January 28, 2014

In the presence of greatness

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There are a few people I haven't seen for a couple of months, and someone's been asking me to organize a dinner together.  After looking around for interesting places to eat, I figured we could do any of the three restaurants run by Kazuo Okada, and put it to the group for a vote.  Not surprisingly, Messina came out the winner.  I was also not surprised that no one voted for the Shanghainese restaurant with the macaron...

I'd never been to Messina and was looking forward to try it, after my first experience with Kazuo Okada.  I decided that I wouldn't arrange anything special in terms of food, and would let everyone decide for themselves.  After checking to make sure that we didn't all have to order the same set menu if one of us did, I ended up ordering à la carte... and taking one course more than I should have...

The kitchen sent us an amuse bouche, which was a seared scallop with grapefruit and green apple on top.

This was when I first realized that I was in the presence of greatness.

The waiter/captain came over to introduce the amuse bouche, and I was first told that it was grape and green apple on top of the scallop.   I asked him again to confirm, and that was when he told me it was grapefruit and green apple.

HELLO?!  Grape and grapefruit are not the same thing.  They don't look remotely similar, nor do they taste the same.  It's very, very obvious - by taking a look at what's on the plate - that it was wedges of pink grapefruit.  W-T-F...

Sardine in Beccafico : terrine of sardines, Bronte pistachio, piquillos peppers, baby fennels and spearmint - this was delicious, and definitely a surprise on the upside.  The terrine was smooth while one could still feel a little of the sardine's texture, and the bits of pistachio added crunch.  One could taste the sardines but the flavors weren't overpowering, and the acidity of the pickled piquillos worked nicely here.  The chunks of mint jelly on the side provided a mild sweet flavor.  Overall this was a good start.

Maccheroncini al ragu' :  maccheroncini "Martelli", roasted suckling pig and Culatello di Zibello ragout, Taggiasche olives and piquillo peppers, roasted eggplants and Pantelleria's capers - pretty tasty, and the maccheroncini was pretty al dente.  I would choose a pork ragout pasta any day, and there was never any doubt which primi I would pick from the list.  Our captain told me that there was "sundried tomato powder" on top, but by this time I no longer believed him.

Maialino croccante : crispy suckling pig, braised DOP Castellucio lentils and Tropea onions marmellade - no points for guessing that I'd pick suckling pig... again.  Suckling pig is always yummy, and this one was slow-cooked for 12 hours, but this was a little disappointing.  Apparently the chef wanted to make a "healthy" version and decided to remove most of the fat under the crackling.  So while the meat was tender, it was just a tad on the dry side, and generally just seemed to be missing something.  The lentils, onion marmalade and pork jus reduction all complemented the pig well.

Initially I told myself that choosing 3 savory courses meant I was skipping dessert, but that wasn't really gonna happen... was it?!

We had a pre-dessert of Sicilian green apple sorbet, mandarin jelly and mint chocolate powder.  I couldn't figure out what the jelly was made with, so I asked our all-knowing captain.  At first he said it was peach, and seconds later he told me it was mandarin.  Wow... WTF again.  So was it peach or mandarin?!  In the end, I still couldn't figure out by taste alone.

Agrumi di Sicilia : textures of Sicilian blood oranges, lemons and Miyagawa mandarins - the main part of the dessert had a lemon panna cotta, a blood orange wafer, and mandarin wedges.

There was also a delicious blood orange sorbet.

Gotta say I was pretty full after all this...

I figured we oughta make it an Italian night in terms of wine, so I started by letting the gang know what I was bringing, and hoped to set the tone.  I think we did pretty well...  We ended up having almost every decade covered from the fifties to the noughties...

2004 Raveneau Chablis 1er Cru Butteaux - ripe on the palate.  A little grassy, lemon, flinty, sweet.  Opened up very nicely.

Jacques Selosse Version Originale - very ripe on the nose and palate.  Caramelized sugar and a little salty plum in the nose.

1999 Gaja Gaia and Rey - really ripe and sweet on the nose, with plenty of vanilla, and a little toasty oak.  Wonderfully buttery once it opened up.

1952 Borgogno Barolo Riserva - minty, pine needle, a little alcoholic at first, smoky, tar, and plummy.  Not bad at all.

1964 Mascarello Barolo Riserva - much more plummy, sweeter, leather, lots of pine needle, potpourri, dried herbs, almost a hint of coffee, a little savory soy sauce and minerals.  Drinking beautifully.

1971 Biondi-Santi Brunello di Montalcino Riserva - served 30 minutes after opening.  A little savory, still young and tight, alcoholic, minty.  After 1½ hours opened up a little more, showing farmy and leather notes, but the acidity had gotten too high.  Based on the Specialist's last experience with another bottle from the same lot purchased at auction (but drawn from a different original carton), it was recommended that we just open and pour.  I guess after tonight I've learned that a bottle in pristine condition needs a wee bit more aeration.  The bottle was too tight at first, but later on the nose and acidity just became disjointed.  I guess I have a few more bottles to experiment with.

2004 Tua Rita Redigaffi - decanted for 3 hours before drinking.  A total fruit bomb with tons of coconut butter, vanilla, a little coffee, jammy, really sweet and exotic.

This was a really enjoyable evening.  The food was pretty tasty, and we had lots of good wine and good company.  The service was fairly attentive as we were one of only three tables for the evening - and the largest party by far.  It's just too bad that the captain plainly didn't know his stuff...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit.... it doesnt suit you!


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