooking that night; not an easy feat in the notoriously small James Beard Kitchen. I am sure they cooked at least some of the food off-site otherwise I don’t know how everything could finish in time. Here were all of the chefs working together on the dinner.
The chefs were:
Jamie Bissonnette Coppa and Toro/ Boston
Matt Jennings Farmstead and La Laiterie/ Providence, RI
Gavin Kaysen Café Boulud/ NYC
Andy Ricker Ping, Pok Pok, Pok Pok Noi, and Whiskey Soda Lounge/ Portland, OR
David Varley Michael Mina Group/ San Francisco
Charcutier Michael Sullivan Blackberry Farm/ Walland, TN
I had seen Chef Bissonnette on a couple of shows on The Food Network/Cooking Channel and was very excited to taste some of his food. Chef Kaysen has also had his share of TV time and is quite well known as the Chef de Cuisine at Café Boulud. Chef Ricker has gotten a lot of local press recently for opening a NYC location of his well known Pok Pok from the left coast.
The cocktail hour was supposed to consist of six different bites, but they only served three. Maybe they did do most of the cooking at the House and couldn’t get everything ready in time? We weren’t too disappointed since there was plenty of food to come and they did serve the hors d’oeuvre that had UNI!
Uni–Salami Bocadillos. This was a great little sandwich of indulgence. While we didn’t notice any salami, there was plenty of uni oozing out of the bread. I had to be a little piggy(pun intended) and pop the whole thing in my mouth, lest I drop a piece of sweet, sweet uni. They had plenty of these going around, but I had to limit myself to two of these.
CT says: There were so delicious. I never thought of an uni sandwich before, but what a perfect way to start the evening. Also paired very nicely with the free-flowing sparkly!
Crispy Tête de Cochon with Pickled Mustard Seeds and Quince. This was meat from the pig’s face that was cooked down and then battered and deep fried. Super delicious! The pickled mustard seeds had some good acid to counteract some of the heaviness of the pork, while the quince rounded it out with some sweetness. These were too easy to continually pop in your mouth.
Cured Lard Tarts with Black Truffle Fondue. This was quite an interesting bite. The truffle was earthy, but not overpowering. I only had one of these so I don’t have a lot to say about it. I guess the best word to describe it would be “interesting.”
Hors d’oeuvres not served: Nduja Sausage on Grain, Muu Waan on Shrimp Crackers and Grammel Schmaltz with Crispin Apples and Air Bread.
Once we arrived at our table for dinner, we were glad we showed some restraint with the hors d’oeuvres. The first course a charcuterie platter was already on the table for us to enjoy. Everything was made at the Blackberry Farm in Tennessee by Chef Sullivan. The platter took the whole width of the table for the six of us to dig into.
Included in the platter was Pork Liver Mousse; Sopressata de Testa; Head Cheese; Pork Pâté Duo; Lomo, Pancetta, Sopressata, Toscano, Prosciutto, and Pickled Tongue; Country-Style Forcemeat with Aged Ham; Fatback and Hazelnuts; Smoked Tongue Loaf with Olives; Pressed Head with Preserved Orange and Chile; Black Pudding; Ham Hock and Braised Mustard Weisswurst; Cotechino; Wild Boar Saucisson Sec; and Farmstead One-Year House-Cured Ham.
Don’t ask me to point out which was which because I had no idea. They were all delicious though. Later on we learned that this only represented about half of the kinds of charcuterie the farm produces, WOW!
Left third of the platter. On the right was thinly sliced lardo. It just melted in your mouth. Although we would have liked some bread, that would have been wasted room in our stomachs.
Center third of the platter. On the top was some amazing proscuitto. The bottom had a pepperoni-like spread that was super spicy!
Right third of the platter.
CT says: I could’ve eaten just this platter and been done – it was all so fantastic! The spicy pepperoni spread was the biggest surprise and thoroughly enjoyable. I’m not a huge pepperoni person, but I would definitely eat it in that form again.
The next course was Tom Saep Muu from Chef Ricker. It was described as Isaan-Style Sour-and-Spicy Soup with Pork Rib Broth, Aromatics, and Offal. I remembered that Zabb Elee, which we enjoyed a couple of months ago also does Isaan cooking. This soup was quite aromatic with a healthy punch of fish sauce. Those red Thai bird chilies were super spicy. I accidentally ate one piece with my first spoonful of soup; it cleared my sinuses and then some. Even CT had a couple tears forming from this. The pork was very tender. I enjoyed this a lot and its lightness and spices were the perfect contrast to the heavy cured meats we consumed earlier. I definitely want to check out Chef Ricker’s Pok Pok Wing soon.
CT says: I was really looking forward to trying Chef Ricker’s contribution and it didn’t disappoint. Though the peppers were incredibly spicy, the soup itself wasn’t too spicy or overwhelming. I just couldn’t stop drinking the broth.
Next was Roasted Pig Face with Maple–Bourbon Vinegar, Pear, Vanilla, and Horseradish from Chef Jennings. Ah more pig face! This pork was like the best pulled pork you have ever had. It was super tender from the low and slow roasting. Fortunately, the pureé had only a light hint of vanilla, so it didn’t overpower the dish.
Next was Pork Belly–Miso Ramen with Nori Purée, Crispy Pork Belly, and Octopus from Chef Bissonnette.
The miso ramen was poured tableside, which was light and flavorful without being too salty. The nori purée looked and tasted like squid-ink, which I thought it was until I re-read the menu. Unfortunately, there was no octopus to be found. I was pretty disappointed that it didn’t make it onto the dish, since it happens to be one of my favorite foods. The noodles got a little mushy so overall the execution of this dish did not really work.
CT says: This was one dish TT and I disagreed on. I enjoyed this dish and thought the noodles kept a good biting quality. I appreciated the table-side pour too. I was a bit surprised to get two soups, but each had its own flavor profile, so I happily slurped through both.
Our last course before dessert was Buttermilk Biscuit and Trotter with Crayfish, Creamed Spinach, and Périgueux Sauce from Chef Kaysen. This was….AWESOME! Hands down my favorite dish of the night. The pork was tender and sweet on top of the bed of delicious spinach and the buttery biscuit. I’m not sure if the crayfish was used in any of the sauces, but the tiny tail slices really weren’t needed in the dish. Although it didn’t look like much on the too large plate(not that the picture helped), it was an excellent course.
CT says: Another winner, though by this point I was pretty full and this was a pretty heavy dish. I remember liking the pork but ravaging the biscuit underneath. It was like a crack-biscuit that I couldn’t eat fast enough and then wanted to steal everyone else’s too. Not just buttery, but something even better. Then, if I remember correctly, we were told these were also made with pork fat or lardo or something equally intoxicating. So good!
Dessert was prepared by Chef Varley, the Corporate Executive Chef from the Michael Mina restaurant group. He prepared Path Valley Farms Parsnip Cake with Whipped Lard Frosting and Benton’s Bacon Nougatine. He later told us that he was tasked with using pork fat in his desserts. The parsnip cake was a play on carrot cake since the two vegetables are so alike. He actually used pork fat in lieu of butter to make the cake. It was quite light and airy and I gobbled it all up, which was a savory palate form of approval. (Our favorite waitress brought out CT’s dessert with a birthday candle.) The white “blobs” was the whipped lard frosting. It was actually quite light and already started to melt on the plate. The Chef reminded us that our grandmothers made pies with lard, so his dessert actually wasn’t as “out there” as we think. It had that lip smacking texture you get from eating pure pork fat. The brown bits were tiny chunks of delicious candied bacon.
CT says: I felt so special with the candle and singing! So sweet of the waitstaff, TT and all of our table mates to celebrate my birthday with me! Thanks! I’ll admit I was a bit hesitant about trying these desserts as I have pretty strong sweet tooth. However, I dug right in and was surprised to really like both the parsnip cake and the whipped lardo frosting. The cake was a little more savory and the frosting more sweet – but a nice combination. Surprisingly, the bacon nougatine was my least favorite on the plate.
To round of the epic meal, we were presented with some epic petit fours.
Ham Hock–Butterscotch Pudding, Pork Blood Canelés, and Campfire Marshmallows.
The pudding was quite unique and played perfectly on the salty/sweet combination. Like the frosting in the other dessert, it had that same lip-smacking texture. I’m not sure what the white powder on top was, but I don’t believe it had a lot of flavor.
The canelé was very interesting. It didn’t have the mineral flavor you expect from blood, but did have a fair amount of pork fat in it.
Finally, the marshmallow. I’m not sure if this had any pork in it, but it was quite a good marshmallow.
CT says: Unfortunately these desserts were more savory than sweet, and I didn’t enjoy them as much (except the marshmallow). However, I was so beyond stuffed full that it didn’t matter. A bite of each and I was beyond happy. It was such a wonderful meal overall!! Thanks TT for another spectacular birthday!
All in all, it was quite a meal. While some things were better than others, we enjoyed it a lot. Our tablemates were very friendly and made some great conversation. While I personally would have preferred not to drink all of that champagne, it worked well with the dishes we ate. The James Beard House continues to be a great deal and you don’t even have to be a member. They only charge about $40 more per person for non-members, which isn’t that much. We lucked out that they had a dinner that was right up our alley on CT’s actual birthday. Now, how will I top this next year???