C-CAP Benefit 2009: Let Them Eat Meat

At the beginning of Lent and the end of another dark day of a down stock market, most people headed home to think where else to cut back on expenditures both big and small.  However, a few brave souls headed back out on that chilly Ash Wednesday in late February to support New York’s greatest food charity on its big night.  Given the worthiness of the cause, I can’t think of a better case for a one time “indulgence.”  Fat Tuesday, meet Fat Wednesday! 

This year,  a tightly edited selection of forty or so restaurants and a slightly more intimate crowd size meant less rush between stations and more time to talk with chefs.  The speech by the night’s honoree, Drew Nieporent, was witty, sonorously delivered and straight to the point.  It’s usually hard to quiet a crowd of bibulous foodies.  Nieporent did it with little apparent effort.  And now, as he said, let’s move on to the food.

Standout dishes: In a sign of somber times, savory outnumbered sweet by three to one.  Everyone seemed to want to offer something of substance, and that meant a lot less sugar than in years past.  That said, those who dared to go the dessert route produced some big winners. 

1. Porter House New York’s Po’ Boys: Michael Lomanoco’s brisket po’ boys were a highlight of the protein parade.  A crispy edge edge to the tender meat, a great spicy mayo, and a perfect little roll to hold it together:  This was best piece of finger food I had all night.   I wish Porter House would add more dishes this complex to its menu.  Perhaps at the bar?

2. Olives’ Hazelnut Semifreddo: C-CAP alum Alfred Stephens walked away once again with the night’s top dessert.  I miss his cherry confections of years past, but welcomed his sour-cherry caviar, micro-green and amaretti enhanced hazelnut semifreddo.  The texture play, which ran from creamy to crunchy to umami dimsum slippery slurpy, was hard to describe and hard to forget.  A lot in play but nothing out of synch.  If all reading is rereading, then all good eating is re-eating.  I reread this tasty text three times just to get a handle on it.

3. Nobu’s Chocolate Soup: Jessica Isaacs restored my confidence in the expressive potential of chocolate desserts.  Taking molten chocolate cake to its logical extreme, molten chocolate, she produced one of the most original desserts I’ve had in a while, and the first to make great use of Japanese ingredients.  Nothing pedestrian about her darker than dark Willie Wonka chocolate river with its bobbing crispy rice “mochi”, peanut butter candy and mountain apple cream.   

4. Gilt’s Pancetta-Cured Foie Gras:  In recent years, two restaurants at C-CAP’s benefit have deployed fatty liver to restore faith in their operations right before or soon after their storied chefs moved on.  How better to solve a “crise de foie” than by serving “foie gras?”  Compass offered a Rice Krispy coated foie dish that demanded repeat tastes and  made me optimistic about the restaurant’s post-Fraser future.  This year Gilt brought out the foie after Christopher Lee left for Aureole.  Once again, a new chef did wonders with an ingredient that often underperforms.  At Gilt’s table, the salt, spice and crunch of the accompaniments offered all the surprise of the new alongside the comforting luxury of the familiar.  Justin Bogle, Lee’s replacement, is one to watch.

5. Blue Hill’s Beet Salad:  Dan Barber was one of the chefs who made the most of a meaty vegetable, in his case a beautiful forono beet  spiced up with horseradish and buttermilk panna cotta.  Beets should taste as strong as their beautiful colors suggest they will, but they also need something to balance out these strong flavors. The buttermilk and horseradish did the job.  If coffee usually smells better than it tastes, beets usually look better.  For once, they lived up to the eye’s expectations.  

6. Union Square Café’s Wild Nettle Sformato: A custard like disk of nettles and cheese, this was an easy chewing, easy eating little delight.  Quagliata has riffed on this preparation before at C-CAP benefits, but this was the first time I got to hear the whole story of each ingredient and how and why he put them together.  The buttery mushrooms were an added pleasure, reminding me how much can be done with a relatively inexpensive ingredient.  Michael White also gets credit on the fungi front for his mushroom and truffle soup, the best I’ve had since the retiring of Tom Colicchio’s old cappuccino number at Gramercy Tavern.

7. Céntrico’s Picadas: Let’s be clear, these are sopes, not picadas, but the name is of secondary importance.  Sánchez put some real Mexican flavor and finger food convenience into this little ditty of a homemade double thick silver dollar tortilla, layered with bean spread, dry white cheese, a well-spiced salsa and perfectly tart Mexican sour cream.  No stippling, dolloping, dappling or other visual tricks.   This was a homey homely pleasure, and a heartfelt one.  Sánchez left me hoping for more Latin American fare next year.

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2 Responses to “C-CAP Benefit 2009: Let Them Eat Meat”

  1. Marvin O'Reilly Says:

    Did you snag a Landmarc t-shirt or hat? Matchbooks or fine, but I’m a big fan of Marc Murphy’s party favors.

  2. Mary M. Says:

    Foie gras, shmoie gras. Malouf’s lamb chops are still the best thing going.

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