March 08, 2006

The James Beard House, Chef Gabriel Kreuther from the Modern

You know you are a foodie when not only do you know what The James Beard House is, but more so every time you walk near it you have an uncontrollable urge to drop to your knees and begin praising this establishment. Yes, I am a foodie by this definition.

And an even better treat than being in the vicinity of The James Beard House, is actually being a guest at one of their dinners inside. This is where I was last night.

Before I go into my phenomenal experience, let’s discuss what The James Beard House is—shall we? In sum, this beautiful townhouse is the headquarters for The James Beard Foundation, which is the premiere institute for chefs and cooking. They are best known for handing out the annual James Beard Awards, which are the highest honor a chef can receive. This is essentially the Oscar for chefs, if you will. So being a guest at The James Beard House for dinner is a tremendous treat. Now understand why I tend to drop to my knees and praise this place?

The James Beard House hosts chefs throughout the month from all over the country. These premiere chefs are invited to come to the house and cook an extensive meal for the 100 or so guests. Not only is this a great honor for the chefs to do, but it is also a lot of pressure for the chefs to cook an especially fabulous meal knowing that the guests are all pretty serious when it comes to food. Therefore, you know you are getting the best possible meal from this chef—probably even better than what you would get in their own restaurant.

Anyone can make a reservation for The James Beard House; however, members are given the privilege to make reservations prior to the non-members. Therefore, often seats are no longer available for non-members once the event has become public. Lucky for me, my friend Geoff is a member so he is able to reserve us tables for the highly anticipated chefs. Reservations are not cheap, but they are certainly one of the best deals in town. Most the dinners are $100 for members, and $125 for non-members (no tip is given). You will never find this high of a caliber and extensive meal with wine pairings for each course at a restaurant for this price! That’s another reason why I am such a fan of these dinners.

The events begin with hors d’oeuvres and free flowing champagne on the first floor of the house and, when warm, the back patio. The waiters walk around with the trays of fabulous hors d’oeuvres as the sophisticated and elegant crowd of foodies eloquently push each other out of the way to get their bite. Got to love the scene with all food obsessed people!

During this time you can also walk over to the open kitchen and watch the featured chef at work preparing the hors d’oeuvres and the meals that will be served later on. I especially love this aspect of watching the artist at work in making his creation. You can’t get that at most restaurants!

After an hour of the hors d’oeuvres and champagne, it is then time to be seated for dinner. Generally, the meals are five courses with a wine pairing for each. Most people are seated upstairs, which has the feel of a lovely, cozy living room with walls that are a rich orangey red and warm lighting.

The chef at last night’s dinner was the executive chef Gabriel Kreuther from the Modern—the new restaurant that opened along with the renovated Museum of Modern Art. Prior to accepting the invitation to the dinner, I was not familiar with Chef Kreuther. I learned that he is an up and coming chef here in New York City, and New York Magazine has named him “the next Jean-Georges.” Now that is a compliment!

Our menu and wine pairings for the evening was as follows:

Yellowstone River Caviar Beggar’s Purses with Gold Leaf and Lime, Mini Tarts Flambées
Applewood-Smoked Salmon Roulades with Sorrel and Yellowstone River Caviar
Spicy Black Angus Beef Tartare with Quail Eggs
Crispy Shrimp with Lemongrass Dipping Sauce

Paul Goerg Brut Premier Cru Blanc de Blancs

* * *

Apple Terrine with Hibiscus, Roasted Hazelnut Vinaigrette, and Butternut Squash Sorbet
Domaine Marcel Deiss Muscat 2003

Diver Scallop and Veal Sweetbreads with Wild Mushroom Jus, Preserved Lemon, and Pancetta
Nicolas Joly Savennières Clos Sacrés Chenin Blanc 2003

Chorizo-Crusted Chatham Cod with White Coco Bean Purée and Harissa Oil
Donum Pinot Noir 2002

Squab and Foie Gras Croustillant with Carmelized Ginger Jus and Farm Vegetables
Guigal Brune et Blonde 1997

Salted Caramel Parfait with Roasted Mango and Ten Flavors Sorbet
Domiana Malvasia Select 1999

Assorted Petits Fours and Chocolates

All the hors d’oeuvres were fabulous. My favorite was the caviar beggar’s purses because I rarely have the opportunity to eat caviar, but the most complimentary of flavors I thought was the beef tartare with quail eggs. It was served with a small poached quail egg on a very tasty cracker and the egg was framed with a layer of the tartare. Very nice.

The apple terrine with hibiscus was also quite interesting. It was served with butternut squash sorbet, which had such a unique flavor. The wine pairing was sweet, which I usually do not like in a wine, but it complimented this dish perfectly.

I was nervous about the next course, which included sweetbreads! My dad loves sweetbreads, but I have trouble mentally getting my head around the idea of eating them. However, I made my dad proud and ate them with the scallop. It was actually not so bad!

The chorizo-crusted cod followed, which was very good. The chorizo flavor was not as pronounced as I was expecting, but I loved the pairing of it with the white coco bean purée. As you may have noticed from the recipes I have shared with you thus far, I love beans!

Like the sweetbreads dish, I was also a little nervous about the squab and foie gras croustillant. I like pureed foie gras because it reminds me of pâté, which I love. However, this was in its natural form. Nonetheless, I made my father proud again and ate it. Not only did I eat it, but I also loved it with the squab! The foie gras was nestled between two large pieces of squab and this was all wrapped in a flaky pastry. This croustillant was then sitting on a bed of thinly sliced vegetables. This was probably my favorite of the courses. The wine paired with this course was also fabulous.

The last course was the salted caramel parfait with mango and sorbet. The parfait was nice and sweet, and the sorbet had a unique flavor that I could not identify—I love that. Accompanying this course were an assortment of chocolates and other sweets. Geoff claims the macaroons were one of the top three best macaroons he has ever eaten (he then went on to describe the others). I agree, though my experience with macaroons is apparently not as extensive as Geoff’s!

Following the dinner the chef walks upstairs to where the diners are and answers any questions that the guests may have. Unfortunately, I had a difficult time hearing the questions and answers from where we were seated. However, I had experienced one other dinner at The James Beard House, and during this session, I was able to learn about the details of how the chef prepared various courses and hear his thought process for developing his ideas. Now that is cool.

So as you can see, having dinner at The James Beard House is certainly a treat! If you truly appreciate good food, I definitely recommend trying The James Beard House for it provides a whole new dimension to your dining experience that you can not find in any restaurant.

Thanks for the invite, Geoff !

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Anonymous gemma said...

what an experience. Thanks for sharing it. I could almost taste the foie gras. YUM

7:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am jealous:)

2:10 PM  

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