My friend Michelle sure does know how to party.
As part of her campaign to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS), she is participating in their “Woman of the Year” competition. Naturally, with all of her ties to local food professionals, her fund raising events have been designed around outstanding food and beverage. There was a craft beer dinner a few weeks ago, and there will be a Gala at the end of April (which unfortunately for me coincides with my wedding weekend).
Last Tuesday was the special scotch dinner that her team and a brigade of outstanding local chefs helped put together. It took place at Mezza Notte in Guilderland.
The focus of the dinner was to enjoy some fine scotches and eat some great food (a nod to Michelle’s motto of “Eat, Drink, Be Merry, & Do Good.”); a ticket to the dinner costed $125. The turnout looked impressive; I recognized some old friends and enjoyed the evening dining with Eric Guenther, CEO of Adventure in Food Trading, and his guest.
Some beautiful flower arrangements were donated by Anthology Studio (a place which you’ll be reading much more about in weeks to come).
The scotches were served along with each of the five courses. I slowly savored each scotch so that I could do a side by side comparison at the end. So, in each subsequent image, the scotch titled is on the right.
According to the pamphlet that was on the table, the palate should have intense rich chocolate with a hint of orange and raisins. All I really picked up was the orange very subtly. This was a rather smooth scotch that was good with the super rich risotto it was paired with.
Highland Park 15
The first sip I took of this one was very enjoyable. As I took more sips, I liked it less and less, and, by the time I had eaten the course it was served with, I really disliked it. It had a rich, unrelenting smokiness that really didn’t play nicely with the candied bacon.
This one was very enjoyable. There was a strong woodiness to it that really didn’t wash away. I really liked the aroma of this one; the scents of honey really permeated through.
I really loved this one. I got a lot of the vanilla from the aromas, and it was the first scotch to have a predominant sherry taste. This one was really smooth and was nice to have with the rich lamb dish (although the wasabi in the farro wasn’t a match made in heaven with this scotch.).
This was the darkest scotch of the night. This one smelled very spicy; I got hints of things like cinnamon and clove. It was the smoothest of the bunch and also the richest (which shouldn’t be a big surprise). The spiciness of this one went very well with the cake in the dessert. In fact, of all the scotches, this one was most perfectly paired with its course.
The food was a lot of fun, and, with the open kitchen set up at Mezza Notte, it was cool to see all of the chefs from different restaurants helping each other on the line.
Chef Mike Mastrantuono (Milestone Restaurant) – Pan Seared Diver Scallop, Duck Donfit & Wild Mushroom Risotto, Truffle & Plugra Butter Hollandaise, Pancetta Crisp
This was a nice starter. The scallop was cooked perfectly and was served slightly warm. The risotto was rich but not as creamy or fluid as ordinary. The addition of the duck confit brought lots of flavor but gave the risotto an over-the-top richness. The Hollandaise cut through this a little and was the one thing I wished there was more of on the plate.
Chef Courtney Withey (Aperitivo Bistro) – “Potato Skins”: Crispy Fried Potato, Lobster Mournay, Chive Creme Fraiche, Candied Bacon
Everyone loved this playful dish. The lobster Mournay sauce was very flavorful and provided a great base for the dish. I loved how the potatoes were cut and cooked. The creme Fraiche added some acidity that helped elevate the flavors. And candied bacon…
Yeah this was a crazy, good course.
Chef AJ Jayapal (Mazzone Hospitality) – Miss Sydney’s Soaked Pork Tenderloin, Beet Juice Cous-Cous, Apple Fennel Cole Slaw, Indu’s Chutney Jus
The pork tenderloin used in this dish was from a Berkshire pig and was announced as being donated by Eric of Adventure in Food. It was an extremely tender piece of pork. I felt that it was cooked just a touch over, but it was definitely enjoyable. The marinade and jus were a little overpowering but damn tasty; it’s the type of thing that smacks you in the face with flavor, which is great, but I feel like it may have eclipsed the pork just a tad. The couscous was strongly flavored with beet, and the slaw was creamy. Taken all together, this was a nicely composed dish.
Chef Elliot Cunniff (Mezza Notte Ristorante) – Braised Lamb Osso Bucco, Wasabi Root Creamed Farro, Seared Brussels Sprouts, Yogurt Powder
This was more or less the main course as it was the largest. This was fitting because it was Chef Cunniff’s dish in his home restaurant. The lamb shank was perfectly tender and rich. On its own, it would have benefited from a touch more seasoning, but I understand that overdoing it on the seasoning during braising will break down the meat undesirably. The Brussels sprouts were tasty, and there was a contrast between halved sprouts that were seared and braised and sprout leaves that appeared to be deep fried. The farro was cooked and seasoned beautifully, but the wasabi was really strong. With the first few bites, I scratched my head at this combination of flavors, but, as I ate through it, I felt like the flavors started making a more sense together.
Chef Justin Engineri (Portofino’s Italian Restaurant) – Chocolate Walnut Spice Cake: Spiced Crumbled Chocolate Cake, Strawberry Mousse, Walnut Crumb, Cocoa Tuile, Basil Cream & Raspberry Gelee.
Every texture you could have wanted was on this plate. There was rich and moist cake, a dollop of basil-infused cream, a strawberry mousse, crumbled walnuts, a raspberry gelatinous mass, some fresh strawberry, and a crispy thin chocolate cookie. Just like the spatial composition of the dish would indicate, the flavors were coming from all over the place.
The first bite I took was the cake on its own. I was surprised to get a hint of chile pepper as I ate through the cake, which walked the fine line between brittle and soft. I was sure the “spice” mentioned in the description was going to be something like cinnamon, but it was cayenne pepper. I loved that.
Everything else on the plate was just delightful. It was really fun to mix and match things together to create combinations of flavors and textures.
After the meals, Michelle and the chefs got up to take a bow for creating such a fun and tantalizing meal. After that, the waitstaff was walking around with a small glass of something special for everybody.
It could have been the glass, but this was the most interesting looking scotch served all night. Finding out it was Macallan 25 (donated by Chef Cunniff) made this fact seem obvious. The taste of this one was very rich and sweet, almost like maple syrup or even molasses. This was the smoothest scotch served all night. It really helped end the evening with a big fat exclamation point.
I am very glad to have experienced this exceptional meal and would like to applaud all involved with making the night so great.