Sunday, August 30, 2009


This month we did something different and hit up an event called ChefAMe. The masterminds of the event wanted to create a sort of open mic night for chefs, so each month they invite a local, up and coming chef to create a menu and a restaurant donates the space. Tickets are $35 and it’s BYO. This month the dinner was held at AVA restaurant in Queen Village and there were two chefs, Diana M. Martignoni, a woman who loves to cook but has no professional experience and Ali Waks a professional chef.

Since all of us ate the same thing, instead of each rating all six courses, we decided to divide them up and each rate two courses. We of course collaborated first, and our combined experience is below.

Jess’ Take:

The dinner started with an amuse of One Fig Two Ways. The first preparation was with a brulee Fig on top of a canapé of chicken liver. I’m not the biggest fan of chicken liver, but this was amazing. The usual cat food taste was not there and it was just salty enough to nicely compliment the sweet fig. The second preparation was a crostini smeared with bergamot ricotta and topped with a fig salsa. This was also amazing. The ricotta was really mild and the salsa was not too sweet. The whole thing just melted in your mouth. The dish also came with chive blossoms, which were not only pretty, but very flavorful for being so small. This was a great way to start the meal.

Our second dish was an essence of Jersey corn soup. I love the concept of this soup, but the flavor was weak. Essence was definitely an appropriate description. It was topped with some droplets of truffle oil, but not enough to taste, just enough to smell and wish that you could taste it. I added a little pepper (secretly so the chefs didn’t see me) and that helped. The soup also came with heirloom tomato brioche which was very good and as this was August, I appreciated the pairing of my two favorite summer foods, corn and tomatoes.

Wade's Take:
At this point, it was time for the salad course. We had already heard buzz about the dressing that was to top the salad that night, so I was hopeful for something buzz-worthy. It did prove true. The raspberry orange muscat vinaigrette that topped the salad was sweet, tart, potent and perfect for the potpourri of greens and friends underneath (organic spring greens, carmelized spiced pecans (these were excellent), dried cranberries and gorgonzola. The gorgonzola piles could have been too much for those who love not the cheese... but for me it was a perfect addition to a well textured salad.

Out came one of the two entrees - enchiladas. The chef had prepared enchiladas stuffed with torn chicken, soft spanish onions and cheddar and monterey jack cheeses. The sauce that blanketed the dish was spectacular... a dense, potent mole/chili sauce that had clearly been simmering down for hours to make its flavor silky and smooth. Simple and light pico de gallo, more of the chive blossoms from the first course, and a delectable dallop of sour cream finished the dish. Simple flavors that balanced well together made this dish my favorite of the night.

Dave's Take:
Next up was the Smoked Coffee and Espresso Rubbed Hanger Steak with Roasted Potatoes and a Rainbow Chard with Garlic and Lemon Confit. This was a lofty goal by semi chefs and after so many complex courses. They almost hit it. The staff only gave out 1 steak knife per table. Not sure if this was a show of confidence that the steak was so tender we didn't need it, or if they were short. My guess is that is was because they were short, but to my delight, I got through with my butter knife. That is a real compliment since this is a hanger steak not a filet. The rub was great as well. I did not taste any of the smoked flavor they advertized but the aroma and flavor of the coffee/espresso paired wonderfully with the juicy and flavorful steak. Unfortunately, the rest of the dish did not stack up. The potatoes were bland and did not have that wonderful crust of good roasted potatoes. These were more like breakfast buffet style. Swiss/Rainbow Chard is one of my favorites and this was sautéed well but the lemon confit did not work. It tasted like someone spilled some lemonheads in by accident.

By the time dessert came, we were full and content but determined to push on. The dessert they put up was very naked chef style. Local Peaches, Vanilla Gelato with Cherry Balsamic Gastrique with a Lavender Pistachio Biscotti. This was simple, light and completed the tristate trifecta of summer ingredients (with the corn and tomatoes Jess mentioned). The peaches were extremely ripe and juicy and thankfully, not altered to allow their natural flavor to shine. The sweetness of a small scoop of gelato was balanced well by the drizzle of tart cherry gastriue Last but not least was a bonus Earl Grey Chocolate. Earl Grey Chocolate Grenache inside a dark chocolate shell. I'm not sure if they made it or bought it but damn was that good!

This was a lot of really great food for a really low price. We critiqued this like a professional restaurant and they faired pretty well- better than a lot of other restaurants on this blog. If we put the semi-pro handicap in effect, they blow all but the best out of the water. Thanks to the folks at Chef-A-Me for putting this together and I encourage everyone one of their events a try. It's a lot of fun.