01 June 2012
Montana in a New York Brownstone
A gourmet club in Chicago made the mistake of inviting me to dinner as a prospective member. 44 men, black tie, eight courses and a lot of different wine glasses. A brief reception before dinner and most talk was about food. If you think this was the perfect setting for pretentious restaurant criticism and foodie banter -- you'd be right.
Seated eight to a table, we started with foie gras and a Hungarian Tokay Aszu. "So, what do you think?" the club president asked the table. The first answer came from his immediate right, "The foi gras... a tad undone and I would have preferred a Sauternes." Comments continued orderly, persnickety and counter clockwise. Seated to the president's left - I was last. The president, my nephew-in-law, turns to me, "John, what do you think of the pairing?" "It tastes like pu$$y," I said. And despite the laughter...
-- I was never invited back.
Last week, I was invited to dinner at the James Beard House. I kept my mouth shut -- unless I was putting something in it -- and this time it wouldn't be my foot. I sat at a table of ten and while there was a critic, oddly enough a Midwesterner, everyone seemed happy and grateful to be there.
Chef Andy Blanton of Cafe Kandahar in Whitefish, MT balanced an erudite menu of Oyster & Brie soup with his own cured bacon against a mind blowing Elk tenderloin with pink peppercorns and huckleberrys in an ice wine reduction with ramps and sweet potato flan. Somewhere between the soup and the elk were a lotta glasses and seven courses in all. Wines were from the Walla Walla Valley in Washington.
There's a wonderful ease about the James Beard House. Not at all stuffy. In fact, a little thread bare and worn but so comfortable in that NYC brownstone kind of way. Perfect for a Montana chef to do his thing. Perfect for an earthy comment? I'll never know. I want to be invited back.
Membership details to the James Beard House, a true bargain in NYC, are available here. You can check out Andy's place here.