Everyone knows foods that go well together like peanut butter & jelly, cucumber & dill, apples & sharp cheddar cheese, horseradish & beef, etc., but I was intrigued as to why the latest dessert with corn cream & blueberry ice cream blew my mind (see below with flan in the foreground). Sure, a blueberry cornbread muffin is yummy but a blueberry/corn dessert was a new one for your Spy and that's the sort of thing that really makes me giddy! So what is it about food pairings? Well, as you probably know, the taste receptors on our tongues can only sense 5 tastes - salty, bitter, sweet, sour and umami. Interestingly, that means that as much as 80% of what we taste comes from aroma. In fact, a term known as the flavor threshold is synonymous with the "odor threshold value" defined as "the minimal concentration of an odor compound that can be detected by human smell". Fairly recently, folks in the field of molecular gastronomy have been employing techniques like mass spectral analysis to determine the flavor threshold of various foods and attempting to discover new combinations of flavors that, in theory, should work together. Most of what they have discovered confirm what we already know (surprise...PB&J works) but helped find some "new" pairings like caviar & white chocolate and strawberries & peas. In other cases, even if a pairing should work in theory, lower level compound combination make it "meh" in practice. For example, licorice & salmon. I can't say I ever had this nor do I feel I want to. However, salmon and fennel is a solid combo and fennel is a similar herb to licorice. Anyhow.... corn and blueberries work... really well. Enjoy! Spy out.
Coq au vin was amongst the first dishes that Chef Cipolla was formally taught at the French Culinary Institute (now the International Culinary Center) 15 years ago. It was also Julia Childs's featured dish in her groundbreaking 1961 cookbook "Mastering the Art of French Cooking." Classic dishes like Coq au vin reflect a time where a people with a deep love and respect for food, made the most out of less desirable ingredients due to hard times. Specifically, it is traditionally made using a rooster well past his prime (hint: the Viagra ain't working). Like an ancient version of frying, braise the meat in wine long enough and it's sure to taste phenomenal! Fortunately, we aren't struggling like 18th century French peasants, so Chef's spin on the dish incorporates young free-range chicken from Fisher Hill Farms in Canandaigua, NY. It's de-boned and re-formed around a truffle mousse. The wine sauce is a potent 10x volumetric Burgundy reduction that Hannah (our Somm) has paired perfectly with a Spanish Garnacha that is like deep ruby silk with a fleeting smokiness.
Enjoy! Spy out.
A multi-course prix fix meal is relatively rare in Upstate NY so it's not unusual for first time diners to have misconceptions about what to expect. I'm going to address a couple in this post; namely "How much food are we talking about? and "How long will service take?" Let me first say that your Spy is a 6'1", 180 lbs male with a metabolism like a short tailed shrew (it passes out if it doesn't eat like every 10 minutes). When I get the first couple courses of a multi-course in front of me I have to resist the panic generated by the primitive core of my brain. Usually any female companions are giddy with beautiful plating and delectable food. I appreciate the aroma of lavender and truffles and seeing food as art as well but ... my body wants calories! So look folks, a fine multi-course meal is like an symphony or dare I say the way sex should be. You have to have patience and let it build. Chef Cipolla has a plan. He wants you to be asking for more in those first few courses. It will crescendo and you're going to be sensually intoxicated. Take a look at the Beef Wellington in the current 5 course. The Spy had a big smile on his face with this very substantive slice of culinary perfection.
The primary differences between a 5 course and a 7 or 9 course are variety and dining time rather than food quantity. That said, a longer dining experience means you have more time to digest, enjoy more wine pairings and company etc., so the 2nd service makes for a more complete experience. The current 5 course at 5PM takes approximately 1 hr 45 min with patrons easily able to make a 7:30 show or party anywhere in town. The current 7:30PM seating lasts about 2 1/2 hrs if you linger and chat with Chef Cipolla when makes his round of the dining room. Cheers! Spy out.
While French cooking techniques and sauces are classic and time-tested, it can be a bit intimidating if you didn't do so well (like me) in HS French or didn't graduate from the French Culinary Institute (now the International Culinary Center) like Chef Cipolla. For the current menu, Sous-vide and Béchamel are worth knowing.
Sous-vide (translation = "under vacuum") is a method we use where food is sealed in airtight bag then placed in a water bath for many hours at a highly regulated temperature (137.5 °F for example). The technique allows an item to cook evenly and perfectly while retaining moisture. When Chef uses sous-vide for vegetables like celery or bok choy they are transformed from crunchy and stringy to tender and buttery. Our Sous-vide machine sits just behind the plating counter shown below.
Béchamel is one of the 5 "Mother Sauces" in French Cuisine. It is a white sauce made from butter, flour and milk and named after a financier who held the honorary post of chief steward to King Louis XIV. King Louie was apparently a big fan of the sauce when expertly prepared (like me) and one can only assume that failure in preparation resulted in a low life expectancy. Given its history, Chef's Béchamel & Hake feels like a fish fry & tartar sauce for the rich and famous!