Saturday, June 27, 2009

Chef's Cheese Degustation: course ten

As we near the completion of orenji's recently completed Chef's Cheese Degustation, we pause to consider the culinary journey that we have taken! Cheese from all over the world, paired with locally grown vegetables and fruits! Duck, pork, rabbit, octopus! Ten bottles of wine. What an extravagant evening, but one to be remembered!

But, faithful readers, the dessert course is upon us... so let's dig in!

We began our dessert course with locally grown peaches, which we slow-poached in Verjus (a sweet white wine), and subsequently grilled to caramelize their natural sugar! Once grilled, we served the peaches atop a pan-caramelized chocolate and toasted hazelnut "crouton"-- a light and airy confection rich with bittersweet Belgian cocoa and toasted hazelnuts. The stack of warm fruit and cake was finished with a sweet ice cream made from Fromage au lait de chevre (Nantes, Loire Valley, France)-- a fresh, un-aged soft goat's milk cheese. The cool ice cream, rich and creamy, with a slight acidic twist from the sweet goat cheese, melted perfectly onto the warm fruit!

Completing the flavor profile of the dish was a slow-reduced syrup of balsamic vinegar, infused with the fragrance of Thai basil, a Tahitian vanilla crema for sweetness, and a crispy toasted hazelnut tuile. Paired with this fantastic melange of flavors was a sweet dessert wine from Rosenblum Cellars-- Black Muscat Gallagher Reserve (California, 2005). Deep and balanced, the acidity in the wine drew out the subtle flavours of the goat cheese and balsamic syrup, balancing them with the sweetness of peach and vanilla. We could have eaten dessert all night with this pairing!

Are we done? Not quite... In our next post, the perfect bites to finish the meal. Don't miss orenji mignardises!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Chef's Cheese Degustation: course nine

We turn our attention to dessert, as we continue our review of the recently created orenji Chef's Cheese Degustation-- a chef's tasting menu highlighting a different cheese in every course.

Course nine brought us one of our favorite cheese courses-- inspired by a trip to Charlie Trotter's restaurant in Chicago nearly a decade ago (but, of course, with a significant orenji twist!) We started with earthy porcini mushroom crepes-- crepes made from dried porcini mushrooms, and cooked until slightly crispy. The crepes are then filled with one of our favorite cheese-- Explorateur (Ile-de-France), a smooth, white, triple cream cow's milk cheese which is mold ripened until a lovely astringent and acidic taste permeates the melt-in-your-mouth cheese! Warmed ever so slightly, the cheese oozes from the crepes, the acidity and earthiness of the crepes calling out for a sweet foil!

And sweet we give! A coulis of Medjool dates, slow-stewed with aromatic spices and port wine create a sweet and rich sauce for our light and creamy crepes. For temperature contrast, we further served a homemade ice cream-- infused with vanilla and pink salt from the Murray River in Australia. This pink salt ice cream-- simultaneously sweet and salty-- perfectly complemented the dates and cheese, the salt enhancing both the sweetness and the acidity.

Lastly, for textural contrast, as well as for a stunning visual, we serve a "shard" of burnt sugar glass with grains of paradise and smoked sea salt. The crisp texture, coupled with the smokiness of the salt and the sweet peppery spice of the grains of paradise (an African seed with taste closely resembling cardamom and pepper) create a perfect finishing touch to a decadent, but balanced, dessert course... not too sweet, not too acidic, not too salty... guests were definitely left wanting more!

With all of our courses, we also selected a wine to accompany the food. In this case, as we were "building" to a culinary climax, we opted for a robust Bordeaux (Chateaux de Terrefort-Quancard, Bordeaux Superieur, Bordeaux, France, 2005). The fruit from the dates and the smokiness of the sea salt perfectly drew out the base flavors of this "big red." All in all, a magical course!

In our next post, the "real" dessert course. But how will we incorporate the cheese? Be sure to check back!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Chef's Cheese Degustation: course eight

As the review of orenji's recently created Chef's Cheese Degustation continues, we turn our attention to the "entree" course-- although in a degustation, there technically wouldn't be one course identified as the entree. In this case, all of the previous tastes our guests experienced were building toward this exciting, and often-overlooked ingredient: rabbit!

To showcase the delicate flavors of the rabbit, we pan seared the loin, wrapped it in seasoned Swiss chard (for a bit of bitterness), and surrounded it with a smooth and creamy polenta redolent with fresh herbs-- tarragon, chives, and thyme. We served our "terrine" with oven roasted trumpet de mort (black chanterelles, a particularly earthy wild mushroom), sweet young garlic shoots and cloves, and a light and herbal pea shoot and chayote squash vinaigrette. The fresh highnotes of the vinaigrette nicely countered the earthiness of the mushrooms and the sweetness of the caramelized garlic.

As the focus of this particular degustation was cheese, we added a whipped Mascarpone fresca (Lombardy, Italy), a smooth, white, triple-cream cow's milk cheese with a light and natural sweetness. To the cheese, we added some shaved black truffle-- the most fragrant and richest of the truffle family, adding a deep and earthy (what the Japanese would call "umami") sense to the dish. A drizzle of white truffle oil completed this amazing plate.

As with our other courses, we paired one of our favorite wines with our rabbit terrine-- a large and well-balanced Cabernet Sauvignon (Hall, Napa Valley, California, 2005). The wine's notes of fruit, spice, oak, and earthy leather were a robust accompaniment to the delicate flavors of the food, without overpowering them!

We begin the final leg of our degustation marathon in our next post-- the first of two "dessert" courses, begging the question, "Can you serve a cheese course in a cheese degustation?"

Monday, June 15, 2009

Chef's Cheese Degustation: course seven

Our review of the orenji-created Chef's Cheese Degustation and Wine Tasting continues with a palate cleanser. Following such rich foods as duck confit and braised pork belly, our guests needed to refresh their palates for the tastes yet to come. The perfect way to do that, in our opinion, is to hearken back to two of our favorite Japanese inspirations: sake and shiso.

We whimsically refer to this dish as a deconstructed Japanese "mojito..."

As palate cleansers often are, we opted for something cold and icy-- a sorbet. This sorbet, a white and icy experience, was made from unfiltered Hakutsuru-Sayuri (はくつるーさゆり) sake-- a sweet and creamy sake made from rice. As the sake is bottled in it's natural unfiltered state, a yeasty and deep flavor develops which translates into a complex and multi-layered sorbet. Coupled with the sake, we added (to continue our highlighting of cheese) sakura cheese (Hokkaido, Japan)-- a soft calf'smilk cheese, wrapped in salted cherry blossom leaves prior to aging. The subtle milkiness and saltiness of the cheese, tinged with a slight scent of cherry, gave delicious depth to the sorbet.

To combat the heat and alcohol of sake, we topped our granita (tableside, of course) with a cool and refreshing aloe "air." Sweet and herbal, the light and airy flavors of the foam floated atop the granita, both balancing and sweetening the "kick" of the sake.

We further highlighted shiso-- a deliciously fragrant Japanese herb reminiscent of cinnamon, cumin, and basil-- serving in in two ways: first, we "crisped" it by flash frying it, and dusted it with sea salt; second, we created shiso gelée"ice cubes." These cubes of lightly sweetened gelatin were infused with the essence of shiso, creating a bright and fresh taste.

Lastly, for temperature and textural contrast, we hand-candied some fresh, young white ginger and served it "tempura" style. The candied ginger almost liquefies, with the crispy tempura shell creating the perfect envelope in which to serve it.

Of course, for the adventurous, we served a small portion of the unfiltered Hakutsuru-Sayuri sake for tasting along with the palate cleanser...

With our taste buds refreshed, we were ready for the next course... but we'll get to that in our next post. Be sure to check back!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Chef's Cheese Degustation: course six

We continue our review of orenji's recently completed Chef's Cheese Degustation event with a look at course six: our take on refined "comfort food." In conceptualizing this course, we sought to contrast deep flavors and textures with herbal high notes and acidic undertones. The focal point of the dish is our (now) famous slow braised pork belly-- we braise our pork nearly twenty-four hours, until the texture is meltingly smooth and tender, and the flavors are concentrated and robust. The tender meat was beautifully complemented by our take on "macaroni and cheese"-- handmade orecchiette pasta baked in a delectable smoked gouda (The Netherlands) bechamel. Crisp on top, and creamy on the inside, the smoky flavors of the pasta rolled off the plate and onto the palate!

To finish the dish, slow roasted shallots added earthy undertones, crispy pork "cracklings" added textural crunch, and fresh thyme and juniper berry pan jus provided the perfect herbal and acidic foil to the richness of the meat and cheese! Altogether, this is one of our favorite dishes-- something we love to serve to friends and guests!

As with the majority of the courses created for our Cheese Degustation, we paired a delicious wine to complement the food. In this case, we chose an Argentinian Malbec-- Bodega Tapiz, Malbec, 2004, Tupungato, Argentina. This Malbec was rich in fruit and acid, while finishing with a soft and oaky taste on the tongue-- mirroring the acid in the pan jus and the smokiness of the pasta! Altogether, a wonderful gustatory experience!

In our next course, orenji's Asian influence creeps back into the meal with a delightfully refreshing palate cleanser. Check back, won't you?!