If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you know that I’m a firm believer in eating locally, for numerous reasons. There’s the environmental factor, of course. It keeps Ohio farmers in business. It encourages production of artisanal foods. It allows you to develop relationships with your food producers. It allows you to expand your horizons, because said food producers are as passionate about food as you are, and introduce you to new things or methods or teach you about something that’s important to them. Not to mention that fresh, sustainable, seasonal food just tastes better. It is for these reasons and more that I decided to join the local Columbus convivium of Slow Food USA.
The Columbus convivium is still in its infancy, and as a fairly new group, only has a few events under its belt. I unfortunately didn’t get in on the inaugural event, as tickets were sold out before I knew I had the date free. But I did make it a priority to get tickets as soon as they were available for the most recent event, the United Estates Wine Imports dinner at Alana’s, this past Sunday.
If you were there, you know how amazing it was. If you weren’t, I welcome you to join me vicariously, as I take you through the evening dish by dish. Click through (picture intensive) to begin.
My husband and I have been wanting to go to Alana’s for ages now, as we’ve heard the food is wonderful, but have never gotten around to it (which is often the case with me and restaurants on campus – I have a big parking phobia when it comes to that area of town, and didn’t realize that she had parking in the rear). After the brilliance of the dinner we just had? Going to Alana’s for a regular meal is now a priority. It was that good.
We congregated in the patio area for conversation and appetizers, and this is when we got our peek at the final menu for the evening. From what I hear about Alana, she likes to plan the menu based on what’s seasonal and fresh and looks good at the market, so often the menu for a particular evening is in flux until the last minute. I love that concept, as I often get inspiration myself from just wandering around the North Market or a farmer’s market and building a dish around a particular ingredient that stands out to me. As you can see, her planned menu for the evening was definitely inspired.
They started passing around the hors d’ouvres, and I made sure to get one of each to try. The first one I tried was the Baby Quesadillas with Oakvale Jack and Mango Salsa. It had nice balance – the saltiness of the cheese was tempered well by the mangos in the salsa.
Next up was the Andouille Cider Vinaigrette with Gouda and Cabbage Shoots, served in a single bite in a Chinese spoon – nice balance of spice (andouille) and sweet (cider), salty (cheese) and crunchy (cabbage shoots), with the vinaigrette adding a nice acidity that cut through the fat of the cheese and sausage.
The third appetizer was simple, but amazingly good. A Truffled Duck Egg Salad on Brioche, topped with some sort of microgreen. The truffle in the egg salad was nice and subtle, and added a bit of earthiness to it without overwhelming it. Lovely.
Finally, we got a Fava Bean Skordillia with Mizuna Shoots. This was also a favorite, with a garlic flavor that acted as a base for the more subtle flavors of the crostini and fava beans.
At this point, we all headed inside, and while listening to the presentation by Patrick and Connie about their travels in the South of France, we were served our first course, a Muscat Scented Petit Risotto with Spinach and Goat Cheese. The risotto was beautifully prepared, just the right amount of bite to the rice, and the tangy goat cheese added just the right amount of creaminess to the dish.
Next up was the Hopping Good Rabbit with Menage a Trois Reduction of Terres de Solence with Huckleberry and Cranberry. What to say about the rabbit? From what I understand, this one dish redefines the term “slow food”. Literally hours and hours of preparation went into this dish, from the gallons of stock that were reduced into the little bit of sauce you see below, to the long, slow 12 hour braise. It was nothing short of transcendent, and for me, totally redefined how I think of rabbit. It literally brought tears to my eyes. As my husband said, “if I had to pick something to have as my last meal, this would be it”.
And along with the rabbit, came a Saute of Shiitake and Buna Shemiji Mushrooms with Caramelized Ramps. I love mushrooms, and I love ramps, but there was a certain meatiness to this dish that once again, redefined shiitakes for me and have me on a quest to find out exactly what they were infused with, so I can replicate that flavor combination. This side went perfectly with the wine it was paired with, and with both the protein entrees.
Also, there was Braised Lamb in the Style of Bolognese with Love and Spaghetti. We were at the far end of the table for this dish, which is why it looks so torn up in the pic. I can assure you, though, that it was tender as all get out and so very, very flavorful.
We had a vegetarian in the group, and I thought it was so cool that Alana went out of her way to prepare a vegetarian dish, Whole Wheat Penne with Pesto. Dan was nice enough to share, and although I’m not a vegetarian, this is definitely something I’d order in a restaurant.
Finally, it was time for dessert, which was a Pear Panna Cotta with Jeni’s Pear Riesling Sorbet. You all know I love Jeni’s anything, but this was the first time I tried the pear sorbet – I love how it captures the essence of pear without being too “in your face” – and the panna cotta brought out flavor notes in the sorbet, and vice versa. I was ready to lick up the caramel off the plate. But what really elevated the dessert? The wine it was served with. So much so that I ordered a bottle.
I’m not much of a wine person, so I didn’t note the wines, but Bear wrote more about the wines (including exactly what they were) in his writeup of the event. I can easily say, though, that it was one of the more enjoyable meals that I can remember, not only because of the food, but also because of the company. Lots of thanks to Colleen for her dilligent planning, Bear for letting me use a couple of his pictures (the rabbit and the mushrooms), Patrick and Connie of United Estates Wine Imports for sharing their knowledge and experiences with us, and Alana and Kevin for coming up with a brilliant menu and hosting a wonderful night. I can’t wait for the next event. If you’d like to keep abreast of the events, check the Slow Food Columbus Events page, or sign up for their mailing list.