Monday, August 3, 2009

Dinner at The Ritz

Over the weekend, Noah and I had dinner with his parents and sister at the Ritz Carlton in San Francisco. We were there to celebrate several occasions: my MIL's birthday, my birthday, and our wedding anniversary. We're very fortunate in that Noah's life-long friend, Ron Siegel, is the Executive Chef at the Ritz dinning room. Although Noah has had the chef's tasting menu at many of the places Ron's worked, this was my first experience. And man, was I ever blown away! The Chef presented us with about 15 of his creations (not including dessert, which was also wonderful). The food was so complex and unique, and there was such a huge variety it's hard for me to describe it. But one of my favorites was a glass bowl that had thin plastic stretched across the top. The bowl was filled with hickory smoke. Not like hickory chips or anything, actual smoke folks. On top of the stretched plastic sat crumbled brioche, caviar, and a perfectly cooked quail egg. Before we ate, we were directed to take our spoon and tap the plastic lightly to release the hickory smoke so we would have that olfactory sensation along with our bite of food. Pure genius...

The plates Chef Siegel prepared for us were not heavy in the cheese department - just an appropriate sliver here and there as a compliment to the main ingredient. However, I had the great fortune to be seated right next to the resting area for the cheese cart (see photo above). I was happy to note they offered a really nice selection, with a slant toward local producers. A couple of my featured favorites were as follows:

*Camellia (Redwood Hill): a delectable Camembert-style goat's milk cheese with a mild, buttery flavor and penicillum candidum rind. Last fall we included Camellia as part of the cheese course we offered at the Palo Alto Black & White Ball. We served it on a sweet baguette with an apricot-cumin preserve - definitely a big hit with the guests.

*Bayley Hazen Blue (Jasper Hill): a raw milk blue cheese made with morning Ayrshire milk. I first tried this cheese at a seminar I attended earlier this year, and immediately took to the flavor of fresh milk, nuts, chocolate, and grass. It's milder and a little drier than other blues, and that's one of the things I like about it. Because the veining doesn't over-power the taste buds, it's possible to to enjoy a complexity of flavor which can be lacking at times in other blues.

Tomorrow I'm scheduled to chat with Jack Dean of Jasper Hill Farms and I intend to get as much back ground as I can on Bayley Hazen and the other wonderful cheeses coming out of the Vermont cooperative. Stay tuned...

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