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Bourbon Dinner at Terra, 12/15/2009

One of the very first food blogs I started reading was Mac and Cheese Review, so I perked up when she first mentioned that a Philadelphia restaurant would have a Bourbon dinner. Actually, I think she was just pointing out how very meat-oriented the menu was, since she’s vegetarian – but they caught her complaint and jumped to say that they would offer full vegetarian options. And then I was rather excited when she put out a call on Twitter for people to join in the excursion – yay, I wouldn’t have to feel like a stalker. ~g~

And, apparently, we’d met before and I’d talked to her, but I’d never quite put together the person at the food blogger pot lucks with the food blog author – go figure.

The scheduling ended up that it was just three days after the birthday party / scotch tasting, which has also been a few months in the planning. But, actually, the contrast was rather charming.

I’ve never really objected to bourbon, but it wasn’t until some random chance encounter at Positano Coast and a bartender taking pity on me and introducing me to Basil Hayden’s that I started to see it as a the kind of beverage worth sipping and discussing. Now mind you, I have a strict policy on alcohol, where I won’t drink something where I don’t like the taste. I’ll even sip tequila, if I’m going to be drinking it. If it’s going in my mouth, it has to be something I’m willing to enjoy. But there’s a step between enjoying something and savoring it and all. And here’s where that leap happened.

Right, so the small batch people at Beam got together with the people at Terra, the cozy restaurant underneath the Tavern on Camac, and they made a five course Bourbon Dinner, with beverage pairings for every course. So there!

Yeah, I ended up requesting time off work to attend because I work crazy late on weeknights, and the post was very specific about an early start time to the dinner.

So after a bit of negotiation, I made reservations and met up with Taylor and another friend for dinner. Here is her much more timely review with pictures (though I am backdating this post to fit the chronology better)

Ambiance – This was my first visit to Terra, and it was cozy with a lot of warm wood everywhere. It was mentioned that it seemed like a very masculine space, but I especially liked the benches around the edge of the room. It was just the place to curl up on a cold evening. I had, however, been to the Tavern on Camac above us before – a friend from high school used to bartend there, and there’ve been random parties there associated with the Philadelphia film festivals. The main floor is a traditional piano bar, with random outbursts of song, that speaks of another place and another era – but it’s good odds that the people there will be smiling and happy.

So the menu – because, really, that’s the important part.

amuse bouche
Steak Tartar
with Baker’s Bourbon Caviar
paired with
Baker’s Bourbon
served neat

Served in an asian soup spoon, the tartar had a clean, mild flavor of fresh beef mixed with a nice crunchy, tang of raw purple onions. Now I’ve been familiar with the theory of molecular gastronomy caviar for a while, but I hadn’t had the occasion to try it. And I must say that I always pictured it in my head as having that same taut burst as real caviar, but no – this was just tiny globules of mush. Another illusion dashed. It didn’t really harm the tartar, but it didn’t do anything to improve it, either.

The burbon, however, was quite tasty. It has a toasty, caramel flavor that was perfect for warming us and settling down.

first course
Arugula salad
Humbolt Fog cheese,
Jim Beam soaked Cranberries,
Roasted Parsnips, House Bacon
and a Ginger Bourbon Vinaigrette
paired with
Black Beauty
Jim Beam, Cranberry Juice
& DeKuyper Reach Schnapps

This salad was by far the most stellar dish of the evening, but I love salads. Every piece was delicious on its own, and they went together perfectly. My only sadness with the perfect union was that there was enough going on that I had no idea what the vinaigrette tasted like on its own, it blended in that seamlessly. The bacon was worth teasing the vegetarians over (but only a little), and the roasted parsnips were sinfully good. Humbolt Fog is one of my favorite cheeses, and it’s mellowness goes well with the arugula. And the Jim Beam soaked cranberries were just the right mix of natural tanginess with spicy smoke from the booze. I would eat this as an entree, if it made it to the regular menu.

Oh, and there was bread – caramelized onion brioche torpedoes that were hot and tasty, and I devoured mine before the salad even arrived. And Taylor, who swears bread isn’t usually worth a second bite, also praised it highly.

The drink? Well, it was the prized invention of one of the bourbon-mongers sherherding the event. It was a good premise, but it needed work. The peach schnapps made things a bit too sweet. But it was suggested (I forget by whom) that maybe adding more bourbon would improve the drink, and since we all still had some of the generous portion of Baker’s left, the experiment was attempted and met with success. It ended up going well with the fruitiness of the salad, even though I’m still not sure about it on its own.

second course
Smoked Pork Belly
Chestnut Bellini, Pickled Beets
and Maple Knob Creek Bourbon Foam
paired with
Knob Creek Manhattan
Knob Creek, Sweet Vermouth, Dry Vermouth,
Bitters & Fresh Lemon
with a Cherry garnish

I totally lucked out with eating meat here because the pork belly was delighful. I could have just basked in the smell… okay, that’s totally a lie because I enjoyed the toasty, smoky fatty joy of the pork. And my vegetarian companions had to made do with seitan that had not been particularly strongly seasoned to function the same way.

Also, the parts of the dish didn’t quite go together. The pork belly went best with the pickled beets, which were charmingly aggressively peppery in a way I plan to try at home. And the maple foam went well with the bellini, almost like breakfasting on buckwheat pancakes. But assembling all 4 together just seemed forced. And while I’m knocking the gastronomy, let me admit that I absolutely loved the foam. It was hard to corral, but it was very temping just to gather the last of it on a finger to make sure I didn’t miss any.

Sadly, I ended up trying to foist my beverage off on my dining companions because I just don’t enjoy bitters.

third course
Pan Seared Lamb Chops
Booker’s Bourbon Grits
and Szechwan Peppercorn jus
paired with
Booker’s Bourbon
served neat

Oh, man – so glad I eat meat. This was the best lamb chop I have ever had, and it took quite a lot of willpower not to completely melt about it because look at this contrast. They had perfectly seared the endge of fat around the tender, succulent meat. And the main place where the vegetarian option fell down was the not only did they have to substitute the meat, but they also couldn’t use the peppery jus, which was necessary to contrast the bulk of the bourbon grits.

Now, I’m not a fan of grits. I grew up with a mother from Mississippi, and I didn’t like her grits – and I wasn’t a fan of them either when there was a charmingly gentrified restaurant in Oxford, MS where the most expensive item on the lunch menu was fancipants grits. But these were rich and creamy and smooth, and I ended up eating every last grain. Without the flavorful sauce, however, the bourbon ended up adding an off whang that wasn’t pleasant at all. Probably would have been better without the bourbon.

The Booker’s bourbon was 127 proof, and it wouldn’t let you forget it. I believe the bourbon-monger said that it was aged 10-14 years in a single barrel, but it still felt like it was setting your nose hairs on fire. When it first hit the tip of my tongue, it was sweet, and then it washed over the mouth with heat. After only two sips, my lips were tingly and a little numb. Taylor had, despite the Black Beauties, saved some of her Baker’s for contrast… and, yes, the Baker’s was downright well behaved and mellow next to the Booker’s. The gentleman seated at the table besides ours ordered a glass of ice and proceeded to adulterate his until it was a bit more mellow.

dessert course
Black Forrest Gateaux
Coffee Granita
and Jim Beam Red Stag Creme Anglaise
paired with
Sleigh Ride
Jim Beam Red Stag, Hot Chocolate
& Whipped Cream
with a Cherry garnish

The dessert was not the best note on which to end the meal. I’m not fond of coffee, but luckily the granita was in an asian dessert spoon and easy to isolate from the rest of the dish (well played!). The creme anglaise was mild and not strongly flavored with the alcohol, but it couldn’t do anything to help the dense hockey puck of a cake. Nor did the abundant frosting and the reconsituted dried cherries in the frosting, which ended up so worked that they ended up chewy and a bit artificial tasting. Luckily, this isn’t a dessert even close to anything on their regular menu and must have been designed specifically for this event and need never be seen again.

I was also worried about the hot chocolate because Taylor had tried the Red Stag before and declared that it definitely tasted like cough syrup when plain. But the hot chocolate worked beautifully and the cherry booze just created a nice layer of flavor, instead of overpowering. It was lovely and warm and soothing – and a much better finish to the evening.

Leftover Soup

So I came home from work, and I heated up some leftover soup.

And then I had amazing garlic bread on the side – this morning, I had mixed together some black garlic and softened butter. But – I’d been reading cookbooks at work, and I forget which one had it – but I just passed right by a mention of tomato toast (which looked like bread with some tomato sauce spread over before toasting). I don’t even know if that recipe involved toasting because it didn’t register consciously, but I have this jar of salsa with a smooth texture that’s not all that pleasing for chips so I’ve been looking for ways to cook with it… and that, drizzled on top before the buttered bread went under the broiler, made delicious toast.

But then I was looking at the dregs of the jar of salsa, and I figured out a soup that would use up a bunch of odds and ends around the refrigerator. Only, people – I have already had dinner, but I can’t stop sipping this soup in progress. It’s really good so far, and I’m hoping I don’t fuck it up.

Mexican-y leftover soup

So I started off with slightly less than two teaspoons of whole wheat flour, and I toasted it in the bottom of a dry saucepan.

Once it had turned a rich dark brown, I added a finely diced medium/large onion. And I let that cook for a few minutes without adding any oil so that the onions would have a chance to soften and get coated with the flour.

Then I added a teaspoon of bacon fat and two teaspoons of olive oil, and stirred it together thoroughly, until the flour was all gooey.

I added three large minced garlic cloves while there still was some dry-ish cooking to be had.

Then I slowly incorporated 1 pint of turkey stock and 1/2 a pint of vegetable stock (because that’s what I had hanging around).

And I added the last of the cubed and roasted squash out of which I had made the last two soups – umm… about a pint’s worth.

At this point, I pulled out the badly aging remnants of my last trip to the farmers market (which I think was before Thanksgiving) – a carrot and a parsnip. Peeled them. Sliced the parsnip thinly on the bias and diced the carrot, not that the shape is likely to matter, as I’m thinking of pureeing it. Added it to the soup.

I minced some ginger and added it.

I added the remains of the jar of salsa (about an eighth of a cup, but I can’t see significantly more being a bad thing) and a can of diced tomatoes.

And then for the removable ingredients – I cleaned a stalk of celery and added it whole and I tossed in a bay leaf.

And some seasonings – two cloves (pinch off the caps, powder them in your fingers, then keep the stem for when you want to stud something with cloves), a dash of oregano, a tiny amount of dried chipotle (just a little because I don’t yet know how much the heat will increase during cooking), and some ground pepper.

And then I looked in the fridge and saw that I still had a leftover baked sweet potato from Thanksgiving, so that went in, too.

Now I have a lot of liquid – so it’s on a slow simmer, cooking down.

But it’s delicious. It’s delicious in a spoon, and it’s delicious with a piece of bread surreptitiously dunked in it. Mmmmm!

The working plan is to puree it once it has cooked down and then add cubed leftover turkey (currently in the freezer, not the fridge), but I’m thinking it might be too tasty to tinker with.

ETA: I never did add the meat. It was just too tasty as it was.

Sang Kee (University City)

Wow – I think I gained 5 pounds this weekend. And it was thoroughly deserved. I ate so much, that I’m going to have to write it up in multiple posts.

Just in case it takes a while to get to everything, I’m going to make a note of what’s to come –

Last Friday
Sang Kee’s grand opening
office Holiday Party (eh, probably doesn’t deserve a post. There was food.)
Food Blogger Pot Luck

Last Saturday
friend’s birthday party with a scotch tasting

Last Sunday
Yum Cha not in chinatown

Okay, so there I was a few years ago visiting friends at Bryn Mawr College, and they suggested (even though they are many excellent food options closer) to drive 20-30 minutes toward the city to show me Sang Kee in Wynnewood. And, yes, it was absolutely worth the drive – with many small plate options that are delightful and prepared perfectly and served in an relaxing, elegant setting. Of the larger plates, my favorite is their stuffed eggplant (shrimp & pork) in black bean sauce.

And then maybe a little over a year ago, I discovered the original location in Chinatown and gave them a whirl. I ordered familiar dishes and found them right in line with the other location (the stuffed eggplant slightly better, the garlicky greens slightly too salty) and plenty fresh, but the atmosphere was no where near as nice – crowded, loud, and I ended up dining in a weird auxiliary upstairs room that was bright and better suited to a corner cheesesteak joint. So I figured I’d stick with Wynnewood occasionally.

But! But now there’s a location in west philly! I first found out about it from Fries With That Shake, but I also heard that she was a bit underwhelmed. Undaunted, I hopped on over there for lunch right away.

Okay, so lunch was disappointing. Instead of trying my favorite dishes, which were on this same menu, I was seduced by the $9 lunch box special. The salad had real greens, instead of iceberg, but it was generic dressing and too much of that. The vegetarian dumplings would have been amazing if they had been served separately, but they had toughened up a bit from being served at the same time as the rest. The eggplant and beef was good, but not exceptional. They continue to be brilliant at buttery, delicious eggplant, but the sauce was too heave and the beef might as well not have been there for all the character it added to the dish. And I was intrigued by the stir fried rice noodle option, instead of getting the rice, which would have dealt better with the abundant sauce. They were tasty, but not the right thing for this lunch. So a solid meh. Still, I wish to go back and try the proper menu.

And then last Friday, I heard that they were having a grand opening event with free food! Wheee! So I dropped everything and hopped on over even though I had two other food events that same day. And you know how I mentioned that they excel at small dishes freshly prepared at their other location? Well that’s kind of the antithesis of feeding masses of people off of steam tables. So even though they put a lot of work into the day, it ended up coming off as no better than any other passable chinese restaurant. Seriously – large batch scallion pancakes? Those are best piping hot, not room temperature. So new good news yet, but I shall be going back again.

Turkey leftovers – wings and drumsticks

When my mother and I were divvying up the leftovers, I tried to leave her with the drumsticks and wings, but she ended up insisting that I take them.

See, I think they’re dry and a bit hard to convert into food other than meat on a bone with gnawing.

So, fine, I went with the meat on a bone and gnawing plan.

I coated the outside of each piece with red Thai curry paste and left them to sit overnight (okay, longer, but we’ll pretend I didn’t admit that).

And then I melted a pat of butter in a skillet and fried each piece, turning to cook evenly, until each one was heated through and the skin was just starting to burn in bits.

Then there was much tasty gnawing.

Soup, second try – Turkey Lentil Squash soup

Okay, so the second try was also a big shameful and full of weird miscellaneous condiment selections. And yet also tasty.

Turkey Squash Lentil Soup

Okay, so roast squash and have some sitting around in your refrigerator all cooled and diced.

Also, leftover turkey, cut into chunks.

And this time, I’m trying it without soaking the lentils first. Rinse/wash them in three vigorous changes of water before using.

Oh, and I’ve made both turkey stock and vegetable stock. You can go with all of one or the other or just water – but they shouldn’t be at least warmed up to room temperature.

So brown 2 teaspoons of flour in a pan. Dice an onion pretty finely and stir that into the browning flour. Once the onions are limp and the flour is getting toasty, add a teaspoon or so of butter (or lipid of choice).

Now add some turkey stock and stir it all together until you have a gravy base. Add a teaspoon of red wine, a shake of Worcestershire sauce, and a little bit of browning sauce.

Add lentils and minced garlic with some vegetable stock. Once it reaches a simmer, add the cubed winter squash. And then a couple minutes later, the turkey leftovers.

Season with ground black pepper, ground ginger (I was bizarrely generous with this, but luckily the soup absorbed it well), a sprinkling of cinnamon, and some hot pepper.

Because these are all leftovers that have been sitting in the fridge, you really should have the soup boil for about 20 minutes, but my lentils were already pretty mushy by the end of that.