Here are the photos from our last Chef's Table of 2010. These dishes characterize my cooking mood right now: simple, classic, elegant, comforting, and a little playful. This menu was not about pushing boundaries or exploring techniques; it was merely about taking the best of what we had in house, cooking it well, and presenting it nicely.
Roulade of Smoked Salmon. I do all manner of charcuterie and cold meat dishes through the year. Towards New Year's Eve, I always start thinking of smoked salmon or gravlax. Rather than make a square- or rectangular-shaped terrine, I like to do a roulade. I think the presentation possibilities are nicer with the round form. Stuffed with a simple herbed cream cheese and capers.
Oyster "Stew". I wanted to do a traditional oyster stew, another dish that I always gravitate to for New Year's. Tony wanted to do fried oysters. This then is the compromise. I love to serve dishes up in martini glasses: it's often unexpected and it shows off the food well. I wish I had the time to photograph this well. Alas, there's no time on the line to fuss with lighting and backgrounds.
Truffled Blackeyed Pea Risotto with Duck Confit. This is a dish that hopped (pun intended) into my mind about three weeks ago. In the South, for good luck at New Year's, we always serve blackeyed peas and collard greens, both cooked with liberal amounts of pork products. This is my homage to that tradition and the tradition of Hoppin' John, substituting our house-cured duck confit for the traditional pork. You should have smelled the kitchen when I scattered the truffles over the hot risotto. Amazing!
In hindsight, I should have used Carolina Gold rice instead of arborio to further the metaphor. Oh well, next time. And damn, wouldn't a poached quail egg sitting on top of this, all ready to break open and ooze into the risotto, be super sexy? Ach! I can't be at the top of my game all the time.
Duck Schnitzel with Orange Spätzle. Here's a dish that I came up with some years ago just for a different way of presenting our Moulard duck breasts. We split duck breasts and pound them like schnitzel, then bread and fry them. The breading is panko, pecans, and pecorino. Garnished with a little red wine syrup and orange spätzle. It's a great dish but never seems to sell when on the menu. Something, I don't know what, scares diners. Maybe they don't know what schnitzel is.
Lamb Shank Puttanesca. If you're a lunch regular at the restaurant and a foodie, you'll recognize the origins of Ed's Pasta in Salsa Puttanesca, a classic sauce of tomatoes, red pepper flakes, anchovies, olives, and capers. With its vibrant and bold flavors, this sauce appeals greatly to me and I was just in the mood for some puttanesca when we were brainstorming this menu. Put that together with the bag of tiny lamb foreshanks that we have been collecting in the freezer because they are too small for a standard dinner entrée and you come up with this dish. Paired with a little roasted garlic rosemary polenta, you have full-flavored classic comfort food.
Chocolate Soufflé. In reading through the draft menu trying to figure out what to do for dessert, it occurred to me to keep it simple, classic, and comforting. Soufflés are so classic that you never see them offered on dessert menus any longer; pastry chefs consider them beneath their dignity. Pity, because this chocolate soufflé is as good a gooey, runny chocolate extravagance as you will ever find.