A Truly Special Occasion Dinner (A Narrative)
[I apologize for the length of this post, but a meal of this magnitude deserves context. Perhaps, you should fix yourself a drink before continuing?]
I realize that it is a thin line separating gourmet from glutton. I have spent time on both sides of that line. Having confessed, and after some mental debate, I intend, for those of you with the patience to endure, to describe the last meal of my 30’s.
Originally, we had reserved a party for 8 in the Chamber at Trinity. My Mother, who believes I know more about food that anyone and who has suffered my glorious recounts of dinners in NJ’s best restaurant, decided to host a celebratory dinner on the eve of my 40th birthday. We were to simply order off the menu, and much to my Mother’s delight, get to hear the Irish Session Band.
We awoke Sunday morning filled with anticipation. In fact, we started our day with a walk on the bike path near the Allenwood General Store so that afterwards, we could go inside and procure boxed favors for our dining companions from Pierre’s Chocolates. “Maybe we could just split a pork roll, egg, and cheese?”
Around 11 that morning, my Mother called the studio to talk about dinner. Her voice was raspy, she coughed frequently, and eventually confessed to how sick she was. Realizing that she was in no way in any condition that would allow her to either appreciate ChefMD’s food or not infect the Trinity staff, I begrudgingly cancelled dinner.
Now, mind you, the Mrs. and I were miserable. We had been thinking (dreaming) about this meal for weeks. To make matters worse, we still had 4 hours of work before us. “What should we do?” Could we in good conscience go eat at Trinity anyway? “It is MY birthday,” I tried to rationalize.
A few minutes after 1, the phone rang. Again it was my Mother. “Why don’t you two just go alone and I will be happy to pay.” God bless you Mom!!!
We arrived at Trinity, as I am embarrassed to admit has become our signature, moments after the doors opened at 5. Now, to those of you who do not know, Trinity has a better gin selection than most of the liquor stores in the Garden State. As a big fan of the martini, I was compelled to have two samples prior to dinner. This time I opened with a 209, up, twist, “not particularly dry.” I followed that up with a Bulldog. “Hey, how often do you turn 40?”
I asked the bartender to open a bottle of a good pinot noir. ChefMD soon emerged from the basement kitchen. “We don’t need no stinkin’ menus,” declaring ourselves at the mercy of the chef.
As we left the bar for a table near the kitchen stairs, the band began to unpack their instruments. As a child I was on more than one Sunday afternoon dragged to the Norwood Inn - scars like that never really heal. Needless to say, I was a wee bit afraid of the Irish Session Band. Wow was I wrong! It was nothing like the Riverdance/Wolftones thing I feared. It was more like having NRPS play an acoustic set in your living room
I warn you, what follows is not for the squeamish. In fact, simply reading about this meal could expand your waistline.
First up, roasted baby beets on a blue cheese brulee for my wife, root beer braised pork belly for myself. Strong opener . . . it’s going to be a great night!
Next, fried chicken livers skewered and served in a flute with a creole mustard sauce and a bowl of littleneck clams cooked with chorizo, Piquillo peppers, and wine. Perhaps it was the fact that I had been thinking about chicken livers for a couple days, but they were flat out FANTASTIC! Next time any of you go Trinity, please for love of god, demand that the livers be added to the menu. It should be a Constitutional right to be able to sit at the bar, drink beer, and much on those tasty little nuggets. As for the clams, I’ll put it this way -- we used our dinner rolls to sop up every last bit of the broth!
I had properly anticipated fois gras for course three, but I did not expect it to be plated with both a dark chocolate and a concord grape sauce. It was even better than the chicken livers. The Mrs. was served a crawfish etoufee that was similarly delicious.
Course four was completely unexpected. Two giant slices of what I could best label Trinity Toast - a garlic cheese bread imbedded with chunks of ham. Decadent!
Next to be placed in front of us were Kobe mini burgers. Boom my as*! Those mini burgers basically melted on the tongue. At this point, however, it became apparent that ChefMD was showing off. The burgers were served on a crustless Texas toast that was browned in the fois gras fat.- and, yes, it tasted incredible!
A slight break from meat as course six was an organic greens salad served with spiced almonds, apricots, and goat cheese and dressed with a Meyer lemon citronette. I thought my wife would leave me forever if I didn’t let her have several of my spiced almonds.
Course seven was the warm spinach salad “surprise.” The surprise in this case was a core of melted Roblochon cheese. Dressed with traditional Balsamic and strawberry, the dish was quite inventive.
Next up was an absolutely amazing pasta carbonara to which copious amounts of parmesan was added tableside. In lieu of the traditional pancetta, however, the chef had substituted cured, pig’s jowl! Genius!
Even for a special occasion, eight courses should have been be enough for us. Not this night. “More food, Gargoyle!”
Next ChefMD showed up with a plate of shrimp and Tasso grits which was plated with a Tabasco cream. MMMMM - So good.
Being as it was only a few days before Mardi Gras, the next dish was a plate of gumbo. It was rich and spicy and delicious.
Finally, it arrived. Plate number 14! A braised lamb shank served over mashed potatoes and sauced with a pablano mole sauce. Absolutely wonderful! As full as I was, I cleaned my plate.
Well, that was it! An absolutely divine dinner. No cheese, no dessert – no room. At this point, there was nothing left to do, but enjoy the music with a rye whiskey.
Now, fellow food geeks, this dinner was not planned. Not by me, not by the chef. No, this dinner just happened. Why it happened to us, I don’t know. That it happened to us, I am beyond grateful. Someday, may such a meal happen to you.