Mariah: Today I am excited to post a blog entry for one of our distinguished guest writers, Nick! He attended a delectable supper club and we are fortunate enough to get to read about it:
It’s always exciting to witness the transition of someone’s vision into a full-blown flawlessly executed delectable work of art! I would like to start out by thanking Andrew Stiver and Chris Kirby of Culinary Innovations for their impressive display of culinary expertise and their undeniable passion for quality, creativity and professionalism shown at the first, of many, underground Southern Supper last Tuesday.
Having said that, let’s paint a picture.. For those of you aren’t familiar with the concept a supper club is when a group of people who enjoy and appreciate extraordinary food get together at a pre-determined location to share in an adventurous dining experience prepared by skilled chefs. The menu is set, so you must go into the event with an open mind. Depending on the arrangement, paired libations can be included in the experience, but not a necessity. Fortunately for us, course appropriate beverages were included in our experience.
Dinner was set to start at 7:30, but guests started to arrive around 7:00. Stiver and crew had graciously set out an array of liquor and mixers to enjoy as guests were arriving and the chefs were preparing for the feast. Everyone seemed pleasantly surprised as they showed up and funneled their way into the back yard of the host (Leslie Briggs) to find a 12- top table covered with white linens, elegantly pre-set with silverware, wine glasses, and most importantly, the evenings menu. If presentation is 90% of any dining experience, it’s safe to say that the odds were definitely in our favor.
Service began promptly at 7:30. A beautiful young lady had been tasked with the evenings serving duties. Our first course of Cold Corn Soup topped with a Friend Corn Fritter was accompanied by a 2009 Macon Villages, Cave de Lundy Chardonnay. Service graciously filled all the guests wine glasses and began to dispense the soups. Visually, the soups display was stunning. Sometimes, simple creativity can be considered more complex than bold articulations. Some guests were very vocal about their level of contentment with the first course, while others shared mmmm’s of delicious delight. Without question, the chardonnay paired perfectly with the first course. Finger streaks in the bottom of the finished bowls gave strong evidence that we were off to a great start with much to look forward to.
Round Two: After clearing the first course, glasses were filled with a 2009 Yalumba Viognier Shiraz. As many of us became acclimated with this exotic blend of crushed raspberries, violets and cinnamon, others anticipated the Fried Green Tomato Salad with Fresh Ricotta Cheese and Basil Aioli. The first course set the bar high, yet again, Stiver was able to keep the self-proclaimed-adventurous, delectably engaged. The presentation of our second course was just shy of a work of art. Personally, there was a small level of reluctance into cutting & smearing together the angelic tomato, aioli, ricotta cheese offering that sat in front of me. I quickly got past this moment and savored my first bite of delicately fried tomato covered in a heavenly basil-ricotta medley of love. It was of no surprise that my preconceived expectations were everything I thought they would be. Paired with the Shiraz on the palate, it was party-time, and we were in flavor city. Two down, three to go…
If the words bold, complex, spicy, buttery, garlicy, tomato-lovin-goodness-crustacean-delight, are words that would entice you into ordering a dish, then you would have cherished the third course. Having said that, to pick a star out of a meal of this magnitude is a daunting task. But, because I would be enticed by the previously described, the third course was revered. It all started with our adorable server removing the Shriaz glasses (most of them were empty) and replacing them with stemmed Pilsner glasses filled with Abita Springs Amber. Cold beer poured into a fancy glass by a pretty girl always excites me, so we were already off to a good start. Immediately, I associated this pairing with spice; I was fine with that. I don’t know that many of us at the table knew what to expect when reading the description of the third course, but I can say that everyone was pleasantly surprised. Butter Poached Crawfish, Sauce Romesco (roasted red peppers, almonds, garlic and tomatoes), smoked sausage, red bliss potato and roasted corn. This was cioppino meets grandmas famous made-from-scratch sausage, meets Louisiana, meets Spain. Regardless, every bite was everything that it was suppose to be. Unquestionably, this course was visually stimulating and stayed on track with everything that led us to this point. I have definitely had moments in my life where my table-side etiquette was questioned. Given the fact I sucked the heads of everyone’s crawfish within arm’s reach, reprimands from Miss Manners would have been in order. The reward undoubtedly outweighed the consequences. The third course was stellar.
As if we weren’t stuffed enough, we hadn’t even got to the main course yet. There was a small, yet necessary lag, between our third and fourth offering. Dishes were cleared; glasses were filled with a ROCO, Rollin Soles 2006 Pinot Noir. Pinot traditionally pairs nicely with Cornish Game Hen, but when it’s done two ways, everything becomes twice as nice! Beautifully combined with Brussels, Escabeche and a Honey Coriander Glaze, course four truly sent this meal over the top. Honestly, I don’t think that we expected such generous portions given everything that led us to this point. At the same time, I feel as if I have mastered the art of gluttony so finding room became a non-issue. Without sounding like a broken record, each variation of bite you chose to create possessed every element you’d expect from a meal of this caliber. This was not a trial and error course for Stiver, this combination had been tested and perfected. Wowed again and we still haven’t had desert. Life does not suck!
Upon arrival at the house I had cheated a little and opened the refrigerator. What I had seen were tear drop shaped serving dished beautifully decorated with strawberries and strawberry purée. What I didn’t realize was that these strawberries gems sat on a meticulously prepared Panna Cotta (cream, milk, sugar, and gelatin). Desert was paired with a 2010 Adriano Adami Prosecco. This was that desert you see on the desert tray when you are walking into a nice restaurant, you don’t know exactly what it is, but you know you are going get it at the end of the meal; just to find out it’s their signature desert and they have been using the same recipe since the 1700’s..or something like that…you get the point. Sweet, creamy, fruitastic, splendid! The icing on the proverbial cake; and it was good icing.
This was not a cheap meal. When you make a substantial financial commitment to enjoy a nice meal, you have certain expectations, and my expectations were undoubtedly exceeded by the exorbitant attention to quality and detail. If any point is missed, be it ambiance, service or quality, it detracts from the entire experience and you feel cheated. Stiver and Kirby not only hit on all necessary points to substantiate the investment, they provided the key elements that will keep guests coming back for more: adventure. It was agreed that much of what was served throughout the evening might not have ever been ordered by some of us had we had the ability to choose. There was not one person at our table of 10 who picked at or rejected any of the evening’s offerings, even if it was outside of their general scope of liking.
To me, the real intrigue of this type of dining experiences is to step outside of your normal realm, appreciate food for the art that it is and leave the entire experience up to the professionals. Align yourself with those who have proven to deliver and have faith that you are in good hands. If you leave the experience still able to remember the beauty presented on every plate, the smells that filed the room and the bites that accompanied them, you have experienced more than a meal, you have been taken on an adventure.
I give Culinary Innovations my self-proclaimed-foodie seal of approval. It was definitely “fork-worthy” to those who have followed previous blog entries. The next time I am looking to provide an extraordinary dining experience for a small intimate group or a large party of peers, it would be foolish for me to reach out to anyone else. My only hope at this point is that an invitation will be extended to me for the next private supper. Well done gentlemen, well done!
Andrew Stiver and Culinary Innovations can be reached at 817.774.8468 or http://www.culinaryinnova.com/