Zagat Presents: An Evening in Alsace at L’Espalier

Boston’s Back Bay area transformed itself into Alsace, France for a splendorous and enchanting evening at L’Espalier. With the proper wines and Germanic dishes like Hay Roasted Rabbit with House Sausage, no tedious travel itineraries were necessary for this  region unknown to me. Nope, L’Espalier brought us on a delicious journey throughout the small but magnificent area of metropolitan France and boy oh boy, did it taste good.

I was happily invited to the first Zagat Present dinner, “An Evening in Alsace at L’Espalier,” where chefs and sommeliers thoroughly explained five courses and wine pairings with expertise with interesting facts and entertaining humor. Before starting the dinner, we were treated with a delightful amuse-bouche with incredible flavor; salmon, roe, creme fraiche, and dill foam. On the side was a crispy chip with foie gras mousse. I love how the bright flavors of such a small bite can jolt your taste buds to life.

First was an hors d’oeuvre of Tarte Flambée with Caviar paired with Lucien Albrecht, Brut Rosé, Cremant d’Alsace. The subtle savoriness of the tarte with a hint of saltiness from the caviar was a great way to segue into the array of flavors that were soon to be experienced.

First course was a Hudson Valley foie gras terrine with ash-roasted duck, pickled rhubarb and consommé. Served with a fruit and nut bread, this was a fabulous variety of textures; smooth and chewy, rich and gamey. The diverse components made for a unique and interesting dish where the forethought of it is much appreciated. The foie gras terrine was paired with a 2008 Schoenheitz, “Linsenberg” Riesling. 

The second course was Georges Bank Cod with Lobster and Maine Crab Emulsion, served with White Asparagus and paired with a 2006 Zind Humbrecht, “Clos Hausere” Riesling. With a beautifully crispy sear, the cod was amazingly moist and tender and the lobster was very sweet. The light flavors of this seafood dish were balanced perfectly, matching the wonderfully soft and refined presentation. The visual appeal was just as lovely as the taste.

The third course was Hay Roasted Rabbit with House Sausage, Black Pepper Spaetzle, Foraged Mushrooms and Charred Ramps. This was paired with a 2005 F.E. Trimbach, “Reserve Personelle” Pinor Noir. The tenderness of the rabbit was out of this world and the chewiness of the spaetzle was absolutely scrumptious. With the earthiness of the mushrooms? Forget about it! This hearty dish was definitely one of my favorites. I would love to have this meal again on a cold evening with the same glass of Pinot Noir.

And here is where we started the painful transition towards the end of the meal, with a very pungent and sharp Muenster that was paired with a 2009 Weinbach, Reserve Personnelle” Gewurztraminer. Served with a sweet bread and thinly sliced green apples, this is a cheese all stinky cheese lovers dream about. Against the soft texture is a rind that crackles upon biting. Yum!

And last was the dessert; Kugelhopf Pain Perdu with Vanilla Ice Cream. De-li-cious. Fantastic! It is part cake part bread with a slight crunch on the outside and raisins soaked in various alcohols. With the simple and complex taste of smooth vanilla ice cream, the components of the dish complimented each other very well.

It is safe to say that Zagat Present’s “An Evening in Alsace” was a successful dinner that showcased unforgettably elegant Alsatian food and wine. Thank you Zagat for this wonderful treat! It was lovely getting to know Alsace, France bite by delectable bite.

Disclosure: Meal was paid for by other party

2012 New England Food Show & International Boston Seafood Show

It was that time of year again! Swarms of people excitedly took over the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center for the 2012 New England Food Show and the International Boston Seafood Show. Who wouldn’t be excited for the two largest food events of the region? With a boundless array of American and international exhibitors, this was something everyone was looking forward to; distributors, restaurateurs, manufacturers, marketing agencies… and of course, the food lovers. Not only did it provide opportunities for businesses seeking to expand with new products and innovative machinery, but there were plenty of samples. We’re talking pâté, beer, cheeses, cured meats, candy smoked salmon, scallops, imitation scallops, Barramundi, and 24 ice cream flavors that can all be extracted from one handle. How did they fit all of that, into that? You should’ve been there, man.

Although I’m blown away by the food and seafood shows each year, there were some very memorable exhibits, specifically this year.

Behold! The highlights of the 2012 New England Food Show and the International Boston Seafood Show.

Meet Francisco Carrasco, aka Franco, the president of Ham-Cheese-Wine. He has been cutting cured hams like these beauties from Cinco Jotas for over 15 years. Saul Sola, the VP of Sales from Osborne, explained exactly why one pound of this cured ham costs a retail price of $150. The ham comes from pure-bread Iberian pigs, black pigs, from the woodlands of Spain which allows them to be in an open range. Their unbeatable flavor comes from an acorn diet during their fattening period. Depending on which part of the pig is used, the curing process takes an astonishing 24-36 months.

Cinco Jotas is pretty expensive and takes a very long time to cure, but flavors never lie. It is worth every dollar and second.

The art of cutting ham is something I have not conquered yet. Franco looked pretty disappointed with my monstrously, uneven, severed piece of meat. Look how happy my expression is and then look at his appalled face. I will be better next year, I promise!

Have you ever had an unforgettable apple salsa? Or a confusingly sweet, unsweetened apple butter? Meet Rick Card and C. Waite Maclin. Waite is the founder of Pastor Chuck Orchards in Portland, Maine. In 2009, Waite was awarded Maine’s “Food Producer of the Year” for his phenomenal involvement with the Maine Food Producers Alliance who work together to better their state’s food production and manufacturing industry. With plenty of natural, gluten-free and sugar-free products, Pastor Chuck Orchards has worked hard to successfully make its way to Whole Foods Markets.

The apple butter was one of my favorites at the show. It is for the health conscious, naturally delicious loving and folks that enjoy simply great tasting food. It was an absolute pleasure meeting you, Waite and Rick!

High protein gelato? That’s a first. One serving of Forte has 15 grams of protein with only 2.5 grams of fat. And to top it off, it is all-natural. By Figo Brands, I was very surprised with the smooth, thick and creamy texture of their chocolate gelato. This is a delicious source of nutrition for children, seniors, athletes, and many others. You don’t even have to be health-conscious driven to enjoy this.

There is nothing more sad than a soufflé struggling to rise. Fortunately, Chef Yves Bainier has the recipe to an authentic soufflé that comes in sweet and savory flavors like dulce de leche and cheese with broccoli and onions. I’m not sure if the secret ingredient is his French accent or his impressive culinary expertise, but if it means that I only have to go to a Whole Foods Market and put a few frozen soufflés in the oven for 20 minutes, count me in. Who can debate with a beautifully cooked soufflé with such impressive height? Most of all, less work for me. Thanks, Chef Y Bainier!

And this is some darn good Bixby Bar. By an up-and-coming company, Bixby & Co., some very creative ideas are brought to real, tasty life. How would you like to try To The Nines? It’s a bar dipped in white chocolate, filled with Goji Berries, pistachios, almonds and cardamom. A very interesting combination of ingredients that somehow work together in a harmoniously balanced way. Other bars include intriguing ingredients like chipotle and Telicherry black pepper. I can’t wait to get my hands on those! I think they would be great gifts for people that appreciate unique eats.

And ending all of this with the Black Cherry ice cream, one of the 24 flavors extracted from one machine…

The 2012 New England Food Show and the International Boston Seafood Show were a big hit once again. Plenty of parking lots overflowed with cars, valet parking was full, and people even had to take shuttles to get to an available lot from far away (that took forever!) So next year, I will come early and prepared - so should you, exhibitors! Like the Chairman of Iron Chef always says, “a la cuisine!”

See everyone again in 2013!