Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Chef for a Day Dinner at Sotto Sopra

Fellow local food blogger, Liz Stambaugh, of What's to Eat, Baltimore? was "chef for a day" at Sotto Sopra last week. The menu, coupled with the fact that we've sampled Liz's cooking before, enticed Mr Minx and I to make reservations for the event. Oh, and we love Sotto Sopra, so that was also an advantage.

We started off with a trio of meatballs: lamb with tomato braise over a risotto cake; calamari over ceci cake; pork with BBQ glaze over red cabbage slaw. The lamb was delicious, with a really subtle Moroccan vibe. In fact, "subtle" is a good word for the whole meal. We puzzled over the concept of a calamari meatball - wouldn't it be tough? But it was more like a croquette, with bits of calamari insulated by batter. (Actually, it reminded me quite a lot of takoyaki.)  The BBQ pork was my least favorite - the sauce tasted too...expected. A skotch too sweet. The accompanying slaw, however, had an unexpected element which I think was orange marmalade. Verrrry interesting. Must get recipe.

Next up: foie gras potato gnocchi with Parmesan cream and a Parmesan crisp. Wow. These little pillows of potato were perfect - light, yet decadent. Wee bits of foie tantalized the palate. And I loved the inclusion of the crisp, which acted as a much-needed textural contrast to all the soft richness in the dish.

The third course involved Gunpowder Bison rib eye, grilled veg with smoked mozzarella, and arugula almond pesto. The bison was perfectly cooked, medium-rare, and was uber-tender. The very lightly roasted veg included asparagus, zucchini, onion, fennel, and tiny tomatoes, with bits of soft-textured cheese. The cheese must have been house-smoked because it was so very subtle, without the bowl-you-over smoke of a commercial product. And the pesto was a simple smooth purée that tasted purely of both arugula and toasted almonds. Because the meat was pre-sliced and the vegetables were light, the dish was room temperature when it got to our table. However, this really did not detract from the dish and made it seem even more like the perfect entrée for a hot summer day.

Finally, we were brought grilled peaches with Mascarpone and peach stuffing, peach sorbet, lemoncello zabaglione, and a lavender crisp. I'm allergic to raw peaches but thought that a grilled one would be ok. Unfortunately, it wasn't grilled enough so I had to pop a Benadryl (slept like a baby that night) to ward off any potential reactions. The peach was hard but somehow managed to be sweet, and I loved the accompaniments, particularly the lavender crisp. A piece of caramelized sugar candy with aromatic bits of lavender in it, it lent a nice crispness to the dish. I think it would be marvelous melted into a hot cup of tea.

Overall, a really terrific meal, particular the killer gnocchi, the lamb meatball, the pesto, the crispy bits. The elements of each course were really well-thought-out. This meal was a real labor of love for Liz and it showed.

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