Dinner with Friends: Winter Tasting Menu

dinner-party-8-of-2 Since putting on my first tasting menu dinner nearly three years ago, I have dreamt about hosting another.  On two occasions I planned an extravagant event, even sent out invitations, only to have to cancel at the last minute when work obligations took priority.  Last night, finally, Big N and I hosted a dinner party for a few close friends as a pre-Valentine’s Day celebration.  True to form, I started planning nearly a month ago, creating a menu that would showcase seasonal ingredients and a few newly acquired tricks.  The menu was a bit ambitious for one person to serve 8 guests while still trying to enjoy the company of great friends rather than disappearing behind the kitchen door all night, but I was eager to pull it off.  And, if I can brag for just a stitch, pull it off I did!

Our dear friends arrived at 7, just as I was finishing the final preparations and mise en place so each dish would be timed perfectly.  Big N served as sommelier, and poured the wine as I prepared the plates in the kitchen.  We carefully selected 5 wines to pair with each of the 5 dishes, though kept the pours short so our guests would safely arrive home at the end of the evening.

dinner-party-1-of-6 I started with an amuse bouche of tuna poke with an avocado mousseline spherification.  The spherification, invented by molecular gastronomy god Ferran Adria of El Bulli, is a liquid center surrounded by a gelatinous membrane.  Taken in one bite, the spherification bursts in your mouth, coating the food with the liquid.  I made the tuna slightly spicy so the fatty avocado created a nice balance.  I won’t go into exactly how I created the spherification, which is an adventure that deserves its own post, but it involved experimentation with some serious (food safe) chemicals, and about 4 attempts before I was able to create one that was edible.  But the tuna poke is easy peasy.  Spicy Tuna Poke Recipe  I paired the amuse bouche with a cava from Spain.  Cava is a sparkling white that is light, crisp, with very little aftertaste.  The bubbly, with the spicy poke, was intended to awaken my guests’ palates and prepare them for the rest of the meal.

dinner-party-2-of-6 Next came the champagne poached steelhead.  My local fishmonger couldn’t obtain my first choice, arctic char, so I went with the steelhead.  Steelhead is actually a sea-run rainbow trout, so it looks like salmon, but is much more delicate, perfect for poaching.  I served it with a bernaise sauce with freshly chopped tarragon, asparagus tips, and meyer lemon air.  Champagne Poached Steelhead Recipe  Air, like foam, is an emulsification that’s become trendy in restaurants these days, though pretty simple to master with a little soy lecithin to stabilize the lemon juice.  I took a bit of a risk attempting it for the first time last night, but luck was on my side.  We paired the steelhead with a sauvignon blanc from Marlbourough New Zealand.  The wine had a nice grassy quality that stood up to the acidity in the bernaise and the asparagus, but the tropical fruit notes typical for wines from this region created an elegant complement to the fish.

dinner-party-3-of-6 Taking a slightly unconventional approach, I served my soup in the middle of the meal.  I wanted to pair my cream of wild mushroom with a red wine and it was more important that the wines flowed from lighter to heavier bodied than for the soup to be served at the start of the meal.  The cream of wild mushroom was my personal favorite of the evening.  Cooked with shiitake, porcini, oyster, crimini, and button mushrooms, I added some homemade parmesan croutons, creme fraiche, and shaved truffles for the extra wow factor.  Cream of Wild Mushroom Recipe  I paired that with a burgundy from the Mersault.  Mersault is known for its white wine, but this red was a winner.  Lighter for burgundy, it struck the perfect balance between earth and fruit, and allowed the richness of the soup to shine.

[SinglePic not found]Finally, my sous vide new york strip.  I’ll post about the marvels of sous vide cooking in a bit, as I have a few posts to catch up on, but suffice it to say if you’ve never had a sous vide piece of meat you don’t know what you’re missing.  The steak was cooked perfectly medium rare throughout, thanks to the Sous Vide Supreme, but I finished them off by searing them in expensive french butter, then spooned a generous portion of cabernet reduction that took me all day to make (reducing takes patience, I’ve learned, but well worth the wait).  Sides included sunchoke (aka jerusalem artichoke) puree and wilted baby spinach.  I paired it with the Lincourt Cabernet from Santa Ynez Valley, a favorite that I’ve talked about before.  The wine is one of the more approachable cabernets, sure to please a crowd.

dinner-party-5-of-6 Finally, dessert, as no tasting menu is complete without sweets.  Normally I try all my recipes out first before attempting to serve them to guests at crunch time, but I took another risk here and made something I’ve never made before.  The apple dumpling recipe I found in the LA Farmers’ Market Cookbook but I put my own spin on it.  I baked a granny apple stuffed with dried cranberries, brown sugar, and cinnamon inside a pie dough crust.  I paired that with saffron kulfi, which is an Indian ice cream made with sweetened condensed milk, cardamom, and more cinnamon.  Saffron Kulfi Recipe Dessert was a definite hit, as I witnessed a few guests scraping their plates.  I paired the dumpling with a light bodied spatlese, a German Riesling that’s not too sweet.

dinner-party-7-of-2 I also made some coconut macaroons as petit fours to serve with coffee at the end of the meal as our guests were winding down, and my lovely friend D spoiled us by bringing french macarons in Valentine’s day colors from macaron artiste Paulette.

The evening was a wild success.  Though I missed some of the fun while plating and expediting each course, I still had plenty of time to sit and chat with our closest friends, and to relish in their enjoyment of my cooking, of course.  Seeing friends enjoy the food I’ve prepared gives me a dorky feeling of jubilation.  Even now I’m basking in the afterglow as I reminisce and share.  I think I need to make these dinner parties a bi-annual affair.


  1. I want to call off the Iron Chef contest… I can’t compete with this!

  2. This is insane…I put this post in front of Daniel to show him what he was up against and it scared him off (sorry). This dinner sounds and looks amazing – how you pull these dinners off I just don’t understand. Congrats on another successful dinner party!

  3. Mmm, Mmm. Just great food. Can’t Wait till the next one!

  4. Pull this one off you did! Every course was amazing. My fav’s: toss up between the soup and dessert. Perfect evening!

  5. great post, thanks for sharing

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