By Janel Bladow | Snow. Ice. Cold. Hearts. Chocolate. Love. It must be February. What better way to comfort the body and warm the soul than with good food. Two restaurants. Two chefs. Two different approaches to fun. Too cool!
A gastronomic event of epic proportions… A bit of superlative but once you read on, you’ll see what I mean. I recently sat down at Acqua Restaurant & Wine Bar (21 Peck Slip) with executive chef Ivan Beacco and Water St. neighbor Peter Jamros of Regal Wine Imports. The two are cooking up an eating event that is sure to tempt and delight discerning and picky palates alike.
“Chef’s Wine Dinner Series” is a five-course menu with wine skillfully paired with each dish. A culinary collaboration!
“We want to create a memory for people,” the chef explained. “This will be novel for the neighborhood, a whole different caliber of culinary experience.”
“I was open to an opportunity like this,” added Jamros, who lives on the next block and was formerly the wine specialist at Babbo on Waverly Place. “We want to creatively pair foods and wines not seen together on a regular basis.”
And what a marriage of a meal and wine it is. The program opens with a brilliant “brodetto di pomodoro,” a clear tomato consommé paired with a crisp Soave Classico – Dama del Rovere 2012.
Beacco reduces 10 pounds of tomatoes to make one pound of consommé. He strains the broth until it’s a crystal clear golden color bursting with tomato flavor. Slivers of carrot and radish float colorfully in the translucent soup which he sprinkles with rings of raw scallions. For digestion, he said. But the ah! on top is the extra virgin olive oil caviar that pop in your mouth.
The second course is as outstanding as it is original – “Crema bruciata al pecorino” – complemented with an equally unusual wine – Palagrello Bianco, Terre di Volturno.
What? Crème brulee as a second dish? And with cheese? Chef makes a light, smooth, creamy crème with a sharp pecorino cheese. On top, he caramelizes shallots with a crisp sugary crust. The combination of cheese, sugar and onion is spectacular. No wonder it is his signature dish.
The wine is a delicate, crisp white made from the ancient, rare Palagrello green grape that was only rediscovered 20 years ago in the south of Italy.
Course three is “fusi all’orso” served with Chianti Classico Riserva ai Frati, which is aged 18 years in wood. The dish consists of handmade and folded penne pasta served with a black bear ragu. Yes, the chef brought in wild-caught bear meat from Arizona that he marinates for 48 hours and carefully simmers for another few hours until it becomes this rich, thick red sauce with tender meaty bits.
But the dish that surprised me the most is the next course, “Polip vasocotto alle radici” with Etna Rosso. Here the chef vacuum pressure cooked Spanish octopus with winter root vegetables, and served it with a squid ink mousse.
The presentation is as breathtaking as the dish. Raw octopus, vegetables and herbs are sealed and steamed in individual glass containers and served on a small tray with a small bowl of mousse for dipping. Unsealed lid releases the most aromatic steam ever encountered. The wine is Pietro Caciorgna 2012 from the black soil of Sicily at the foot of Mount Etna.
And it all leads up to the final course – “Risotto dolce alle mandorie e cioccolate” – with a Lambrusco Dolce Fiore. Risotto is cooked in almond milk then swirled with slivers of toasted almonds, rich dark chocolate and salty caramel sauce. The texture and taste is tantalizing. The wine is Alfredo Bertolani NV which has just the right sweetness.
Acqua hopes to hold the event four times a year, celebrating the foods of each season, drawing on Chef Beacco’s creativity. Peter Jamros will select wines to complement each dish.
The first Wine Dinner is on Thursday, Feb. 27. There will be one seating at 7:30 p.m. for 45 patrons only, $95 per person plus taxes and gratuities. Reservations required (212-349-4433).
Super kid chefs… Also cooking up an ingenious idea is SUteiShi (24 Peck Slip). On the last two Saturdays, little chef-wannabes joined sushi chef Paul Tun to learn the intricacies of making sushi rolls. Boys and girls ages 5 to 9 donned aprons and bandanas to cover their hair then washed their hands – a lesson in the importance of cleanliness in cooking.
The 45-minute class starts with a knife demo by Tun and an explanation of the difference of sushi rice from regular rice. Seaweed wrappers are laid out for each child who then adds rice and chopped veggies to spool into a cylinder to make their very first, very own California roll.
“We help them cut their roll then they get to enjoy it,” SUteiShi’s Victor Chen told us. “They work at the sushi bar and even get to go behind to see how it feels to be the chef.”
So far, the kids enjoyed themselves and their rolls while their parents furiously snapped photos with their phones while some sipped sake-tinis.
“We wanted to do something to give back to the neighborhood for all the support we received after Sandy. This is a way for us to become involved with the community,” added Chen. “We also want to express how we at SUteiShi are a kid-friendly place.”
Kid sushi chef classes are every Saturday at 4 p.m., $9.95, and last 45-minutes. There’s space for five kids only so reservations are a must (212.766.2344).
Hillbilly haven… Monday night it was a hot hoe-down time in our local honky-tonk. Cowgirl Seahorse (259 Front St.) played host to their very first “Hillbilly Supergroup Jam.” The night featured an amalgamation of some of New York City’s most popular bluegrass bands – The Crusty Gentlemen, The Idiot Brigade, The Spring Glen Warblers and The Pens. If you were there, you know the hillbillies kick, er, rock. If you missed it, stop by most Monday nights, 8 p.m., when The Crusty Gentlemen perform, often with surprise guests dropping in. Show is free.