Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Sitting - and Eating - Pretty in The Catbird Seat, Part 2

Second of two parts

In which our intrepid diners face three more savory courses, then a sequence of desserts.

Josh Habiger and Erik Anderson

With the preliminaries out of the way, we were now on to the first of three entrees: A lovely chunk of pan-roasted halibut, served with a wilted kale and crispy mushroom side, a smear of pureed kimchee, and a second sauce made up of pureed kale and coconut cream. This last was a little miracle of a sauce; it was completely homogeneous, bright olive green, and whipped to be light and airy. Watching Chef Habiger prepare the dish for other diners, we realized that he was using a whipped cream dispenser to add the sauce to the plate. Genius! Overall this was my favorite dish, I think. The fish was perfectly cooked, the accompaniments were wonderful and fun, the side was tasty and presented a nice texture contrast to the fish and velvety sauces.

Next we moved from fins to wings, and were presented with "roast chicken." This was chicken that had been minced or ground and combined with herbs and other seasonings, then encased in chicken skin, rolled into a perfect cylinder about 2 inches in diameter. The chicken was cooked, but the preparation before service was to slowly brown the cylinder on all sides in a cast iron skillet. This was served with a soft mound of smoked mashed potatoes, and a sauce that was a clear gravy that was the very essence of chicken. The whole was sprinkled with little bites of crawfish. I know it seems boring to declare such a thoroughly "normal," all-American dish as stellar, but this was my second-favorite savory course. As Scott said, "I didn't know chicken could taste like that."

The final main course was lamb. The menu I have just says, "lamb" without specifying the cut. The meat was garnished with chunks of onion, pecans, nasturtiums, and porcini mushrooms and a nice basic reduction. Conferring later, it turns out that Scott was under the impression it was lamb loin, where I could swear I heard the chef say it was lamb heart. Now, never having had heart of any animal, I have no experience to tell me whether the meat in question was indeed a heart or some other muscle. I've tweeted to The Catbird Seat's Twitter account to ask, but didn't get an answer. I suppose it will remain a mystery. Lamb is not my favorite meat, regardless of the cut. I'll eat it, but I never go out of my way to have it. So, the fact that I thought it was offal wasn't a huge factor for me. It was well-seasoned, cooked medium-rare. I ate about half of it and surreptitiously slid the rest of it over to Scott's plate; he was happy to finish it off.

There were, of course, more beverages. at one point we were served a black tea that had been infused with lavender and something that gave it a redish hue ... And then ... and then ... oh, it was a week ago, and I didn't make notes, do you expect me to remember any more?

The last group of courses were in some ways the most interesting. There were two that were sort of between a savory and a sweet, then two that were definitely in the dessert category. First was a small bowl that had plump juicy blueberries interspersed with beads of caramelized yogurt that had been infused with sweet hay, the latter being a specialty of Chef Harbiger. It was finished with wild rice and chamomile. For the next offering, the menu says, "Cucumber, lime, toasted rice, Thai basil." Unfortunately I don't remember much about it, other than (a) I liked it and (b) it was a little on the more savory/salty side than the sweet.

We had the option of having after-dinner drinks with the final courses for an extra charge. There was a host of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks available, but we both opted for basic coffee and cream. Finally came the true desserts. First was a little miracle of a maple custard, cooked in an egg shell. The trick, as Scott noted, would be cutting off the top of each egg shell, leaving the perfectly level and smooth edge, without causing damage to the rest of the shell. The custard was topped with a glaze of additional syrup, sprinkled with thyme, and served with a jaunty "chip" of bacon thrust into the center. This was not only clever, and clearly an homage to that accidental breakfast favorite of bacon that gets dipped in the pancake syrup, but it was truly delicious.

The last dessert course was a grand finale, recalling some of the more elaborate dishes earlier in the meal. A long, charred plank was placed in front of us. On one end of the plank was a scoop of charred oak ice cream, creamy and smoky yes, but not tasting too much of wood. (I typically dislike Chardonnay, in large part because of its often oaky taste, so I was grateful for more smoke than oak here.) The plank was scattered with chunks of a delicious yellow cake, slices of pineapple gelee, capsules of bourbon (or vanilla syrup, for the non-drinkers) that burst in your mouth, echoing the steelhead roe from earlier, and a large cherry crisp presiding like a large pink fan over the whole.

To finish the evening we went back to the beginning:  We were given two more "Oreos" -- this time the cookies were coffee flavored, and the cream filling was vanilla. They looked just like the savory ones we'd started the meal with, but they were a nice little sweet bite that brought the meal full circle.

It's hard to know how to wrap up this post ... the evening was full of so many sights and tastes, unusual combinations and new experiences, and most of all the fun of watching and talking to the chefs, to the assistants, and the beverage director. Best of all, though, it was a wonderful evening with a great friend who has taught me much about food and cooking over the years, and we always know we'll have a good time eating and laughing. It was a remarkable evening and I can't think of anyone I'd rather have shared it with.


Father Scott said...

It WAS lamb loin. Lamb LOIN -- I heard 'em say it!(I don't like innerds either -- and I know their taste (That's how I know I don't like them, as a rule.))

Whatcha doin' tonight? Wanna go back for a second visit?


TLF said...

OK, OK, I'll choose to believe you.

And yes, I think I could squeeze in another 3-hr dinner ... come on down! heh

Lesley Eats said...

Sounds like quite an event! I still haven't gone. I'm not sure that's how we'd spend that kind of money, though. So many great places to eat!

TLF said...

I know what you mean, Lesley. Spending that kind of scratch is a big decision, and there's certainly no shortage of places to get a terrific, inventive meal in Nashville for a lot less money. I enjoyed it and don't regret the expense, but I put it in the category of "rare treat."