After the great time we had at last month's Studiofeast with Ilan Hall, we were very keen to repeat the experience. This time, however, we invited a couple of guests: Mike, a work colleague of mine who is another fan of interesting eat-out experiences, and Zenchef, known to many of you from his warm, witty and wonderful blog, "Chefs Gone Wild".
We met in one of our favourite Williamsburg bars, the Brooklyn Ale House. We love this place because in the ten or eleven years we've been going there pretty much the only thing that's changed is the dodgy artwork on the walls. There are always several regulars at the bar, there's a reasonable selection of beers on tap as well as specials in the cask, the jukebox is good and at weekends the bagels are free. Dogs often roam the peanut-shell-strewn floor looking for attention and, it has to be noted, a carelessly low-hung coat to cock a leg against. Only the unwary put their coats over the back of the bar chairs here.
Once again we turned up at the secret location promptly at 8:00 having stopped en route to buy a selection of wines from The Bottle Shoppe on Bedford Avenue. Co-organiser Mike Lee remembered us from last time, which was nice, and after a brief chat with him we settled ourselves at the end of a table. As the place slowly filled up we sampled the first of our wines: a light and silky-smooth Momokawa Ruby sake selected by Mike, who is something of a Japanese cuisine afficionado. There were quite a number of people we recognised from the last event, which made this pre-prandial part of the evening even more fun than last time. The atmosphere at Studiofeast really is very warm and sociable. Everyone just seems so pleased to be part of it and eager to talk and share with friends and strangers alike. You can get a sense of the event (and what the chefs were up to) here.
At around 8:45 the hors d'ouevres appeared. We were treated to three different varieties which we accompanied with a pleasantly crisp, fruity 2006 Botalcura El Delirio Chardonnay Viognier. The Isleford Crab Rolls turned out not to be rolls at all - we suspect a last-minute supply issue here - but consisted of salty, citrusy crabmeat over thickly-sliced bread triangles. Next came dill-dressed gravlax over thin rectangles of rye bread. Very simple, but tasty. The last of the trio was everyone's favourite: Devils Eggs. These were not the spicy little things we were expecting (as in Deviled Eggs) but simple halves of boiled egg with light touches of garlic, salt and cheese. The yolks were just cooked, avoiding the dryness of the typical hard boiled egg. I would love to show you some pictures of these creations (and the subsequent courses) but for some mysterious reason my already shaky abilities with the camera completely deserted me this time. Apologies for that; you'll just have to take my word for the fact that it looked good as well as tasting good!
Next came the first course: a salad comprising asparagus, morels, leafy greens and candied pork with a sauce Gribiche dressing. We paired this with a 2006 Wyatt Pinot Noir which was a fairly classic medium-bodied example of the breed with a lovely, characteristic brick red tone. The salad featured watercress which had not had the large stalks trimmed away; an unusual idea that we had some doubts about but which, surprisingly, worked very well. The slight bitterness of the stalks made a good contrast with the highlight of the dish: the candied pork. These meaty little nuggets were bursting with sweetness yet not so much that the flavour of the meat was lost. The combination of the leaves and stalks, the woodsy earthiness of the morels and the mild tang of the dressing made a whole that was definitely more than the sum of its parts.
I think it was early during the serving of the salad course that we happened to notice a vital stage in the preparation of the entree. Even in a crowded room it's hard to miss a whole roasted goat on a spit being carried through to the kitchen. Yes, those crazy Studiofeasters had really taken underground dining to the edge this time - the edge of the roof, to be precise. Underground dining with overground cooking - they'd roasted the beast right out there in full view of neighbouring buildings, passing subway trains and, no doubt, flocks of worried pigeons. Later in the evening Mike took us up to the roof to show us the huge grill, and told us how they'd spent a few anxious hours hoping the local Fire Department didn't think there was anything unusual about a thick plume of smoke rising into the air above the building. Well, the FDNY either didn't notice or didn't care, and as a result we all got to enjoy succulent slices of the roof-roast, accompanied by the most deliciously salty pebble-sized potatoes, Vidalia onions and hunks of curry corn bread topped with a savoury, garlicky butter.
We paired this with a wine provided by the Zenman - a Mocali Brunello di Montalcino Riserva 2001 - which was just perfect for the dish. A big-bodied, dirty-minded number, this had a deep black fruitiness laced with just a hint of pine forest floor. Just what you need for roast meat and potatoes!
It would have been a mistake for this meal to end with a heavy-hitter of a dessert and it didn't: Monica Glass had created a simple layered carrot cake with chocolate, hazelnuts and cream cheese mousse. We paired this (and the petits fours which followed) with an Otima Port. This is not a heavy, rich port so it worked well with the relatively light dessert.
Our second Studiofeast experience was every bit as enjoyable as the first and it was great to meet Zenchef. Do check out his report of the occasion, which features the only two remotely useable photos we took. Zenchef doesn't look that blurred in real life, even after half a dozen glasses of wine!