13 May 2009

Sally Dinner

Sally is a longtime friend who goes back to the early post-high school days, and since she lives in Nashville nowadays we don't get to see her as often as we'd like. But on those visits, we attempt to make the most of our time as possible, and this time was no exception. After a viewing of the new Star Trek film on opening day, we headed back to Paul's place to get ready for the rest of the festivities. (Short review of the movie: it's the single best thing with the word Trek attached to it that's ever been made. And I've seen and read a lot of Trek.)

We started out with a round of Pegu Club cocktails, and once everyone arrived, I unloaded the appetizer course: roasted dates with garlic and almonds, pickled herring, and pictured here, white asparagus with Hollandaise and prosciutto. Right now it's Spargelzeit in Germany, and I thought it would be fun to do a traditional white asparagus dish. It's got a milder flavor than green asparagus, and it's fun to mix things up once in a while.

The primary wine for the evening, as the ladies mostly enjoyed cocktails, was the 2005 Clos du Val Chardonnay from the Carneros AVA of Napa. $22, 13.5% abv. Little toasted marshmallow aroma, hint of vanilla, balanced acidity, mild yellow apple flavor, low oak. All in all a pleasantly restrained California Chardonnay. This one has been sitting in the cellar for a couple of years. I wasn't avoiding it or saving it for a special occasion, but it had become almost like a Shakespeare compilation sitting on the shelf: admired, respected, occasionally referenced, but not savored often.

Inspired by an escarole salad I had at Fredric's, I blended that with another trend that was popular a few years ago: the green salad with strawberries and balsamic vinegar. I combined escarole and watercress, both bitter and heavily flavored, with sliced ripe strawberries and green onions. I made a vinaigrette from balsamic vinegar, olive oil, Dijon mustard, honey, and a dash of pepper. I think my kitchen mojo was in fine form that night, because I created a perfect balance between bitter and sweet. Really quite good, and afterwards I wanted to take a head of iceberg and just kick it down the street. Has there ever been a better time to be a lover of flavorful greens in this country?

The main course looks, admittedly, mundane. Noodles and red sauce with a bit of meat? Let me break it down for y'all...

I used good small-batch rigatoni, cooked to perfection. For the sauce, I made my own using canned organic San Marzano tomatoes, garlic, and a little oregano and thyme. Nothing else. And the meat was the big hit of the evening. The day before, I'd loaded up an enameled Dutch oven with four pounds of short ribs, a can of tomato sauce, and a bottle of beer. It cooked on low heat for a full eight hours, after which I removed the bones and let it cool. In the morning, I removed most of the fat, and that evening reheated it for dinner along with some sautéed cremini mushrooms. (Short ribs are almost always better the next day.) I only put a couple of ounces on each plate, yet everyone was full and on the verge of groaning afterwards. Heavily concentrated flavor, rich, silky mouthfeel, mmmmmmm....

I made dessert for the first time in ages, and for theatrical effect I did a batch of Bananas Foster. We turned out all the lights and I lit the rum to the wonder of all around. It's not the kind of thing you'd want to eat every day, but once in a while it's a fun and delicious treat. My twist on the recipe: after it cools a bit and you spoon it over the ice cream, add a few big crystals of sea salt. You get that nice salty-caramel flavor combination that tickles all the right parts of the tongue.

A good time was had by all. We sat around the living room with full bellies and additional glasses of wine, and reveled in the fellowship that comes after such a meal. Thanks to all who participated, and we gotta do this again soon.


fredric koeppel said...

wait a minute! please tell me that you all drank a fine red wine with that succulent beef on pasta; a Rosso di Montalcino, an aged Barolo, a Rioja, even a Lodi zinfandel! don't make a grown man cry!

you're right about one thing: sometimes creating something as seemingly simple yet as delicately balanced as a perfect vinaigrette feels like a great accomplishment.

Benito said...


Sorry to disappoint, this wasn't a wine drinking crowd. By the time the main course arrived, the Chardonnay and a Sonoma rosé* were both only half consumed. I had brought five bottles (including a Super-Venetian) but it seemed a waste to open more.

The Clos du Val paired fairly well with the dish, even if it's not a classic match. Sometimes, with the shades drawn and the phone off the hook, I even enjoy white Burgundy with grilled steak.


*Subject of a future post in the Green Winemaking series.

Grace said...

Some of us were full and groaning because we went back for seconds. Seriously good meal and as always wonderful company!!

It was just as good for lunch the next day too. Thanks for the leftovers.

Benito said...


I wasn't singling anyone out, but I'm glad you liked the dinner so much! It wouldn't have been the same without you.


TWC said...

Why aren't you a chef?

I am seriously watery at the mouth (and it isn't because I' frothing over that crowd in DC)

Thomas said...

Wow, looks amazing Ben. Hey I was wondering if I could write a post about you on my blog. I would probably need to copy the profile picture you have up so that I could have a visual of who you are for my readers. I'm going to be spot-lighting some foodies and great chef blogs and if it's cool I get you a post and a link back. Cheers !

Benito said...


I humbly accept! Feel free to copy the photo and I look forward to reading your post.

Samantha Dugan said...

Yet another amazing meal from Benito, man I wished you and I lived closer to one another! Going to post about another dinner at the Vortex, me thinks you would have dug it.

Does kill me that there was wasted wine with such a fantastic meal. Yet another great post my dear.

Benito said...

Wow, this is a surprisingly popular post. Sally, you've got to come to town more often, obviously you're my muse.


Fear not--no wine was wasted. The two bottles that were opened were happily polished off during the long hours following dinner.

Also, you're going to have to explain precisely what the Vortex is; I'm imagining either a house with bizarre architecture or the Viper Room. ;)

Sally said...

Let's see: all I do is show up and make conversation while you ply me with goodies and amuse me with various entertainments, then put me to coma-- er, bed? I'll be back this weekend! Still dreaming about those short ribs, of which I, too, had a less than delicate second helping. And I like wine! Couldn't place it at the time, but a light went on at your mention of marshmallow in your description of the Chardonnay. Trek on, beautiful artist! I'll gladly be your muse!

Samantha Dugan said...

The Vortex is just Amy's house, a rather beautiful house by the way but something tends to happen when even the most reserved of us are there. It is like there is this "vortex" of evil that causes us to do things we might otherwise think better of doing...don't know how else to explain it. It is always fun, I am often red faced and hungover the day after but I keep going back..(shrug). We have an employee we call "church girl" the last time she was there she was doing tequila shots...