Sweeter Dreams

You don’t want to blend pastrami with pear and brie.  Or combine Dover sole and jalapeño.  Or mix a lot of mustard with leeks.

There is too much disparity in flavor.  The strong taste will swamp the more delicate food.  It’s like a huge black leather couch in a sitting room full of pastels, florals, and gingham.

It’s just wrong.

Chef James Clark at the Carolina Crossroads knows this very well. 

At my birthday dinner, Chef chose our menu.  And our second course consisted of a delicious, creamy oyster stew with a charred ramp crostini.  And for me, a confirmed fishophobe to enjoy oyster stew, and actually eat the oysters, is a minor miracle and a testament to the skill employed in the preparation of it.  It was delicate, creamy, and delicious.

The flavor flip-side in this course was a boldly flavored salad.

It was the frisee and kale salad made with pickled red onions, warm bacon vinaigrette and pecans.  The tastes and textures while bold and bright were perfectly balanced; which made for a salad that even Petey, normally a luke-warm salad fan, couldn’t get enough of.

The dressing was really delicious.  It was warm and savory, with enough flavor to stand up to the strong salad components.  I think it would be awesome used on many other dishes like, steamed veggies, chicken and fish, and as a dressing for pasta or potato salads.

Once more, I begged, and once more Chef James was happy to share his recipe so that you could recreate it in your own kitchen.

Thanks, Chef.

Warm Bacon Vinaigrette

bacon vinegarette

1 cup rendered bacon fat (strained)

1 cup apple cider vinegar

½ tablespoon black pepper

3 cups cooked bacon (chopped small)

Combine bacon and bacon fat in a heavy bottom pot and heat the mixture.

Whisk in vinegar and pepper.

bacon dressing

This is enough for more than 20 salads.  It can be stored in the fridge for up to a month and pulled out and heated and re-heated several times.

 I promised last week to tell you about the greatest pasta course I’ve ever enjoyed.  That night I was hoping to try the one that was on their menu (I’d peeked at the online menu before coming), but since Chef James was choosing the menu for us, I didn’t know what would be brought out.

Three courses in, our warm, efficient server, Zuber, presented us with two plates.  One was the aforementioned pasta, a celebration of spring, with peas three ways.  The perfectly al dente linguini pasta is dressed with a sauce made from pureed peas.  Fresh, tender whole peas adorned the noodles, and topping it was a handful of my favorite crispy greens; pea shoots.  This vision was clad in grated Grana Padano cheese and shaved black truffle.  It was like a verdant garden patch in reverse.  The earthy cheese and truffle was the soil, creating and nurturing the crisp freshness of the peas.

Not only are they hard to find, unless you have a trust fund, you probably can’t afford them..

The other dish was the pasta special; velvety, delicious rabbit ravioli dressed with walnuts and grapes.  The meat was silky and mild, and the homemade ravioli was light, luscious, and cooked to perfection.  The sauce was a skillful balance of sweet, savory and texture.  It’s a perfect introduction of rabbit for the neophyte.

After devouring our next course, sunburst trout with insanely crispy skin, and Chef’s playful take on barbecue, it was time for dessert.

It was brought out by the amazing Zuber and the artist himself, Chef James.

It was a riot of sweets curated by the Carolina’s amazing pastry chef, Sara Thomas.  Her bounty made me speechless (a rare feat), and almost brought me to tears.

 

Chef Sara’s famous chocolate cookies.  You can get the recipe here.

 

First was a trio of chocolate.  An almost unearthly moist marquis cake with raspberry sauce and whipped cream, a salted, intense mousse, and a pot du crème topped with peanut brittle made up the plate.

Then there was a salted caramel milkshake, a chocolate/caramel pretzel, two different French macarons, and Petey’s fave, strawberry cobbler with fresh house-made ice cream.

Chef James and his crack staff are a bunch of whisk-wielding artists.  And I am more than happy to visit their awesome, edible gallery any day of the year.

I can’t define what art is, but I know it when I see it.

Thanks for your time.

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