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Tuesday, December 27, 2005

"Four Star Tour" Dinner: Closing Thoughts And Photos

This is the tenth and final installment in a series of posts directed to a holiday dinner party that I recently held at my home, for which I put together a six-course menu comprised of dishes inspired by the Bay Area's four-star chefs.   For more on the dinner, please see these posts:   Intro | Menu Planning, Pt. 1 | Menu Planning, Pt. 2 | Course 1 | Course 2 | Course 3 | Course 4 | Course 5 | Course 6 | Closing

Having now described each of the six courses that I served as part of my November 12, 2005 dinner, I thought I would provide some closing thoughts and photos.   At the outset, I must acknowledge the enormous contributions of my co-host Rhonda.   She served as a sounding board while I planned the menu, as a taste tester when I ran experiments, as a co-chef while I cooked the meal, and as a gracious host to our guests whenever I was consumed in the kitchen.   Rhonda also took charge of the table décor, putting together the impressive spread depicted in the various photos included in this post.   To put it simply, I would not have been able to pull off this dinner party without her.

The pre-dinner preparation for the party went quite smoothly, and we felt much less harried than we typically do in the hours leading up to a multi-course dinner.   On Friday evening, I prepared the Leek & Corn Veloute up to the point at which the cream is added, and I prepared the lavender-infused juice for the Orange Lavender Cappuccino.   After a good night's rest, I went to the Ferry Building bright and early Saturday morning, where I purchased Prather Ranch steaks, Far West Fungi chanterelles, and a few other last-minute items.   Shortly after lunch, I quickly prepared the red onion crème fraiche and mixed it into the crab – tasting along the way to make sure that I had the right ratio.   In the middle of the afternoon, we started the Wild Mushroom Risotto;   in the late afternoon, we tackled the Apple Crisp.   As the afternoon wound down, a spectacular sunset visible out my dining room window served as a constant distraction from our cooking duties, and Rhonda paused more than a few times to capture some wonderful pictures.
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At around 6:00 p.m. – half an hour before our guests were to arrive and an hour before we expected the meal to start – I took the eggs out of the refrigerator to bring them to room temperature, cut up the mango and added it to the crab mixture, and loaded my iSi Gourmet Whip with some of the lavender-infused juice.   At 6:30, as my guests were starting to stream in, I took the pot with the partially-prepared soup out of the refrigerator, mixed in the cream, and placed the soup over very low heat to start to bring it up to temperature.   And after all of my guests had arrived, we poured some wine, I made a short welcoming toast, and I explained the theme of the evening's dinner.   From there, Rhonda and I set off to start the preparation of the first course – The Egg.

We decapped ten eggs and separated out the yolks, prepared the sherry vinegar whipped cream, and cut the chives.   After cooking and completing the eggs in two batches – and taking the obligatory pictures for this series of posts – we served the course to the table.   As I would do for each of the remaining courses, I talked a bit about the dish, the chef, and the restaurant – interspersing whatever anecdotes came to mind along the way.   As my guests tasted The Egg, a few of them commented that they had never before experienced such a unique combination of flavors – which was precisely the same reaction that I had when I first sampled this excellent dish at Manresa.

The Leek & Corn Veloute, meanwhile, slowly climbed up to the right temperature, and I left the table shortly after everybody had finished the first course so that I could make some final salt adjustments to the soup.   We cleared the table of the dishes from The Egg, divide the veloute among 10 bowls, and served the second course to our guests.   In our haste to do so, however, I forgot to take a picture of the soup – a fact I realized only after I had sat down at the table.   We accordingly scrambled to snap a picture tableside – which explains why the photo included in the post devoted to the veloute is different than all of the others!

The Chilled Crab with Mango, Red Onion and Crème Fraiche was up next, so I lined up the appropriate plates on my "staging" table and took out my ring mold.   As Rhonda cleared the soup bowls from the table, I worked quickly to try to assemble the crab dish.   I put the ring mold in the middle of a plate, filled it with the crab mixture, slowly lifted the ring up, and then proceeded to repeat for the next plate.   The process took me some time to complete, during which Rhonda tossed the mache in our previously prepared dressing.   We quickly put a few mache leaves on top of each crab timbale and transported the dish to the table without too much delay.   As I sat there leisurely chatting with my guests over the crab, it suddenly struck me that I had better get up to finish the most time-consuming course of the evening – Filet Mignon with Wild Mushroom Risotto.

The first thing Rhonda did was to stir the previously-sauteed mushrooms into the pot containing the risotto and then place it over medium-low heat.   Meanwhile, I pan-seared the steaks in two batches, put them in a roasting pan, inserted a meat thermometer into one of them, and placed them into a preheated oven.   The steaks out of the way, we turned our attention to finishing the risotto and heating up the Bordelaise sauce.   When the steaks were done approximately ten minutes later, we removed them from the oven and immediately started plating the risotto.   We then put a steak on each plate and finished by topping it with a bit of Bordelaise sauce.   A picture or two later, and the fourth course was on the table.

The fifth course, Orange Lavender Cappuccino, was easy to assemble.   I poured some of the lavender-infused juice into my ice cream machine, charged my iSi Gourmet Whip, and readied the demitasse cups on my staging table.   The juice was sufficiently slushy after about 10 minutes in the machine, so I put a few spoons’ worth in each cup, added some unfrozen juice, and then topped with a cap of foam.   The foam seemed to start dissipating almost immediately, so we rushed the cups to the table for maximum effect.   Miraculously, we managed to get a decent picture before the foam completely vanished.

And that left the Apple Crisp with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream, another dish that was relatively easy to plate. We simply took the crisp out of the oven, sliced it into ten servings, and then placed them into small oval dishes.   We took a few pictures at this point, but we forgot to take additional shots after we had added a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream to each dish.   We wound up the evening at the table with some good conversation.

That brought us to my least favorite part of dinner parties like this – the clean-up.   With ten diners and six courses, I had sixty dishes to wash, well over sixty utensils, twenty glasses, countless pots, and innumerable spatulas, tasting spoons, and containers.   Worse still, all of these items had been more or less strewn about the kitchen as the evening progressed, since I didn't want to interrupt the flow of getting courses to the table in any way.   The net result – as depicted in the photo to the right – was complete chaos.   More than exhausted by this point, Rhonda and I resolved to postpone this final stage of the party until the next day – at which point we would cycle these various items through my dishwasher one load after another.

And that was it – the weeks of planning, the days of execution, and the hours of clean-up came to a close, and we finally had an opportunity to catch our breath.   But the respite would not last long.   My second major dinner party – a white truffle dinner – had been scheduled for December 10, 2005, and there was plenty of menu planning, cooking experimentation, and mental preparation to be done in the four short weeks remaining.   But more on that later.   For now, I will simply close with a pictorial recap of the six courses that comprised my "Four Star Tour" dinner.


Anonymous shana said...

hey... where was my invite?

January 30, 2006 5:20 PM  

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