Sunday, December 11, 2016

Land and Sea Dept - From Good Stock Underground Dinner

I mentioned that I like to do underground dining; going to a dinner served by a chef in a space that is not a restaurant.  I recently went to a dinner that was just about as underground as you could get (as far as the space was concerned).  Land and Sea Dept is a group that runs restaurants and lounges including Longman & Eagle, Parsons Chicken and Fish, Chicago Athletic Association, and Lost Lake.  They also host events in different spaces including the building in which their offices reside.  In the fall they host a series of dinners called From Good Stock in which they invite a chef to create a dinner in their space.  They make it an event by also inviting a DJ, bartenders, and artists to decorate the space.  For this dinner they invited brothers Ryan (Chef) and Matthew Poli (Mixologist) formerly of Chicago and now in Nashville running fine dining restaurant, The Catbird SeatScarpetta Wines was the wine partner and Fleur provided greenery to the space.  The space itself was something else.  Located on a side street in Garfield Park (that has no street lights) it is in a former candy factory.  There is nothing to indicate that this space was a former candy factory, it is a big open space with cement floors, brick walls, and a high ceiling in a former factory.  There was a bar at the front of the space where we picked up our Bienvenuto (Welcome) Cocktail which had Melleti Amaro, Carpano Antico Vermouth, Lemon, Peychaud's Bitters, and Fentiman's Tonic.  I like amaro and I liked this cocktail.  I was actually kind of surprised that it was less bitter than I expected (All of the alcohol in the drink is bitter).  It had some bitterness to it, but it was also sweet and had a tart finish from the lemon.  In the back of the room, the DJ was playing a lot of old school funk and disco and in the back corner on the same side as the entrance was the open kitchen.  There was art in the room, both free standing and hanging on the wall, but I was told later that they don't have as much art as they used to because the roof leaks and has damaged several pieces.  As far as seating was concerned, there were four long tables in the center of the room that could seat a total of 80 people.  The tables were decorated with greenery from the aforementioned Fleur which included a crown made from that greenery.  Most of the crowns were made from Sage, but there were a few made from Rosemary.  There may be a picture of me wearing the crown, but it will not be shared.  

When the dinner started, the crew introduced themselves and told us a little about the event.  When chef Ryan Poli thought about doing a large dinner party served family-style, he came up with the idea of a Roman feast.  The meal was billed as a three course family style meal, but each course had several parts, so we actually had closer to seven dishes over four courses.  After our opening cocktail, we had several bottles of Scarpetto Red and White Wines at the table to drink with our meal.  We started with a large plate of Antipasti which included Grilled and Marinated Vegetables including Zucchini and Brussels Sprouts, a couple of Italian Cheeses, Calabrian Chilies, Mortadella, Prosciutto, Fermented Beets, and Squash.  This was very good and I tried several elements, but I didn't want to stuff myself early.  We were then served Arancini.  They didn't call it Arancini, but Crispy Fried Tomato Risotto filled with Mozzarella Cheese is Arancini.  I have had several arancini balls, but I had never had it made with tomato risotto.  The tomato added another element to the dish and it was very good.

For our Primi, we were served two pasta courses.  The first was Spaghetti All'Amatriciana, Spaghetti served with a Tomato based sauce which contains Guanciale.  It tasted good, the tomatoes and gualciale were very flavorful, but the spaghetti was a little overdone.  With the other pasta course, I wasn't exactly sure what it was and with minimal lighting, it was kind of difficult to see.  It looked like a cake with a little sauce on the plate.  It had a crisp top and bottom with soft center and was very flavorful.  After looking at the menu, I saw that it was Gnocchi Alla Romana with Truffles and Celery Root.  I had never had Roman Gnocchi, but after thinking about it, really the only difference between Roman and regular Gnocchi is the shape and the crispness on the outside of the Roman Gnocchi.  The truffles were thinly sliced, but were an explosion of flavor and the sauce on the bottom provided a bittersweet finish.

The Secondi was made up of three elements on two plates.  The first, Bistecca Alla Bear Creek Farm with Cipolline in Agrodolce.  The beef was a Roast Tenderloin which was very tender, flavorful and juicy cooked to a perfect medium rare.  It was served with Cipollini Onions in a Sweet and Sour Sauce.  Cipollini onions are small and kind of flat so I kind of mistook them for mushrooms.  They were tender and sweet and went very well with both the beef and the agrodolce sauce.  The other half of the course was the Potato Gratin with Mustard Greens.  Potatoes and Cheese are a natural with beef and these potatoes were cooked perfectly.  The mustard greens added a little tartness which matched well with the agrodolce on the roast.
After our big family-style plates, our dessert was served individually.  In a small glass, we were served a Buttermilk Panna Cotta with Agrumato Lemon Olive Oil.  Agrumato is the process of pressing citrus with olives to create a flavored olive oil.  As odd as it might sound, it was actually very good with a the texture of a fine olive oil and a very nice lemon flavor.  The smooth texture went very well with the panna cotta and the lemon flavor paired well with the tartness from the buttermilk.  It would have been a fine finish if it were the end, but it was not quite the end.
I have to think the last drink was a last minute add on because it didn't exactly make sense with the rest of the dinner.  This is not a complaint.  Someone had gotten a hold of a firkin of Solemn Oath Big Pern, a Bourbon Barrel Aged Belgian Brown Rye Ale and it was very good with a nice barrel aged flavor on top of the coffee flavors of the roasted malt, but while it was a good drink to finish with, it didn't exactly go with the Italian theme.

In any case, this was a lot of fun and I did enjoy myself.  The food was very good and I ended up sitting next to one of the partners of Land and Sea Dept who was very interesting to talk to.  He actually mentioned a couple of projects in the works without giving a lot of detail that excited me.  This episode of From Good Stock was the last of the year.  I will have to remember to keep an eye out for this next fall because I definitely want to do this again.      

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