Friday, March 04, 2011

Taste of the Nation

It's funny how things happen.

One minute you're hosting a top chef from Chicago for a culinary event here in Montreal, and the next you're in Chicago at the invitation of the aforementioned top chef attending another culinary event and having the time of your life.

And about another minute and a half after that, you're back in Montreal.  You're not even really sure if any of it actually happened, and the fact that you kind of forgot to take pictures doesn't really help, but you did manage to take a few...

Like this photo,

chicago? fig. a: my kind of town?

which may or may not be Chicago,* but it does seem to indicate that I've been airborne recently, and it certainly captures the dizzying pace of the last week.

And you did make it home with a few artifacts...

Like this menu.

6 years, 6 beers, 6 chefs fig. b: 6 years, 6 beers, 6 chefs

Sure, it got soaked by a beverage accidentally, making it all but impossible to read, but it does seem to suggest that a good time was had.

And this toque,

3 Floyds and 1 Boris fig. c: Three Floyds and one Boris

worn back at home by the world's handsomest cat.

Sketchy evidence, you say?  You're just going to have to take my word for it that I attended an astounding anniversary dinner at Hot Chocolate.  A 6th anniversary dinner, mind you, featuring 6 women chefs from coast to coast (our very own Taste of the Nation!), and 6 craft beers paired by the very talented Lauren Salazar from New Belgium Brewing Co.  Some of the pairings were jaw-droppingly good, and the food was amazingly well balanced considering 6 different chefs put the menu together.  And I'd like to send a big shout out to the legion of sous chefs, assistants, and volunteers that filled the kitchen.  I have to admit it was fun to just sit there, watch from the outside, and enjoy myself.

In case you can't read the beer-splattered menu, it went like this:

Koren Grieveson from Avec (Chicago) made an amazing shaved fennel and white asparagus salad with ubriaco prosecco cheese, walnuts, and black truffle toast.  Not truffle oil, but buttered baguette covered in sliced, fresh black truffle.  Paired with Jolly Pumpkin's Oro de Calabaza, a light and sour beer.  Summer on the patio.

Missy Robbins from A Voce (New York) made rye flour ravioli, filled with potato, served with smoked ricotta, guanciale, trotters, and jus.  I loved this course because it had echoes of perogies and because of its pairing with Three FloydsHam on Rye beer, whose flavours melded perfectly with the pasta.  Not exactly a quaffer, but a deliciously savoury beer that's perfect for, well, savouring.

Celina Tio from JULIAN (Kansas City) did a crispy skin loup de mer, with garbanzo bean puree, pine nuts and lemon.  Firestone Walkers' Pale 31 was served with this course.  Another great pairing which was greater than the sum of its parts.  This beer was easy drinking.

Naomi Pomeroy from Beast (Portland, OR) did lamb côtelettes with whipped potatoes, sauteed winter greens and sour cherry chutney.  By this time I was getting full, but the meat was so perfectly cooked that I couldn't help but finish the plate.  Oops.  Served with Goose Island's Madame Rose.  Delicious.

Stephanie Izard from Girl and the Goat (Chicago) took on the cheese course.  The cheese, Willies Bandaged Cheddar, blew me away.  It also made me laugh with its accompanying fries and sauce. Sound like poutine?  Well, that's because that's basically what it was.  But done very, very well.  And with apples.  Served with North Coast Brewing Company's Old Stock Ale.

Last but not least, our host Mindy Segal (Hot Chocolate) served dessert.  First up, a wortsicle: think of a frozen chocolate bonbon on a stick flavoured with beer wort--in other words, the best chocolate malted taste ever.  Then a delicious milk chocolate and halva frozen nougat, with ginger snaps, coffee tapioca and caramelized bananas.  This course came with a beer brewed specifically for it: Smoked Chocolate Porter from Piece Brewery, which provided some more of the aforementioned wort.

We rolled out of there and hit The Map Room, a must-visit stop in Chicago, and had, yes, more beer.  This is a great bar which also opens early and serves coffee.  Very convenient.  We ended the night there, and then started the next morning there, too.  There's something almost poetic about book-ending an evening like that.

An enormous thank you to Mindy for inviting me and hosting me, and to Dan for showing me around, and to all the great people I met on my brief sojourn.  I will be back!


Hot Chocolate, 1747 North Damen Ave, Chicago, IL

The Map Room, 1949 North Hoyne, Chicago, IL

Big Star, 1531 North Damen, Chicago, IL (tacos and a dizzying array of tequilas)

Quimby's, 1854 W. North Ave, Chicago, IL (best alternative bookstore ever)

Myopic Books, 1563 North Milkwaukee Ave, Chicago, IL (huge used bookstore I couldn't even begin to browse through)

Wormhole Coffee, 1462 North Milkwaukee Ave, Chicago, IL (great coffee)

* Come to think of it, it's not Chicago at all--it's New York!

p.s. Stephanie Izard's The Girl and the Goat just got named one of America's best new restaurants by Saveur! Check it out!

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