Rising to the Chef’s Challenge with double dinners out.
By Judi Gallagher
Last week my husband and I decided to try two of the restaurants participating in the Chef’s Challenge benefiting Historic Spanish Point (www.historicspanishpoint.org). The idea, formulated by Cliff Whatmore of Southgate Gourmet (www.southgategourmet.com) is brilliant. Four participating restaurants present two entrées, each paired with a glass of wine rated 90 or above from Wine Spectator. Each entrée with the paired wine would cost $25, a bargain considering that nowadays some wines by the glass can exceed that price alone. The wine is all donated, and much of the cost of the dinner goes straight to Historic Spanish Point.
We were overwhelmed at the caliber of the pairings and the well-thought-out flavors that worked so well with each presentation. We began with Southgate Gourmet, where the whole roasted barramundi could possibly be some of the best seafood we have ever enjoyed. Wrapped in a banana leaf with panch-phoron, (a five-spice seasoning from Bengal) and organic mango vinaigrette over watercress and served with tender rice beans simmered in saffron, this Australian delicacy could not have been any fresher. The fish is flown in from Australian waters to Southgate Gourmet in a mere 16 hours, and this dish is becoming a mainstay on Southgate’s creative dinner menu. The Catena chardonnay 2004, Mendoza Argentina marries the tender flavors of the fish and mango with the chilled wine. (Note that this wine may be purchased retail at Southgate Gourmet and is perfect if you are preparing a delicate fish such as baked Atlantic haddock or pan-roasted scallops with warm mango salsa.)
Southgate’s other choice, simply described as Two Pans, brings the creative sous vide technique (partially roasted and then sealed in a plastic bag that is dropped into a pan of water, holding in the flavors and moistness of the dish) to an unusual but extremely flavorful dish of beef cheeks (imagine the most tender pot roast with more flavor). Comforting organic fall vegetables such as blue Hubbard squash and cippolinni onions with crumbled queso de mano comprised the second pan, and we could not help but dip a fork full of the tender beef into the creamy squash combination. There could not have been a more inspiring beef dish to pair with Kangarilla Road Cabernet Sauvignon 2002, Mc Larne Vale, Australia. Comfort food and wine with an edge.
While The Table’s Chef’s Challenge (www.thetablesarasota.com) was also creative in its pairing, the stand-out of its two entrées was clearly the pan-seared snapper Caribbean wild miso calamari cassoulet. Combining creaminess of a butter sauce with the gentleness of a miso broth, the two flavors embraced the tender calamari that surrounded the American red snapper, perfectly seasoned with a slight smokiness to the finish, again a match made in heaven for the Catena chardonnay.
The winner of the Chef’s Challenge will be announced this weekend, and I will certainly bring you the breaking culinary news in next week’s blog. And chef Whatmore has another Chef’s Challenge planned in early January, a great deal for both charity and local diners.
Congratulations to Anne McCunney of Bradenton, who won dinner for two at Zoria for her recipe for best tropical drink. Anne’s Salsa Mary gives a fresh twist to the Bloody Mary.
Use a juicer to blend the ingredients to create a salsa to use in place of the standard tomato juice in a Bloody Mary.
4 medium tomatoes
1/2 small onion
1/2 bunch parsley
1 red or yellow pepper (seeded)
1/2 peeled lemon
1 stalk celery
1/2 bunch cilantro
1 small, seeded jalapeno
Salt to taste
Place one jigger of vodka over ice into each of four glasses. Juice all other ingredients, and divide evenly among glasses. Stir. Garnish with a celery stalk.
This month’s contest invites our readers to email me your favorite apple recipe. The winner will receive a $100 gift certificate to 5 one 6 Burns, a charming and creative restaurant nestled under a giant banyan in the hip and happening Burns Court district of downtown Sarasota. How about those apples!
Please e-mail your recipes and any comments, restaurant ideas or culinary happenings to me at [email protected]. Bon appetit!