Saturday, August 26, 2017

5 Course Collaborative Dinner

What happens when you combine the efforts of two of Sanford's top, most creative and inventive chefs, and then add in the talents of one of our best craft cocktails bars? It's a veritable gastronomic explosion. That's what I experienced recently, along with nearly 50 others, equally as fortunate as I was to partake of this fabulous event.

Chef Josh Oakley of The Smiling Bison and Chef Nat Russell of The Tennessee Truffle combined their talents and efforts on a recent Tuesday night and pulled off one helluva great collaborative dinner. And to add to the food, Bitters & Brass paired each course with a low ABV craft cocktail. What a fabulous dinner it was.

We started with some hors d'oeuvres, in the bar area of The Smiling Bison, which hosted the event. There were a number of nom-nom thinks to gnosh on, and I tried them all. The perfideral with pickle was quite unusual. I had a homemade chip with what seemed to be a sort of salsa, perhaps tomatillo--but whatever it was, it was simply delicious. Some bruschetta was served, and also some pimento cheese sliders--messy but oh so yummy. Unfortunately, I devoured mine before I could snap a photo, but my tummy sure remembers the great flavors. 

If you've never had deep fried chicken skin, you do not know what you're missing. It's along the same lines a deep-fried pork rind, but with a nice chickeny flavor. They were ever-so-lightly seasoned, light, airy, crisp, and full of flavor. I could eat these all day, and I'm not a big chicken skin fan--or wasn't until I tried these. There was also a nice, refreshing, lemony type of cocktail to go along. What a great start.

About 7:30 we sat down (it was a full house at "The Bison") and began with our first course (pictured above), courtesy of Nat and The Tennessee Truffle:  Watermelon & Fish. But this isn't at all what you might suspect. Light, cold, flavorful, it was a snapper ceviche with avocado puree, watermelon radish, compressed watermelon, pickled watermelon rind, watermelon sorbet and mint & lime caviar. What a taste explosion in my mouth. First there was texture. From the cold crunch of the radish, to the smooth creaminess of the avocado puree, the flavors melded great with the soft texture and flavor of the ceviche. Each bite was wonderful and an explosion in my mouth. The dish was paired with an Airmail: jamaican rum, lime, honey, and topped with bubbles. It was a match made in heaven.

 The second course was from Josh and The Smiling Bison:  Country Pate (pictured above). There were so many great bites during the course of this evening that I can't pick out only one highlight, but certainly the terrine along with the mustard was one of my favorites. This dish was a pork & duck terrine with frisee, pickled egg, mustard, and a pistachio vinaigrette. Well done! As with the first course, each bite was wonderful. I especially enjoyed the rich, savory smoothness of the pate as accompanied by the acid of the mustard, a great pairing. The frisee gave a nice crunch and texture, and the egg was a great counterbalance. This course was paired with Old Tom Cat:  old tom gin, curacao, cappellitti sfumato, lime, and orgeat. While I'm not even sure what all those ingredients were, I know they were one thing in this combination, and that is tasty.  Another hit course. Two down, three to go.

The third course (pictured above) was the work of Nat from The Truffle:  Nashville Hot Quail, quite a nice play on chicken and waffles. Once again, a dish perfectly executed. Sitting on a buttermilk scallion waffle was a perfectly done, crispy yet tender portion of quail, served with a bit of golden raisin and onion chutney (providing a nice balance to the savor quail), garnished with some chives, and served along with some smoked maple syrup--for the waffle of course!  Once again, a well-executed, flavorful dish. The quail was quite good, nice and juicy, and the exterior nicely browned and crispy. The waffle was tender and about the best waffle I've ever had. This was paired with Missippii 1907:  cathead honeysuckle vodka, ransom's dry vermouth, lemon and sweet tea syrup--another hit and a great pairing. This course was another hit. Three in a row!

Josh from The Bison was the chef for course number four (pictured above): Sweet Potato Tortellini. Just to look at this dish, you have to know that (at least for me) the highlight was the huge BBQ shrimp. OMG, it was absolutely fantastic. I'm a huge shrimp fan and this baby was cooked perfectly, swimming in a nice smoked ham broth with some sweet potato greens--I never considered that you could eat the greens of a sweet potato, but they were a good compliment to the broth. And of course there were the tortellini. The sweet potato filling was excellent, sweet and yet not overly so. I did think the pasta was just a bit too al dente for me, and maybe a bit thick, but still, this was a great dish overall, with flavor and presentation top notch. I enjoyed each bit of the shrimp, and each sip of the broth. Course #4 was paired with Bamboo Cocktail: hidalgo fino sherry, dolin dry vermouth, and orange bitters. Again, a great pairing and nice compliment to the food. Another hit for the fourth course, four in a row. Can they keep it up?

The answer is, yes. Course number five, dessert, was a real collaboration. First from Nat and The Tennessee Truffle we had Orange Scented Olive Oil cake. And along with that, from Josh and The Smiling Bison we had Banana Pudding. Neither of these was ordinary, and both were extraordinary. The Olive Oil cake was tender and buttery and moist--it smelled as great as it looked, and tasted amazing. With house made lemon ricotta, caramelized cara cara navel, olive oil dust and fennel pollen, it was an exquisite, tasty, sweet but not overly so dessert, quite a hit. And the Banana Pudding was anything but ordinary, served with some pickled blueberries and a vanilla cookie. It was so good I wanted to lick the bowl!  To go along with dessert, Bitters & Brass paired some alvear solera 1927 px sherry & Amaro lucarno. Not sure what all that is, but I am sure that it was good. Five courses, five hits. OMG, I felt like I died and went to heaven.

Of course the wonderful dining experience was made complete by excellent front of the house service, led by Ron Thomas of The Smiling Bison. Courses came and went, dishes cleared, drinks delivered and picked up, silverware refreshed as needed, all was taken care of efficiently and quickly.

This was really an excellent event, a great collaborative dinner with great food and a great pairing with some fine craft cocktails. When you add tax and tip to the $65 price tag, you might think it a bit expensive, but let me tell you this, you absolutely get what you pay for and this was by far perhaps the finest dinner overall that I've ever had. Everything--and I do mean everything--was top notch, from the first bite of an appetizer to the last licking of the banana pudding. The low ABV cocktails were great, and a great idea to keep them low ABV--that too made the dinner so much more enjoyable. All the folks we ate with agreed that it was great. Afterward we visited with a few more, and all we could do is marvel at the wonderful experience we had. It was about  3 1/2 hours well spent, and I'd do it again in a heartbeat.

I'm a huge fan of both chefs, Josh Oakley of The Smiling Bison and Nat Russell of The Tennessee Truffle. I eat at both their restaurant often, and have never, ever left disappointed. Some of the best stuff I've ever put into my mouth have been at those two establishments. I remember fondly the wonderful Beet Salad from The Bison, and the Pickled Shrimp from The Truffle. But the Collaborative dinner was a cornucopia of the most excellent food I've had, all in one dinner. Did I sort of like it? Hell, yes!  I hope they do it again, and soon. Sign me up, no doubt!


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