Here are a couple of holiday shopping features (warning: link may have short shelf life) I wrote; I also took the photos. (The chocolates, from Caffe Chocolat, are an outtake.) They’re being presented by American Express in support of Small Business Saturday. I had a great time writing these articles, because I got to browse such unique and beautiful items. Santa, take note: Small businesses have the STUFF!
John Besh’s restaurant August played host to a Bombay Sapphire-themed lunch Friday entwining cocktails and cuisine as part of New Orleans’ Tales of the Cocktail. The gin was not just the basis for diverse cocktails, but was used in interesting ways in the food, as in the Bombay-cured lemonfish. The lunch was a marvel of delicate flavor combinations. The crispy softshell crab tempura was the perfect, tender consistency.
Meanwhile, the gin allowed the mixologists to play extensively with sweet and savory flavors, as in the gazapacho-like Red and Yellow Snapper that started the meal. Herbal flavors were abundant. And all of it was beautiful.
Tales of the Cocktail is a high-end liquor convention in New Orleans, but it’s a lot more. While it attracts top mixologists, bar owners, vendors, writers and foodies, it also offers an opportunity to pair amazing cocktails with sublime meals. So for me, it’s as much Tales of the Food as anything, though, of course, that doesn’t rhyme.
These pairings culminate in Spirited Dinners; I went to the Rio Mar’s last night with friends, featuring food by chefs Adolfo Garcia and Frank Stitt and cocktails by historian Wayne Curtis and Martin Cate of Smuggler’s Cove in San Francisco. The beautiful drinks and dishes tasted as good as they looked. The savory, slightly salty country ham wrapped around grilled figs with walnut and mint cream, for instance, contrasted wonderfully with the sweetness of a plantain daiquiri.
The simple, fresh Gulf shrimp was enhanced by the Hedgehog’s Delight (rum, fresh lemon and lime juice, Darjeeling tea, Demerara sugar and spices), named in honor of rum sponsor and film legend (of a certain kind of film, anyway) Ron Jeremy. He was one of the dinner guests, and a sponsor, because he’s offering a very nice rum these days, Ron de Jeremy, which was used in the cocktail. We got to taste the rum naked (ugh, did I really write that?) in a flight along with Ron Abuelo 7-year rum, Trigo Reserve Anejo, and Zafra 21, which was wonderful all by its lonesome and decadent in the dessert cocktail with Benedictine and spiced cream, served with chocolate flan.
Tales is a flurry of tasting rooms, fabulous meals, seminars and other events, a party where you can actually learn something. If you want to.
It’s always nice to hear about winning something other than millions from a Nigerian prince. Though if that were true, it would be nice, too.
During my storm-chasing trip I got the news that I’d won a first place, Division I, from the Society for Features Journalism in the Reader Engagement category. It was for an interactive project I worked on at Florida Today called Bon Appetit Brevard. A lot of people were involved, but I wrote the stories, took photos, and shot and edited videos of the 10 semifinalists in this contest, which featured fabulous amateur chefs making their favorite recipes. I also shot and edited a half-hour TV show featuring the finalists making their dishes and competing to win a scholarship at Keiser University in Melbourne. Fun stuff! You can still see the videos online. Taryn Ireland won, and Francisco Abalo and Renee Durette were the other finalists. All the dishes were great, but I could use a piece of bread topped with Francisco’s chicken liver pate about now.
Too often when on the road, I end up eating fast food or “convenience” food, like those Tornado things (probably because they are called Tornadoes) or string cheese and a banana from a gas station. So when I get a chance to eat a real meal, I relish the moment. Last night I enjoyed a fantastic Italian meal at Benvenuti’s in Norman, Oklahoma. Except for a bird bombing my outdoor table, it was a delightful experience.
I ordered off the seasonal menu. As much as I love traditional Italian food – after all, I was raised with it – I enjoy a fresh take, and Benvenuti’s offers new specials every few months.
It also offers wine flights, three-glass samplers on a variety of themes. I went for the First Class Cabernet flight ($10), which included The Show from California; Penfolds Thomas Highland from Australia; and Cult from Napa Valley. I especially liked the California wines, and they went well with my starter, the Risotto Arancini ($9), essentially a fried risotto ball stuffed with mozzarella and pesto and served with a tangy plum tomato sauce.
For an entree, I got the Moppina ($17), with sheets of pasta, asparagus, peas, fava beans and flavorful fresh herbs in a butter sauce with a dollop of black pepper mascarpone cheese. It was just light enough, and delicious, and I had leftovers, to boot.
I wrapped up with the decadent Chocolate Caramel Pot du Creme ($6), a rich, chocolaty custard with just a touch of sea salt.
There are several more things I’d like to try at Benvenuti’s, which has a hip, friendly atmosphere … maybe the next time I’m in town, if I’ve survived the convenience store food in the meantime.
I’m in the process of doing our taxes, which means reviewing a year’s worth of expenses, and they can be kind of disturbing when grouped into categories. Especially “Restaurants.” One of our credit cards had enough restaurant expenses that they could be traded for a small used car. Granted, many of these were accrued as I reviewed restaurants for Florida Today, but given I had a limit even on those expenses, it still means we dine out a lot. I think as I become self-employed we will still enjoy dining out, but I hope we’ll also have time for more gourmet prep at home. And I still love shooting pictures of food and drink. This photo was from a holiday/champagne cocktail shoot in FT’s television studio.