Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Chef Celebration

Well May was just full of excitement here in Thathouse. Not just because of Prez’s birthday, the girls’ trip and a still-to-be-blogged-about international adventure.

First, and frankly I kind of can’t believe that I haven’t blogged about this before, my friend Michelle, you know, the one I told you about before? The brilliant writer/lawyer/animal activist? The one who JUST got an agent for her book? Well she’s about to add “published author” to her resume since the book is being published by Simon and Schuster! I got the news earlier and was sworn to secrecy until it became “public” but I don’t really know what that means, so I just kept my big trap shut until I got the go ahead. There will definitely be more info on this closer to the ACTUAL publishing of the book, but I’ve already promised signed copies to my nearest and dearest who are anxious to read it based on the all the hype I’ve already built up.

Second, and only slightly less exciting because this one involves me me me, in May Thatboy and I got to attend a Chef Celebration dinner. It was a dinner we had been looking forward to for months! For those of you too lazy to click on the link, Chef Celebration is a collaboration of San Diego chefs to raise money for a nonprofit scholarship program. Every Tuesday night during the months of April and May, some of the best and brightest chefs join together to create an amazing 4 course menu. The dinner is hosted at a different restaurant each week, and each week 5 different chefs are featured.

After perusing all the menus/restaurants/chefs, I determined we were definitely going to the dinner hosted at Urban Solace. There were two reasons behind this brilliant decision. First, I adore-love-can’t get enough of Urban Solace. It’s one of my favorite San Diego restaurants. Both for dinner and their phenomenal Sunday brunch. Urban Solace bills itself as New American comfort food and that’s a pretty dead on description. Everything just makes you feel SO GOOD, and isn’t that the definition of comfort food?

The second reason I picked this dinner can best be summed up by Prez when I filled her in – “Those are all our favorite chefs!” So true. The Urban Solace line up featured Sean Langlaise of Oceanaire, Matt Gordon of Urban Solace, Joe Magnanelli of Cucina Urbana, Michael Liotta of Quarter Kitchen, and Norma Martinez of El Vitral. Prez had a one up on me since I haven’t been to El Vitral yet, but she’s given it high marks for a while now. She’s already planning a night when we can drink our fill of margaritas and then head to a baseball game to sober up.

The four course meal began with an amuse bouche from Joe Magnanelli, one of Cucina Urbana’s specialties – fried squash blossoms. Served atop whipped goat cheese, and truffle honey. We knew it was going to be delicious and we weren’t disappointed. Especially with the creamy garlicy goat cheese which makes everything better.

The came course number 1. Thatboy and I each ordered something different and split halfway through.

Thatboy began with the Raw Alaskan King Crab Battera with Ostera Caviar, Dashi, and a Ginger-Soy Reduction prepared by Sean Langlais. The server described it as a type of sushi, pressed into a box like shape. I was a little nervous because I’d never had raw crab before, but HOLY MOLY WAS THIS INCREDIBLE! I love crab in general because good crab is so sweet, but this was perfectly tender and sweet and mouth meltable. Thatboy wasn’t as impressed, but I adored it. He preferred my first course.

I had a kobe beef salpicon salad with roasted poblano pepper, avocado, cotija cheese, pickled onion, and crisp plantain chips prepared by Norma Martinez. Role reversal here. I thought it was okay, but Thatboy loved it. We were happy to do a switch and end with each other’s choices.

For course number 2, I had the crispy buttermilk fried sweetbreads with mustard seed jus and pickled greens prepared by Matt Gordon. I wish I could give it a rave review. What was done well was done REALLY well. The buttermilk batter was perfectly spiced and delicious. The pickled greens I could have licked off the bowl if I wasn’t such a lady. And some bites of sweetbread were tender and perfect. But every now and again I’d get a really rubbery/chewy bite which just didn’t sit right with me and keeps me from giving this an over the top review.

Thatboy had the seared dayboat scallop with housemade cotechino sausage and caponata siciliana prepared by Joe Magnanelli. He thought it was fantastic and kept offering me bites. I’ll take his word for it since I don’t eat scallops, or sausage that has a scallop sitting on it. He was please enough with his choice, and happy that my course was gigantic and he could share in that too. Except the pickled greens. I wasn’t sharing those with anyone.

Course 3 brought us our entrees. For me that was the Maple-Whisky Liberty Farm’s Duck, sweet corn spoon bread, glazed spring baby carrots and candied duck cracklin’ prepared by Matt Gordon. We both declared this to be the winner of the entrees. I can’t help it, I just love duck. And this was prepared so well! So tender, so rich and decadent, so sweet! And the spoon bread? Well, I make spoon bread fairly regularly, and this was WAY better than anything I’ve made. Mostly because of the absolute moist richness of the entire thing. I didn’t want to share it either, but I did, because – remember that part above where I mentioned I was a lady? No, before the part about me not sharing my greens.

Thatboy had the Meyer’s Ranch Red Wine Roasted Beef with charred eggplant, smoked piperade and bagna cauda prepared by Michael Liotta. He thought the sauces were fantastic and if HE wasn’t such a lady he would have licked the plate. He found the beef to be a bit tough though, and uninspired. UNTIL the next day. See, after all those courses we got a little full, so we ended up taking a lot of our dinner home to be repurposed as lunch. Thatboy found the next day roast beef to be far superior to what he had for dinner.

Course 4 was dessert, crafted by Norma Martinez. HOLY PHENOMENAL. I had the Ate Con Queso Tostadas, made of Candied Quince & Pink Guava, sweet bunuelo, and manchego cheese shavings. It was served beside a chipotle infused mango margarita sorbet. Seriously, cheese should be a part of every dessert. As should chipotle infused mango margarita sorbet. And let’s not kid ourselves. By this time of the evening NO ONE was a lady and Thatboy and I both licked the sorbet bowl.

Thatboy had the chocolate flan with cinnamon crisps and strawberry cucumber relish. The flan? It was a chocolate flan. But the strawberry cucumber relish? Thatboy went nuts over it. So much so he declared it to be the best thing he’d eaten in years. And guess who has started putting cucumber in Thatboy’s fruit salads in his lunches? I’m no fool.

And in case you’re not quite full yet, the server brought us out the mignardieses - a peanut butter truffle, passion fruit macaron, and lemon cake prepared by Michael Liotta. Thatboy said the peanut butter truffle reminded him of a grown up butterfinger bar, but I was more drawn to the perfect macaron. Light and airy, but bursting with fruity goodness. A very enjoyable way to end the very enjoyable evening. I can’t wait till next year!


  1. Wow! My mouth is watering! And congrats to your friend on her book!

  2. I should have turned away this late at night and not continued to scroll down thsi array of tempting food...now I gave the munchies.

  3. i had to scroll really fast because i skipped dinner last night and i am STARVING.

    yay for your friend's book, though - that is so exciting!

  4. Just stopping by to say Happy Birthday! :)