Monday, December 21, 2009

Yet another Locavore event post!

This past Sunday evening, Mr. EA and I attended a locavore soiree hosted by Spenard Roadhouse of earlier post fame. This shindig was in conjunction to the screening of yet another locavore film, Ingredients, which was shown at UAA earlier that day. We did not go see the film, as I feel I am already pretty well up to speed on local eating issues, and Mr. EA does not care.


Anyway, the context of the dinner was that Spenard Roadhouse‘s chef Shane Moore, in collusion with “Delicious” Dave Thorne, came up with a four course meal featuring locally grown and made foods. 25 spots were available, and they were all taken - hopefully this bodes well for more of this kind of thing. You could opt to have your dinner paired with Alaskan beers, or not. Since Mr. EA is always the designated driver, I let this be his turn to drink.

Since we skipped out on the movie, we got to the restaurant way early, but fortunately they were ready for the locavore horde, and let us sit right down. The rest of the place was packed to the rafters - I sincerely hope we made it worth their while to give up a whole section of the restaurant on such a busy night! As the rest of the crew began to arrive, we noted that the crowd seemed to be more hippies than foodies, which was kind of interesting and did not bode well for us having much to talk about with our table-mates. I heard a lot of complaints about how the food tasted as though it had salt in it (not too much salt, mind you, but any salt), which is pretty much the specialty of people who hate flavor. Indeed, this impression turned out to be correct, with the rest of our fellow diners talking more about whether or not the food was organically grown than about how extremely tasty it was.

The hors d’oeuvres was a large, seared scallop served on a disk of tasty polenta, topped with a dollop of onion relish, surrounded by a moat of tomato broth and garnished with house-cured bacon. If that sounds like there was a lot going on, that’s because there was. The scallop was meltingly tender and flavorful, the polenta was just seasoned enough to not taste like cornmeal mush, and the zingy tomato puree and onion relish really sparked up the dish. The bacon was bacon - 'nuff said! This course was paired with Kenai River Brewing Co Pillars Pale Ale, which Mr. EA did not like by itself but did like with the food.

Next came the Soup & Salad Trio. This consisted of a thin-ish slice of bruschetta with cheese curd, chopped tomato and basil, a marinated beet salad with goat cheese, and a small bowl of pumpkin bisque. I liked all of this quite a lot. The goat cheese was a good counterpoint to the beets, and the pumpkin bisque was quite complex with a variety of flavors complementing one another. Mr EA enjoyed the bruschetta, and said that the soup and salad were “not bad”. He is not a fan of pumpkin or beets, so that was high praise for him. The beer for this course was Denali Brewing Company’s Hibernale, which was his favorite of the evening.

The main course brought a surprise - braised bison agnolotti and roasted celery roots, carrots and Brussels sprouts with brown butter and au jus. For some reason, in reading the menu I totally ignored the word “agnolotti”, as did many of our fellow diners. We were all expecting a hunk of bison with some vegetables piled on the side and some au jus to dip it all in. Instead, we got largish pasta hunks ( shape is difficult to describe - kind of like a bishop’s hat, but not really) with minced bison in it, diced roasted veggies with Brussels sprouts leaves, and what I believe was a puree of the same veggies with the au jus and brown butter. This was all delicious, and had simply a bucket of sauce, which made me very happy - I loooooove sauce! A minor quibble I had with this course is that the pasta was perhaps a bit heftier than was optimal, but that is a very minor quibble considering. This was paired with Moose’s Tooth Prince William Porter, which everyone drinking agreed had an anise finish. So take note, liquorish fans! Mr. EA liked this beer better on its own than he did with the food.

Dessert was a tender and mildly sweet almond buttermilk biscuit with strawberry and wild blueberry coulis, fresh currents and cranberries, and real whipped cream. It was paired with Kassik’s Kenai Brew Stop Imperial Spiced Honey Wheat. Overall, a great finish to a great meal.

In keeping with the theme of the evening, the menu listed the ingredient sourcing as follows:

 Vegetables and fruits from VanderWeele Farms

 Bison from Pitchfork Ranch

 Dairy from Matanuska Creamery

 Scallops from Kodiak

 Bruschetta from Fire Island Bakery



In all fairness, this dinner cannot have been created solely from local product - I am fairly sure we don’t produce any cooking oils, salt, or flour. However, it was close enough to make a point.  While I certainly support local agriculture and hope that others here in Alaska do as well, there's no point in being a nut about it. The chefs put a great deal of care and thought into a creative meal that was extremely tasty as well as illustrating a point. There were some elements of surprise, and a good deal of inventiveness. I don’t mean inventiveness in the form of molecular gastronomy or anything of that sort, but simply taking local ingredients to a higher plane than might usually be the case. The chefs came out at the end of the meal, and I’m glad to say we gave them a rousing chorus of applause, which they surely deserved. I hope all the other attendees enjoyed it as much as we did, and I hope the Spenard Roadhouse runs more of these dinners. If you get a chance to attend such an event in the future, go and don’t look back. You’ll be glad you did!

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