Friday, October 20, 2006

Foodventure #4: 561 Restaurant (Pasadena) Vodka Pairing Dinner - Part Une

It also started with an innocent little email from Litty & Melkon Khosrovian of Modern Spirits --

"Six courses with extra goodies thrown in for $65." ~ which turned out to be nine courses (plus extras) and seven vodka pairings -- you know I' m there!

The vodka-pairing dinner took place at 561 restaurant, the restaurant of the California School of Culinary Arts - bustling with chefs & hospitality staff in training. I've been here before and while I say dishes can be a bit of hit or miss (more due to over-creativity than anything else), I've generally had a good experience here so was definitely looking forward to this event.

Disclaimer/Advanced Apologies: The lighting was a bit funky in there so my pictures looked a little subpar ~ I did tweak them quite a bit with an image editor, though. So yea, these courses look a LOT better IRL.

Starting off my two-and-a-half hour feast was the bread, accompanied by unsalted butter, coarse (sea?) salt and an olive tapenade.

Normally I don't take pictures of the bread course, but the interesting spreads & the variety of breads offered is just begging for photo opp. Of the breads, my favorite is the baguette with garlicky swirls in them, closely followed by the crispy seeded flatbread (which tastes like a nuttier, milder [and more sophisticated] version of Flamin' Hot Cheetos.)

Shortly afterwards, the amuse bouche arrived -

a trio of fingerling potato slices (about the size of 2-3 nickels stacked atop one another) topped with three different caviars (sevruga, salmon, beluga) and a dab of creme fraiche. The dish overall was underimpressive - only in the salmon roe did the briny eggs really stand out ~ the flavor of the other two were easily emasculated by the potato. Of course, being expensive caviars (
beluga being the creme de la creme, and the sevruga a close runner-up) I can understand them using only a small amount, but I think I'd been more pleased with larger amount of a cheaper caviar, or at least a disclaimer to not eat the caviar & potato together. But kudos for such a classy amuse -

Moving onto the first of three appetizers . . .

Kanpachi sashimi slices atop watermelon & topped with micro-greens & ginger sorbet alongside candied ginger vodka + candied ginger on rim: OMG yes! This dish and its pairing was absolutely heavenly ~ the contrast in textures and flavors between the fresh micro-greens, the creamy spicy ginger sorbet, the buttery fish & the refreshing crunch of melon really did a number on my palate. The vodka was a good match for this dish & and no better way to end it all (and cleanse palate) than nibbling that piece of candied ginger on the glass. However, I wound up not caring for the accompanying mini coconut stuffed with salmon roe (lower left on the dish) - the coconut proved too fibrous and tough and I wound out debating whether to just swallow it down or spit it out (wound up doing the former, writing it off as my fiber intake for the day.)

Getting ready for appetizer (and drink) two:

"Lobster roll" buttered spiny lobster with greens on top of a grilled olive bread, with a dab of tangerine aioli on the side - was really pleasantly surprised by this dish, considering I'm indifferent, at best, towards of olive breads, lobsters and weird-combo sauces. The sweet, firm lobster chunks were substantial & the butter tossed in was just right -- enough to complement the lobster w/o making it too greasy/heavy. And somehow, it tastes "right" on an olive bread. The tangerine aioli was very complex -- starting off with that standard garlicky mayo taste, but tangerine flavor develops as you spread it around the tongue -- oh, if I only got a bigger smear of it on my plate!

The accompanying drink was a pleaser as well - their lighter variation of a bloody mary made with celery peppercorn vodka, spiced tomato water, and a "virtual olive" (olive juice encased in some gelatinous goo). It went very well with the lobster.

The yumminess continues in the next appetizer:

Roasted foie gras on brioche topped with chopped roasted pear & Italian plum in a mulled-cider reduction with pear-lavender "cabrioletti" - again, quite impressive ~ the crispy, melt-in-your-mouth foie gras goes well with the bread (which soaked up all that delicious mulled cider sauce), the ever-so-subtly sweet pears and the curiously tart plum. For a appetizer so rich with flavors, the refreshing, clean cabrioletti was an excellent match.

For more about this extra-long foodventure, go to Part Deux . . .



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