On the Horizon: black garlic, dry ice and drinks, drinks, drinks…

Horizon’s at the Grove Park Inn debuted the first in their “2010 Visiting Chef Wine Dinner” series on June, Friday the 10th. As debuts go, this one certainly made a splash.

First of all, at very few places in Asheville can you see fine dining service of this caliber. It has to be good if I mention it before I even get to describing the food — trust me. We’re talking one-server-for-every-two-diners caliber service, — perfectly orchestrated placing of food, set at the proper position for presentation service. Gathering of plates at the perfect time — unobtrusive, flawless service.

But what of the food?

Here’s the premise of the series, first of all:

Each of the dinners features talented chefs, likely on their way to becoming celebrities in their own right, cooking side by side with chefs from the Grove Park Inn.

For example, the first dinner saw Duane Fernandes, Chef de Cuisine of Horizons at the Grove Park Inn, expertly creating courses with Sean Brock, executive chef of McCrady’s Restaurant in Charleston and recent recipient of the 2010 James Beard award for the southeast, as well as Jaques Larson, executive chef of Wild Olive Italiana in Charleston.

Each of the three chefs presented two courses representative of their style. Each course, in a move that my dining companion quipped was possibly orchestrated by the Grove Park Inn to sell rooms, was served with a rather substantial alcoholic beverage.

Here’s what was served:

Dish: Hamachi Carpaccio, calabrese peppers, arugula, preserved Meyer lemon
Drink: Tenryo Koshu, Junmai Daiginjyo, aged saké
Chef: Jaques Larson

Comments: Absolutely delicious. Admittedly, on my very first bite, something overwhelmingly spicy — the calabrese peppers, obviously — hit the back of my throat, causing a fit of coughing. Fortunately, there was no sake in my mouth at the time. Every other bite was milder. Curious. The sake was fabulous — I’m officially ruined for cheap-ish sake.

Dish: Pan-seared diver scallops, sweet potato, ginger, black garlic and Blis elixir (well-aged vinegar)
Drink: Hugel, Gewürztraminer, 2007
Chef: Sean Brock

Comments: The sweet potato was cut into thin, marinated ribbons and wrapped around the scallops. Most of the components of this dish were slightly overwhelming on their own, but an orchestra of flavor when combined. To be sure, fermented garlic, aged vinegar and ginger are all quite loud on the palate.

Dish: Gnocchi, Carolina shrimp and baby local vegetables
Drink: Domaine Lafond, Tavel, Rosé, 2008
Chef: Jaques Larson

Comments: Delicious, fresh, very pleasantly nostalgic in flavor — “like a play on butter beans and creamed vegetables,” said my dining partner. The gnocchi, I thought, was slightly pasty. Great wine, great value.

Dish: Braised Hickory Nut Gap Pork Rillettes, baby heirloom tomatoes, crispy squash blossom leaves and smoky vidalia onion soubise.
Drink: Delirium Tremens, Belgium Pale Ale
Chef: Duane Fernandes

Comments: I’m sure this was very good. I remember liking it. I also remember that this was about the point in the parade of alcohol that my dining partner and I began to ham it up with the wait staff. I recall making jokes about ordering a side of room keys with this dish.

Dish: Pan-seared heart of ribeye, Parmesan bread pudding, summer bean ragout and piquillo peppers.
Drink: Mendel, Malbec, 2007
Chef: Duane Fernandes

Comments: “This is incredible — it’s … wait. Look at the menu. They’re about to serve us liquor?!”

Dish: Chewy Caramel, frozen chocolate powder, peanuts and malt
Drink: A Manhattan, for Pete’s sake
Chef: Sean Brock

I’m not truly sure exactly what a Monarch Manhattan is, per se, but it tasted as though it had Amaretto in it. This dessert was just plain strange — however, I was the only one at my (tipsy at that point) table that didn’t inhale it, I noticed. I’m beginning to think that the dentists accidentally removed my sweet tooth last time I had a cavity filled, anyhow. This concoction reminded me of a deconstructed Snicker’s bar — with a chunk of dry ice thrown in with the chocolate powder for good measure. Interesting.

This meal, in it’s entirety, was a fabulous, sumptuous experience. All of that food — all of those drinks — for $90. That might not be exactly an affordable luxury on a regular basis, but for the quality of the meal and — let me reiterate — all of those drinks, it’s a bit of a screaming deal.

Here are the upcoming dinners:

July 22: Chef Nathan Thurston from the Sanctuary at Kiawah with Chef Charles Jett from the Blue Ridge Dining Room

August 6: Chef Robert Wysong from the Sanctuary at Kiawah with Chef Lisa Scanlan from Grove Park Inn Banquets

September 16: Chef Michael Fahey from the Cedar Creek Racquet Club with Chef Geoffrey Bragg from the Sunset Terrace

For reservations and more information, contact The Grove Park Inn Resort & Spa at 252-2711, visit www.groveparkinn.com.


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