Thursday, June 15, 2006

vodka, chocolate and modern Peruvian food

June 13

Premium vodka again!
I went to an event thrown by the Distilled Spirits Council, which is always a good idea. In this case it was a particularly good idea: It was a seated tasting of vodka cocktails, prepared by the articulate, dapper and talented Brian Van Flandern of Per Se, and chocolates by Jacques Torres, who needs no adjectives, held at Jacques Torres Chocolate Haven in SoHo.
Unfortunately I couldn't stay long, which made me angry as I sampled a "Mango Mary" paired with a heart-shaped chocolate candy filled with passion fruit ganache.
The Mango Mary had muddled rosemary and a rosemary sprig in it, which sounds stupid at first, but if you think about it, the muskiness of a good mango has a quality that's pretty similar to rosemary, and the added rosemary accentuates that.
But I had to leave, heavy-hearted, because I also had RSVP'ed to have dinner at the Beard House. "Stupid Bret!" I thought, as my taxi took me from SoHo to 12th Street and I wondered what I would do with the two cocktail shakers in my gift bag as I resolved to stop over-booking myself.
But then the Beard dinner was great fun, too.
Dinners at the James Beard House start at 7, with a 45-minute cocktail "hour," when guests drink wine — usually sparkling — and get their first samplings of the chef's food as hors d'oeuvres are passed around. I showed up right at 7:45, delaying my arrival as long as possible so I could enjoy my passionfruit chocolate and Mango Mary. I figured I would have to sacrifice the hors d'oeuvres as penance for my overbooking, but a plate of hors d'oeuvres had been kindly saved for me, hidden away in a kitchen cupboard and presented to me when I arrived.
My guest that evening, Yishane Lee, had arrived just a few minutes earlier and observed that they hadn't saved a plate of hors d'oeuvres for her.
Yishane works for Time Inc.'s web site and deserves to be sucked up to every bit as much as I do, but what can I say? I did share my hors d'oeuvres with her, at any rate, as we sipped some Bodega Lurton Rosé from Argentina, made with a combination of Malbec and Bonarda grapes if memory serves.
If you’re wondering what Yishane looks like, you know those Visa ads that promote drinking deeply from the cup of life and letting your credit cards help you do that? Well, if you’ve ever seen the one of a pretty Asian woman floating in the Dead Sea while reading a newspaper, that's Yishane.

The chef of the evening was a Peruvian fellow by the name of Jean Paul Desmaison, who is chef at La Cofradia, a five-month-old restaurant in Coral Gables, Fla. A soft-spoken man, he charmingly had nothing to say when introduced to Beard House attendees at the end of the meal. A regular beard foundation member did coax out of him commentary on guinea pig, which is a delicacy in Peru and Ecuador. It was not served at the meal this evening.
Here's what was:

Hors d'oeuvres:
Eggplant Carpaccio with Extra-Virgin Olive Oil and Lime Juice
Causa Roll — Shrimp, Avocado, and Crab
Sole Tiradito with Yellow Chile–Mandarin Cream
Asian-Style Tuna Tartare
Bodega Lurton Rosé 2006

Salmon Carpaccio and Caviar with Lemon Cream Sauce
Gran Araucano Sauvignon Blanc 2005

Baby Octopus with Tuscan Ragoût
Gran Lurton Pinot Gris 2005

Black Grouper with Sour Orange Escabèche, Mashed Yuca with Red Peppers, and Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
Château des Erles 2003

Braised Lamb Shank with Purple Corn, Rice, Sautéed Artichoke Hearts, and Asparagus
Campo Eliseo 2003

Fig and Apple Phyllo Tart with Maple Ice Cream, Peruvian Lucuma Mousse with Chocolate Macaroons, and Suspiro de Limeña
Vignobles Lions de La Louvière 1996

The Mango Mary:
1/4 oz. Finlandia Mango Vodka
1 oz. Finlandia Vodka (here's an interesting trick from beverage guru Brian Van Flandern: some people complain that flavored vodkas have a bit of a chemical taste to them, so to retain the aromatics of the flavored vodka while cutting back on the taste, he mixes one part flavored vodka to four parts of the regular stuff).
Finlandia’s apparently the only company that makes a mango vodka
1 oz. fresh mango purée
3/4 oz. lemon juice
a splash of simple syrup
muddled rosemary
rosemary sprig to garnish

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