Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Slow food dinner at the River Oyster Bar

I think I've finally figured out why I always end up chatting with the organizing committee when I go out to event like this. I go by myself and, when I arrive, choose a relatively quiet and well-lit corner to take my pictures and notes. That means I usually am sitting by myself, or at least with a spare seat or two around me, as everyone get situated so the very last people to get to sit down, the aforementioned organizing committee (minus the host of that particular event) end up at my table.

Last Sunday I managed to be on my own all the way through the amuse bouche course before anyone joined me at my table. Actually, I think a lot of the crowd took a typically Miami attitude towards punctuality as the waitstaff, tired of milling around with full platters, became insistant. I ended up amusing my bouche a full seven times. Eventually my table was filled with Leticia, the Slow Food Miami's gustatory coordinator, the rep from Domaine Chandon, thw winery that supplied the evening's wine pairings (all sparkling, by the way) whose name I rudely neglected to write down (and also Irene, the director of special events for a local organic Italian joint. But she doesn't fit my narrative so gets exiled into this parenthetical). Also dropping by the table were Alajandra from Romanico's who supplied little truffle boxes as place settings and Margie of Bee Heaven farm who supplied some of the vegetables for the evening.

The event proceeded the usual way Slow Food Miami events do--a series of courses paired with wines interrupted by short speeches by the chef--David Bracha in this case who spoke about how important it is to let people know what fresh, organic and local is like and how he supports Slow Food Miami's school gardens project--the provider of some of the ingredients--here Steve Garza (pictured to the right) of White Water Farm who provided the oysters and, I think, the conch--and a longer usually inaudible speech by Donna Reno. They've got a press officer so I'm sure the official minutes will be produced sooner or later, but you're probaly best served heading over to Miami Dish for Trina's well-researched background piece.

I'm just going to talk about how everything tasted.

First up, a queen conch pinchon served with scotch bonnet jam.

The scotch bonnet glaze dominates the first flavor sensations with a fruity sweetness and slight burn. That quickly fades into the mild, slightly burnt, flavor of the grilled (I'm guessing) conch. It was pretty tender as conch goes which I'm going to attribute to the species as I don't think the cooking style is a particularly gentle one. The flavor combination was pleasant, but the crossfade between them was brief. It would have been nice if they had more time to mingle. Maybe a marinade would help?

The other amuse bouche was a Sebastian Bay White Water oyster shooter.

Also in that shotglass is heirloom tomato water, Chopin vodka and grated horseradish. If you take a sniff of the shot, the horseradish knocks you back and if you shoot it as prescribed, that pungency plus the bite of the vodka overwhelm the mild oyster. But I found that if I downed half the liquid first and then shot the rest, the flavors were much better balanced with the oyster's sweet saltiness matching with the tomato and the reduced horseradish as a complimenting note.

The service started a bit confused so the wine pairings for these two were offered too early and too late and in the wrong order. But I did manage to obtain another shooter to try with the reserve pinot noir brut. Unfortunately, I thought the wine was a bit strong for the mild oyster and blew it off the palate. A pleasant sip otherwise.

The first course was a Key West pink shrimp a la plancha with white bean puree and a side salad dressed with an arugula-walnut pesto.

I was a bit trepidatious about this course as, in my limited experience with Key West shrimp, they can be a bit funky. And, in fact, my shrimp did have that smell about it, but I think that was just from the head as the actually flesh was buttery and sweet. The puree was a lump of smushed up beans that I expect didn't turn out quite as the chef had hoped. Not great on its own, but its earthiness grounded the shrimp's flavor nicely when tasted together. The salad had creamy goat cheese, fresh tomato, peppery arugula and bright pesto all playing off each other both in flavor and texture. Really quite fabulous.

The wine pairing was an etoile brut which was light but sour which I thought was a pleasant contrast with the pesto and cut through the richness of the shrimp.

The main course was a Key West yellowtail snapper on a bed of red chard, topped with grapefruit and microgreens with a citrus sauce.

The fish was flavorful but plainly prepared so you had to dredge it in the chokingly tart sauce to balance the flavors. But once you did, it was very nice. The grapefruit I'm not sold on. It gave a lasting sourness that clashed with the fish instead of the quick hit of sweet/tart the sauce offered. And the chard didn't do much. It was a bit limp and it's mildness didn't hold up against the other flavors on the plate. Maybe it's just me though; I'm down on chard in general in favor of callaloo, collards and other more flavorful greens.

The wine, a reserve chardonnay brut, mirrored the flavors in the sauce except less sweet which I thought worked well.

Finally, we had a choice of deserts. I passed on the rum-soaked coconut cream cake. Instead I had the Homestead goat cheese panna cotta with Florida honey, dates,port-poached blackberries and other more difficult to identify fruits as well. Unfortunately, I was undone by drink by this point and neglected to get a photograph. Fortunately, though, Trina got a pic of it during her preview so if you didn't look earlier, please head over now to take a look before reading further.

The panna cotta had a very nice texture--soft and creamy, just barely holding its shape. It has the goat cheese funk so a bit off-putting on its own, but able to stand up to the tart raspberry/honey sauce in a way a standard panna cotta couldn't. Quite nice. I particularly liked how the character of the dish would change depending on which piece of fruit you had in your spoonful.

I never got the reserve extra-dry riche that was suppose to pair with this dish, but I did get to try the ten cane rum that went with the coconut cake. Very light and smooth. I can't see it standing up in many mixed drinks except maybe a mojito, but dangerously easy drinking on its own.

And that's the evening. A very nice meal all the way around, I thought. If you were there, please leave a comment with your thoughts, a pointer to your write-up or admonishment for my write-up's shortcomings which I will endeavor to remedy.


Frodnesor said...

I am pretty sure that there is no conch permitted to be harvested domestically, it all comes from other countries in the Caribbean. Seems an unusual choice for a Slow Food dinner as I thought there were sustainability issues with current conch populations.

billjac said...

Garza did address that issue, but my table was chatty and I was trying to take pictures so I didn't hear it all. I just did a bit of research and found that Garza (at least recently) is the Florida distributor of queen conch from the Caicos Conch Farm in the Turks and Caicos Islands. This must have been that.

paula said...

Yes, it was from the Turks and Caicos.