Thursday, January 26, 2012

A Culinary Adventure (In which I manage to mention lots of famous people without shame)

Today was a good day. Well, good for me. TERRIBLE for my diet but that’s the breaks. And what exactly does my diet have to do with travel, you ask??? ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. Unless you count that I traveled ten minutes, and crossed a bridge, to get to Wilkes Community College to have lunch with a couple of friends. Yes, yes, I can see you are rolling your eyes. Why do I feel the need to share this with the world??? BECAUSE I CAN. Hey, wait a minute. I can call this a culinary adventure. If I use the word “adventure” it’s like a TRIP and therefore acceptable on a travel blog. So there. Culinary adventure it is.

Wilkes Community College offers a culinary program. And every semester the students cook and serve meals in the Tory Oak Room. Some semesters there’s a weekly theme to the cuisine, say Indian or Eastern European for example. And other times, it’s a six course variety of flavor. That’s what I had today.

It started with the amuse bouche.

Grilled Onion and Apple Tartlets and Marinated Chicken Bites.

A very nice beginning! The onion and apple tart was actually heavily flavored with curry, which I love. I wish they had balanced out the flavors more, with a bit more salt and tartness to balance out the sweet onion. I think that’s what they were trying to do with the curry (which was strong enough to have included in the description of the dish) but it fell just shy of being excellent. Still very solid offering!
The chicken was good, well cooked and not dry, which is always a danger when putting small pieces of meat on a skewer. The sauce was mustard, honey, and a bit of heat. (IF I got this wrong, I humbly apologize—it’s the flavors I remember!) Nice.

The second course was Borscht.

Let me preface this by saying I was REALLY looking forward to this because I adore beets. I mean adore them like they are the Jack White and Dave Grohl of vegetables. But I was disappointed. This didn’t strike me as true borscht—it lacked beety rock-star goodness. It was sweet and seriously under seasoned, more like beet syrup. In the photo you can see I added salt and pepper. Something I would normally NEVER do. It’s insulting to a chef. The pepper really woke it up and cut the sweetness, while the salt did what salt does best: enhanced the flavor and cut the sweet.

Seared Tuna with Thyme, Roasted Peppers, Blonde Raisins (ehm, lets call them sultanas next time??? OR at least golden raisins?) Capers, Garlic, and Saffron Foam served with Smoked Eggplant Puree.

This was an EXCELLENT course. The tuna was perfect and that’s no easy feat. If I have to critique anything here, it’s that the flavors became muddled. There was a lot happening on the plate. The saffron foam was fantastic, especially with the raisins and capers. But I don’t think the roasted peppers brought much to the party and didn’t really belong with anything. The eggplant puree was once again under seasoned and seemed like an afterthought. Perhaps they were thinking to play the texture of the eggplant off the tuna, but it wasn’t necessary. That tuna was perfectly creamy, smoky and delicious on its own. But hey, I love eggplant, so I wasn’t too upset to get a bite or two of it.

Next up was the salad course.

Bibb Lettuce with Buttermilk and Tarragon Dressing, Croutons and Bacon bits (according to the menu).

There’s not much to say about the salad course, other than I don’t see croutons or bacon bits on the plate. The dressing was very good. But I got maybe a teaspoon of it. I could have used a bit more. I’m just greedy like that. A nice palate cleanser between the fish and the next entree.

Breast of Veal stuffed with Veal Mousseline, Spinach, and Portobello Mushrooms served with Cabbage Rolls stuffed with Spaghetti Squash cooked in an Herbed Tomato Broth, and Corn Pudding.

The breast of veal was very fatty, which normally I don’t mind. Fat is flavor! And the flavor of this veal was very good. But it was very tough, it could have withstood a braise in that delicious tomato broth. Or wine. Or something to breakdown the tendon a bit. The mousseline was excellently flavored though and made up in taste what the veal lacked in texture. The cabbage rolls were my favorite part of this course, so flavorful and meltingly soft. Corn pudding is always welcome on my plate. I would gladly have eaten a bowl of that and been content!

Finally, dessert!

Chocolate Cake with Praline Profiteroles and Rum Ice Cream.

Oh, my sweet lord. The entire cost of the meal (which at $10 was a bargain) was worth it for this dessert. The cake—dense and chocolately and filled with a nutty pistachio, citrus zest, sugar concoction what was divine. Rum ice cream. I wants it, precious. Smooth and slightly melted, oozing over the tongue like Jack Sparrow over the deck of the ‘Pearl. The profiterole was nice but if it hadn’t been on the plate I wouldn’t have missed it. It was stuck on there like a third wheel on a hot date. The cake and ice cream were the stars, Brad and Angelina, while the profiterole was more….Kim Kardashian.

All and all, it was solid offering from culinary students and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. One that I will joyfully repeat again next Thursday.

(If by chance a culinary student happens up this humble blog entry, let me reiterate I enjoyed the experience! I hope you are not insulted by my words, but understand that it’s what my palate experienced and take the words in the constructive way they’re meant.)


DL said...

I missed making reservations for this dinner by about 48 hours. While there appears to have been room for improvement, it does look wonderful. What surprises me most is the borscht. First that actually miss the dish, second that they served it, and third that the did a poor job of it. I'll have to learn how to make some. Soon,

Excellent article!

Nicole said...

There is room for improvement-- but hey they're students! They've got to learn! And one of the most important lessons they need to learn is season as you go!!!!

The borscht was a major disappointment. If I had made it, and tasted it, I would NOT have served it.

I'm really looking forward to Thursday's menu! And I've heard the buffet that they serve on Wednesdays is VERY good, too! might want to see if you can get in there.

Christy said...

This post is making me hungry again! And never be ashamed to mention famous people. You are the Perez Hilton of food bloggers! Well done!