Ringing in the New Year

Private Chefs are the way to go. After our magical Christmas Feast with Chef Bill, I wasn’t expecting to have the private chef dining experience repeated again so soon; sometimes you just have to go with the flow and see where life takes you.

File Jan 02, 12 23 29 PMWe arrived at our destination, a locally renowned historic mansion. This 1920s Italian-Renaissance-Revival masterpiece is this corner of the world’s very own Downton Abbey. We were donned in our black-tie finery; Husband in his tux and I in my Lady Mary-inspired gown[1]. Our friends are antique mavens and their incredible home is filled with treasures and finery, the likes of which you only see in museums. We began the evening in the grand salon, flanked on either end by roaring fires and a violinist serenading us in the background. To start we sampled a pomegranate champagne punch served, of course, from an antique silver punch bowl with matching silver cups.

Before dinner we noshed on a charcuterie spread of Mangalista Pork, bred by a former Wall-Street financier on his Mangalista farm in New Jersey. Ugly little suckers with curly hair and massive waist lines, but their high fat content leads to amazing cuts of meat.[2] After experiencing a piece of straight lardo, literally the lard of the Mangalista, it was time for dinner[3].

File Jan 02, 11 28 22 AMWalking into the dining room literally took my breath away. I was expecting Lady Grantham to come around the corner with her cane wondering what had taken us so long. The table was set for twelve. Each place setting included our own salt and pepper cellars, antique glassware for days, a bud vase of fresh flowers, and a wine rinser. The fire was roaring behind me, the hot air balloon chandeliers were aglow, and we were surrounded by a set of four of the most beautiful paintings I’d ever seen; four massive depictions of the muses of games: dice, chess, dominoes and cards.

File Jan 02, 11 27 14 AMThe first course was a butternut squash puree soup, served from a silver pitcher, topped with the faintest drizzle of burnt brown butter and topped with homemade croutons. I’m a huge fan of starting with soups and this did not disappoint. Savory with a hint of sweet, I could have munched on those croutons all day. This was perfectly paired with a Kistler Chardonnay[4]. Thick and oaky, a chardonnay that could stand well on its own, but was even better enjoyed with this course.

File Jan 02, 11 27 53 AMWe moved on to the plat principal of rack of lamb medallions. These were served with the help of our host’s newest antique acquisition, a set of sterling silver lamb chop sleeves. Who knew such a thing existed, but it was quite fun to eat the medallions using the sleeve instead of a knife and fork. We had undeniably stepped back in time. The lamb was accompanied by a serving of wild rice and cranberries, three types of kale, each separately sautéed in garlic loveliness, and vine-ripened tomatoes slow roasted overnight for twelve hours. Truly Divine.

File Jan 02, 11 33 04 AMThe wine pairing for the main course, hand-selected from our hosts’ wine cellars, was a 2001 Chateau Lynch Bages Pauillac. A majestic Bordeaux that did the juicy lamb medallions justice. It was rich, flowery and deep, everything a Bordeaux should be[5].

Our lamb escapade was followed by a salad course; a bed of the freshest, crispest greens, crowned with a hearty helping of freshly pressed sunflower oil. The oil was smooth and clean with just a hint of saltiness. A flawless palate cleanser before the cheese course.

File Jan 02, 11 43 18 AMYes, there was a cheese course. The cheese cart[6] came around the table, stopping at each place as our server prepared us a dish of all the cheeses we cared to taste.[7] I went to town[8]. I had some of the creamy Le Crémeux du Mont-St-Michel, a taste of parmesan, a bite of manchego, and a few others I can’t recall just now[9]. It was rounded out with a spattering of toast points, a sprig of grapes and a wee glass of 1997 La Fleur Baron Sauternes. Yes, a 1997 Sauternes. Epic. Simply epic.

File Jan 02, 11 50 08 AMJust when I thought it couldn’t get any better, out came the Bûche de Noël, or the Yule Log. A traditional French delicacy served at the holidays, it’s a spongy cake rolled and iced to resemble an actual log or branch. Let’s just say that WineEsquire was a happy camper.

After all that food and wine, we were all were feeling good. As the final touch to the meal, out came individual servings of Underberg[10], a German digestif made from a blend of aromatic herbs[11]. File Jan 02, 11 33 25 AMIt reminded me of a potent Amaro with a touch of black licorice, akin to Sambuca. The bottle tells you it will make you “feel bright and alert” and it really worked. I was able to escape that feeling of lethargic fullness and we were ready to continue on our journey to the New Year[12].

We settled down in our quest to 2016 with another round of drinks. I kept the party going with a glass[13] of Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé and its delicately fine bubbles, while Husband moved to his staple beverage, Onyx on the Rocks.

File Jan 02, 11 26 07 AMTime passed quickly and before we knew it, it was just minutes to midnight. Another round of champagne was poured and we gathered round the fireplace. We wrote what we wanted to let go from 2015 and threw it into the fire, then we threw a grape over our shoulder into the yard[14]. Kisses were exchanged and the New Year arrived! This was a remarkable way to ring in the New Year, and not one any of the guests will soon forget.

File Jan 02, 11 26 32 AM2015 was a magical time; we went on adventures, we drank some great wine, and I started this little blog. I am so excited for this new year and all it will bring. Cheers to happiness, love and good wine in 2016!

Lawyer Footnotes
[1] Complete with a backwards necklace a la J. Law at the 2014 Oscars. My own creation. #fashionista
[2] @hartfordista and @nickcaitophoto, if you haven’t sampled this yet, it’s right up your alley. #CHARCUTAPALOOZA2016
File Jan 02, 11 34 59 AM[3] The lardo was exquisite. It was like eating a sinfully flavorful piece of melted bacon fat. #caloriefree
[4] I’ve truly failed as a wine blogger because I didn’t even get a photo of the bottle.
[5] I confess I did not pay attention enough to any of the wines that were served. With all the stimulation, it was hard to stay sober take it all in.
[6] A legit, glass, roll-top, two-layer cheese cart. It was epic.
[7] My inner food blogger is kicking myself for not getting a photo of the cart. Oh wait, I’m not a food blogger. When you’re knee deep in this much food and wine, it’s hard to concentrate on photos and taking notes. My main concern was figuring out how to roll the cheese cart to a private place so I could eat it all. By myself. #priorities
File Jan 02, 11 59 25 AM[8] Diet starts today. #fitfam
[9] Husband awkwardly exclaimed as I was handed my cheese plate, alarmed at how many I was tasting. Hmph, I told him. It’s not every day you get a cheese cart rolled around to you.
[10] You’ve got to go to their website and watch their video. It’s full of hilarious wholesome German cuteness.
File Jan 02, 12 00 25 PM[11] One of our host’s favorite beverages, he came around to collect the caps which he will send in to collect another Underberg Tall Glass for his collection. The going rate is 96 caps, he has at least four. #dedication
[12] At this point it was about 9:30 p.m. and I’m not gonna lie, I could totally have gone to bed. But I made it to midnight #likeaboss.
[13] Or two.
[14] Someone said we needed 12 grapes, referring to the Spanish tradition of eating one grape at each stroke of midnight to ensure prosperity in the coming year. Somehow this turned into throwing a grape into the yard. Just go with it.

Chef Bill’s Magical Christmas Feast

Warning: Epic amounts of Food and Wine will be discussed in the subsequent blog post. I recommend grabbing a snack and a beverage lest you feel overly jealous.

File Dec 14, 6 29 12 PMIf you follow me on TheInsta then you know we’re knee deep in the middle of my favorite time of year[1]. Something about the cheesy amazing music, the twinkling lights and the spirit of giving puts me in my happy place and I try to embrace it as much as possible[2]. We tend to entertain on a regular basis throughout the year, but we really step it up once the tree is up. Saturday night we hosted a fantabulous evening of food, wineFile Dec 13, 2 14 08 PM and Onyx Moonshine. The dinner was donated to raise funds for Husband’s alma mater, and clients of mine were kind enough to provide Chef Bill, a culinary genius that made some serious foodie miracles happen in our kitchen. I selected the wine with the help of the smartest ex-lawyer I know down at The Wise Old Dog. Everything turned out impeccable.

We started with crab and avocado on garlic crostini along with a baked brie withFile Dec 14, 6 30 52 PM cranberries and rum. The brie was so luscious, my inner beast really wanted to take the plate, hide in a corner and eat it all by myself[3]. But I behaved and only had one taste. Ok two. Maybe three. But it was just so good. These goodies were served with the CiderBerry Cocktail: cranberry juice, apple cider and Onyx Moonshine shaken then topped with a splash of ginger ale[4].

File Dec 13, 2 13 44 PMOnce our appetites had been thoroughly whetted, we moved to the dining room where the feast truly began. The sumptuous salmon bisque was almost too pretty to eat. It turns out that the 2013 Banshee Chardonnay was virtually made to be enjoyed with this bisque. Mild citrus with a hearty helping of medium bodied liquid gold. I had taken the bottle out of the fridge about twenty minutes prior to this course so it was chilled, but the flavors were really allowed to shine.

File Dec 14, 6 33 42 PMNext appeared two of the largest pan-seared[5] scallops I’ve ever had served with an orange and grapefruit reduction. These babies were shucked just days ago off George’s Island and were size “U10”, or 10 scallops per pound, which is freakin’ huge. They were paired with Domaine de la Madone Beaujolais Nouveau 2015.[6] People tend to think seafood must be served with white wine, but I wanted to change it up a bit and it paid off. The bright and fruity Beaujolais exquisitely complemented the hearty, tender scallops and played off the orange and grapefruit reduction like a dream.

And then there was bubbly. I know, I know, another non-traditional experience. Bubbly usually starts or ends the evening, but having it in the middle with the chocolate-balsamic drizzled green salad was a perfect palate-cleansing experience. I chose Monte Maria Prosecco, a non-vintage bottle from Veneto, Italy. The sweet, crisp bubbles enriched the ever-so-subtle chocolate balsamic, making eating your greens a highly enjoyable task.

File Dec 13, 2 13 05 PMBy this time we were all feeling good. Our bellies were warm and full, our palates had been cleansed and we were ready for the main event. Beef Wellington. I’d never had this before, though Husband and I have talked about it for years[7]. A cut of filet mignon topped with a layer of pâté, wrapped in pastry. Full stop. Does it get better? I don’t know how it could. Chef Bill’s take on this was superb. His eastern-European chopped liver with a mix of onions and mushrooms was exquisite on its own[8]. The filet was cooked perfectly. Literally. I’ve never had a filet come out so well done. And I don’t mean well done as in burned to a crisp. I mean well done as in perfectly pink, almost red, juicy, flavorful and delicious. I chose the 2011 Bordeaux by Château Gaby to go with this meaty masterpiece. We had decanted it just before our guests arrived, so it had been breathing for at least two hours. It was a rich, meaty red wine that stood up to the beef impeccably. This juice, coupled with the pâté and pastry encrusted filet was an absolutely euphoric experience; nobody could stop raving about it.

Now we were really in a good place. Fully sated and warm from the drink. Chef Bill, in all his wisdom, decided to make us take a break. Twenty minutes later we were all in the kitchen to watch him and his assistant Isiah make a fresh batch of pot de crème.[9] We witnessed his trick to separating eggs by using your hands[10], and saw as he expertly made bits of Ghirardelli chocolate transform into beautiful pots of delicious chocolate heaven.

File Dec 14, 6 35 59 PMWe returned to the table and were served the pre-made pots topped with freshly whipped cream and a fresh raspberry. This was paired with the Late Bottle Vintage Quinta Sta Eufemia Porto 2009. And then there was silence. Literally no one said a word for at least four solid minutes. We were in our own little worlds, unartfully chowing down on the thick, rich chocolate pots, then silently washing it down with the rich dazzling port.

After we recovered, the men-folk went out for an El Güegüense cigar and the women chatted ‘round the Christmas tree. It sounds sexist, I know, but who actually wants to smoke a cigar? Not this girl. Around the tree was right where I wanted to be, with another wee glass of port.

It was an epic evening to remember. We spent the whole of Sunday morning trying to figure out ways to incorporate Chef Bill into our lives on a regular basis[11]. While I work on that, you should think about hiring him to cook your next meal, or just turn on the Christmas music and pour yourself a glass of wine.


Lawyer Footnotes
[1] #ChristmasTreeOverload #SorryNotSorryFile Dec 14, 6 29 51 PM
[2] According to Husband, he came home to find I had “vomited Christmas” all over the house. I prefer to think of it as my way of spreading Christmas cheer. One piece of garland at a time.
[3] I’m not a very good sharer.
[4] I didn’t have my food blogger hat on, probably because I don’t own one of those, so my photos of the evening are almost non-existent.
[5] Pan-seared on Chef Bills 100+ year old cast iron skillet. Flavor for days.
[6] In case you didn’t know, this year’s Beaujolais harvest was superb. This was the third bottle we’ve tried and all of them have been stunning. Last year’s, not so much.
[7] Not actually making it, but wanting to have someone make it for us.
File Dec 13, 2 17 56 PM[8] We tasted it straight before it was slathered onto the two beautiful roasts. It was mind blowing. For real.
[9] He had pre-made the lovely wee pots we were going to eat; the demonstration pot de crèmes thankfully went into my refrigerator, waiting for me to eat all by myself share with my parents when they came over for Round 2 with all the leftovers. Hosting certainly has its advantages.
[10] Being the world’s worst egg-cracker, I’m sure this trick would not work out so well for me.
[11] In between washing the hand-wash only glass crystal stemware. This was a small price to pay since all of my hand-wash only china was washed and dried before the guests had even left.