Upscale Italian Dinner for the holidays- December 2011

Table set up Chef's 6 course menu Wine/Guests/platting

Chef's 6 course tasting Menu

The menu I created tonight is inspired by our dinning experience at Felidia in New York and the theme is upscale Italian. Upscale Italian is really different than regular Italian food where pasta has only a small role in the overall menu.  I am trying to take this dinner experience into another lever so instead of explaining the menu why don't we just take a look at the pictures.

Appetizer: Bagna Cāuda, Morimoto style

I had the privilege of eating at Morimoto's restaurant in New York and I truly enjoyed all of the dishes but there was a ever so simple and magnificent bagna cāuda that was served.  At first glance a little blob of brown paste at the bottom of a ceramic container, covered in a deep layer of olive oil, and warmed by a candle underneath is served with fresh and crispy vegetable-now how simple is that?  To my surprise it was a delightful tasty bite coated in olive oil.  This stuff was like heaven, it was rich, savory, and delicious.   And when I asked the server what it was, he said it was a dip made of anchovy paste, miso and dashi.  So here's my attempt to re-create that delightful umami dish.

This dish is healthy and the sauce is pretty addictive.  You can not really taste the anchovies but there is a lingering taste on your tongue that will make you guessing what was in the sauce.

As soon as our guests walk in the door they are greeted with a glass of wine and the bagna cāuda. I like to serve our guests some food because drinking with an empty stomach is not the ideal thing.  Bagna cāuda is great because you can munch on without being full.  I just wanted a light snack so we can save our stomach for the chef's menu.

Click on link to see preparation of bagna cāuda.


Amuse bouche trio: Asparagus vichyssoise, shrimp croquette, and asparagus wrapped in Prosciutto

It is now time to sit down and to enjoy the amuse bouche trio.  An amuse bouche is an "Amusement for the mouth" so each portion is kept small just to wet the appetite.

The Asparagus vichyssoise with crab meat were served in a shot glass, Shrimp croquette, and asparagus wrapped in prosciutto.

The Asparagus vichyssoise had a surprise ingredient: Jalapenos.  The jalapenos were not overwhelming, they add just a bit of heat which make my guests wondering what was in the soup to create this little kick!

The shrimp croquettes were also delicious, gooey inside and crunchy on the outside.  The asparagus wrapped in Prosciutto was playful and you can dip it in the soup is you like or it can be eaten on its own.

Click on Link to see preparation of the Vichyssoise soup.

First course: Tutto Crudo (everything raw)

Starting the first course with something fresh!

Raw tuna and raw salmon drizzled in ponzu sauce, good olive oil, grated fresh ginger in oil and chive.

This is not a traditional Italian dish but nowadays a lot of chefs are more exposed to global cuisine and it is translating into Fusion cuisine combining elements of various culinary traditions  which can become innovations in many contemporary restaurant cuisines.

Second course: Insalata mista (mixed salad) with crab meat

While I was preparing my menu I was afraid I could not find fresh asparagus, and fresh corn in the winter but I was fortunate and happy to find both ingredients in December.  They cost 4 times more than in the summer but I was thrilled to see that they are available.

This dish only requires a few ingredients but again fresh ingredients are a necessity.  Blanched asparagus, fresh and sweet grapes tomatoes, fresh sweet corn, and crab meat are the main ingredients.  The sauce is an asparagus vinaigrette which it a bit time consuming to make but the flavor is so vibrant and it really enhance and tied all the ingredients together.

Click on Link to see preparation of the dish.


3rd course:  Home made cavatelli with pan roasted eggplant and meat sauce

I never heard of Cavatelli until I ate at Felidia.   Cavatelli are a type of pasta that look like miniature hot dog buns.  The dough is infused with ricotta cheese giving the pasta its rich and flavorful texture.  Cavatelli Pasta is not to be confused with gnocchi, they may have similar shapes but the difference is in the texture.  Cavatelli is made from flour, eggs, and ricotta cheese mixed in the dough. Gnocchi is made from potatoes and flour and they do taste completely different.

I have never seen fresh nor dry cavatelli in the store so I made them from scratch and it is definitely worth the time. 

I served the fresh cavatelli with Hot Italian sausage tomato sauce and diced pan roasted eggplant and garnish the dish with a bit of shredded mozzarella. 

The sauce was simmered for a few hours in order for all the flavors to blend in.

Fresh cavatelli are soft but chewy at the same time and I simply adore them.  The sauce was a bit spicy and very flavorful. 

This dish is definitely a comfort food.

Click on Link to see preparation of the cavatelli.


4th course: Pork brain francobolli with crispy sage in a brown butter sauce

At Felidia we had a Pear and Pecorino filled Ravioli which I though was good but tonight I wanted my guests to taste something a little more exotic so I served Pork Brain francobolli (postage stamp).  Brain might be a bit challenging but once you get past it, I am pretty sure you will like the dish.  Brains are silky, creamy, and has a rich taste.

Mario Batali’s restaurant Babbo in New York became legendary for the calf’s-brain francobolli and at one time Mario decided he should remove it from the menu and he got so many people requesting that it is now permanently back on the menu.

The francobolli are filled with pork brain, caramelized onion, and home made ricotta and they are served with brown butter and crispy sage. 

Close look at the brain francobolli.

Click on Link to see preparation of the brain francobolli.

5th course: Quail ravioli with roasted shitake in basil oil

We finally arrived at the last savory dish in the menu.  I made a roasted quail wrapped in ravioli served with shitake mushrooms in basil oil.

The quail are pan seared first and then roasted in the oven.  Quail are difficult to eat because there is barely any meat so I carefully remove the breasts and legs and threw away the bones.  The breasts are then layered with basil leaves and canned foie gras and then wrapped in pasta almost like a ravioli.  The Legs are served on top of the wrapped ravioli.  I used the pan juices from roasting the quail in the oven to make a jus.

Inside the ravioli is two breasts layered with basil leaves, a bit of pan juice, and a bit of canned Foie Gras.  


Close look at the dish. 

6th course: Dessert trio: zeppole, tiramisu, and corn crema with raspberrie sauce

For desserts I decided to served a Trio of sweets.  Zeppole, Tiramisu, and sweet corm crema with raspberry sauce.

A zeppole is a light-weight, deep-fried dough balls and are usually topped with powdered sugar or regular sugar.  It is impossible not to like them especially when they hot!  They are so satisfying.  The tiramisu was also excellent and I also enjoyed the corn crema with raspberry.  The raspberry was on the tart side so a few people did not care about it but over all the desserts were a hit.

This dish is for 2 people! 

Close look at the dessert trio.  The zeppole were delicious with a hot cup of coffee!

Click on Link to see preparation of the Tiramisu and the sweet corn Crema

We started the evening with the bagna cāuda as an appetizer, and then we moved on to a trio of amuse bouche, next we had the chef's menu consisting of 5 savory dishes and a dessert trio.  We had a total of 12 dishes all together.  It was a tremendous amount of preparation (10 hours on Saturday + 4 hours of Friday) but in the end we had a wonderful meal and it was worth all the effort!

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