Sunday, July 7, 2013

The Gauntlet Thrown & Answered

A few weeks ago it was pouring rain for what seemed to be the 100th day in a row, I was sad and needing to get out of the office. So what to do.. Well I threw down the gauntlet on Facebook to my chef friends asking who could blow my mind with an epic food experience. While I waited to see who would answer the challenge, I started to think of the chefs I knew that wouldn't disappoint. It got into my head to go visit Chef Courtney Withey over at Aperitivo Bistro in Schenectady. She's so seriously talented and so often overlooked in our local culinary scene, which I totally don't understand by the way. I've eaten at Aperitivo Bistro a few times and each time something special has happened from the divine tasting menu last year, or the night that Chef Courtney whipped up some gnudi for our little group, or her Rising Star tasting review a couple of years ago. So my course was set and off I went through the monsoon, hoping for the best. 

I like to order omakase with Chefs that I know and respect. There's something about it I just like It just feels like you get a better sense of the Chef, you can see how they feel about food, when they cook with passion, and when the things that excite them. I hope that it's something fun for them to, to perhaps play a little rather than making the same dishes they do day in and out. Some people know this about me and I love that Courtney told me not to look at the menu she was going to do a tasting....

First Course was a stracciatella with shitakes, spinach, vine ripened tomatoes, farm fresh eggs and parmeasan served in a veritable boat that I thought there was no way I could ever finish. The tomato broth with hints of basil and garlic were both delicate and poignant, playing off one another beautifully.  It was both heart warming and comforting on that rainy day. In the sense that food nurtures, that dish was made with nothing but love. 

Then there were the Zucchini Fritters with Cherry Tomato Jam, Herb Whipped Ricotta, Chive Oil and Balsamic. The fritter was perfectly crispy, the ricotta was a soft as the jam was sweetly astringent, and the balsamic and chive oils just put it over the top. Chef Courtney took something so simple and elevated it, if not reinvented it. It was simply sensational. 

And then it happened, the food moment..... the epic moment that I had been looking for. I really didn't think it would happen either, they are so rare for me when something truly rocks my world, and have never happened when I went looking for it. But my friends this dish was remarkable, it was pure genius.

Homemade Gnocchi over Lemon Basil Whipped Ricotta, Grilled Asparagus, Crispy Shitakes, Yellow Pepper Coulis and Chive Oil. First off let me address the crispy shitakes....earthy, crispy, salty mind-blowing awesomeness. Put those next to the nuttiness of the asparagus, the gnocchi that were crisp on the outside and creamy in the middle while being light as air, add in the brightness of the coulis and then silky smooth ricotta. This dish was perfection....

Little did I know there was another course behind that one. The Farmer's Market Pasta with Squash, Zucchini, Red Peppers, Baby Corn,  Shitake Mushrooms, house made bread crumbs and Burratta is something on the regular menu although normally with pappardelle. It was so fresh, tasting like spring time but also hearty for the dreary day. Really well done. 

I had gone in search of something special, looking to something to make me feel better not that they knew that aspect of it. Peter, Emily and the staff at Aperitivo were so wonderful with such great understanding of hospitality , much more like gracious hosts welcoming me to their home.   I left content, happy and inspired. That's good stuff. 

And then I guess there's something to throwing down a gauntlet...Chef Courtney not only stood up to the challenge, she answered it with 4 courses uniquely crafted and beautifully executed. Thank you Chef, this one I will remember always!

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