29 January 2009

Modern Taste of Charleston: Chef Aaron Deal of Tristan

(figure in far right, pondering)

My first taste of a James Beard Foundation dinner did not disappoint. It was intimate, lively, extravagant.

The appetizers packed the most lively punch of flavor:

- "Charleston She-Crab Soup with Parsnip Crème" with a thick texture that melted in the mouth. Served in espresso cups.

- Winter Radishes under a lemongrass vinaigrette served alongside a White Miso Sauce captured even veggie-phobic Marcus's attention. The radishes themselves were gorgeous. Two varieties of pure white and then (if I remember correctly) "watermelon radish", apparently named for its marbled fushia coloring. The miso sauce was very thick yet light, letting the radish stand on its own.

- Duck Confit with Organic Maple Syrup and Toasted Pecan stole the show. The maple syrup was complex and not too sweet - it had been aged in bourbon casks. It may have been the best duck I've ever eaten, which says a lot. Served on a crisp of polenta, with the duck confit shredded on top.

The butternut squash terrine beginning the meal was a little lifeless, but things picked back up with the "Kilroy was here" sparkling Shiraz (2006, Barossa) served alongside a nice if unimaginative beet and chèvre salad.

The white tuna was incredibly meaty, no doubt augmented in its punch by its envelope of pancetta. The accompanying Tahitian Vanilla Broth was delightful. Chef Deal's adeptness with meat was confirmed with his veal short rib, proving that even a notoriously delicate meat can stick to one's ribs (provided some form of bacon is involved). The wine pairing here was also good: Clarendon Hills "Sandown" Cabernet Sauvignon (2004, Clarendon). Smelled and tasted mostly of chlorophyl-rich grass.

Finally, the foie gras pot de crème defied this blogger's low expectations (as neither foie gras nor sweets are her favorite thing). Yet the foie gras was subtle and heightened by crunchy sea salt. The accompaniaments of Cashel Blue Cheese and pickled grapes (pickled for 3 weeks in a long list including red wine vineager, star anise, black pepper, and cloves) lifted it out of the sugar doldrums.

I feel an affinity to Chef Deal's palate: meaty goodness, crisp heirloom veggies, and a less is more attitude with sweetness. My good opinion of him was confirmed when I asked for his favorite cocktail.

"Grey Goose on the rocks"

Showing a certain similarity to Rachel Ray's answer to the same question, and the truism that a chef also must be an alcoholic on some level. I'm not sure if the inverse is true for me, however. My own taste for quality, straight liquor probably only signifies my rearing in Eastern Europe.

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