The James Beard House-An Incredible Culinary Adventure

An incredible opportunity landed me at the James Beard House, for a five course palate roller coaster. Chef Jason Franey, of Canlis Restaurant in Seattle Washington, honored the dining room with an array of incredibly fresh, flavorful, and innovative cuisine, while the servers kept the glasses full with amazing course wine pairings.

The James Beard house recognizes outstanding chefs for their achievements in the culinary world and invites them to NY to host an upscale dining evening unlike any other.

As we walked through the open kitchen, where the chef and his crew were neck deep in their creations, a sense of excitement and celebration set in. The tree lined outdoor patio welcomed us, on the mild and sunny evening, with a glass of Grand Cru champagne as the passed hors d'oeuvres made their rounds. A crisp pearl onion housed a shredded, sweet, tender oxtail. The delicate foie gras was topped with an apple gelee and sat atop a baked crust (cleverly tagged Foie Gras Apple Pie). The oysters, brought in fresh from Washington State, slid into our mouths with grace, as the tiny morsels of salty caviar exploded with a gentle pop.

Once all the guests had a short introduction to the evening's forthcoming bounty, we were called to take our seats in the dining room. The beautifully set tables were dimly lit with enough silverware and glasses to run 5 restaurants. The women of each table were served first (a sign of tradition and extra bonus for me), as the first course emerged: ceviched scallop and geoduck. Although the geoduck was rested atop the scallop, it was difficult to differentiate the flavor of the two. The scallop, extremely fresh, with almost a pudding consistency, overpowered any chance the geoduck may have had. The shellfish was accompanied by a savory tarragon sauce, served with a light riesling; a perfect partner for the start of the meal.

The micro-greens with asparagus, nasturtium flower, and fava beans followed, with an aromatic Chaleur Estate Blanc (dry and nutty flavored white from the Columbia Valley vineyard). The greens, simple and elegant, sat atop a bibb lettuce vinaigrette and offered various fresh flavors, all of which were equally distinguishable on the tongue.

As the wine flowed, the dining room roared with laughter and exuded a vibe of ultimate indulgence and relaxation. After discussing each bite, we eagerly awaited the next course: Pacific king salmon.
A flavorful and perfectly seasoned portion of fish resembled the consistency and mouth-feel of sushi-however, fully cooked! It was one of the best cuts of salmon I've experienced-cooked at a low 145F until the achieved perfection. Topped with pea shoots and accompanied by the best Pinot Noir I've tasted (2007 Soter North Valley, from Willamette Valley OR). Can you tell this was a hit?

The innovation of flavor and presentation continued with bone marrow and beef tenderloin wrapped in stinging nettles (a flowering plant which, when touched, resembles the feel of stinging needles and irritates the skin for a few days; when cooked, it has a spinach flavor, rich with vitamins). The grass fed, medium-rare beef cylinders were extremely flavorful and lightly seasoned. The bone marrow was actually no bone at all! A new potato, shaped and baked to resemble the bone, was stuffed with marrow inside-an fanciful presentation. The accompanying Syrah had notes of blackberry and strong tanins, perfect for the cut of meat.

How does such an extravagant, natural, fresh, and mouthwatering evening conclude? A chocolate mille-feuille (bananas and caramel) of course! Transparent chocolate-almond disks separated sweet caramel, nut layered mini cakes, with a banana ice cream and chewy macaroon. The mild 20 year Tawny Port (Oporto PGL), was not overly sweet and concluded the evening with much grace, whether the guests still had any left or not.

The consistent pouring of the night, the abundance of flavors, and the shear indulgence left us giddy. As the chef and his team made their appearance, grand applause filled the room. Daniel Humm (executive chef at Eleven Madison Park and Chef Franey's mentor), had an extremely proud smile from ear to ear, as he embraced Chef Franey and congratulated him on this achievement. A heavenly culinary evening with great company and flavorful twists and turns in every bite!

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