Tuesday, April 22, 2014

WUSF Longest Table Event

Mrs. Hackknife is what we call a public radio enthusiast (she has a lot of time to listen to NPR on her daily commute). I don't really have the bandwidth to listen myself, however, I do make note of the fact that most of the public radio stations like to cultivate close relationships with the fine dining community for the purposes of fundraising (well-heeled donors are known to enjoy a nice duck breast every now and again). So it was with great interest that I read about an event that our NPR station (WUSF) was holding in April to help celebrate the station's 50th anniversary, something called the Longest Table. For a small ticket fee (most of which was a charitable donation), participants could experience a prix fixe menu from one of several partner restaurants while seated at a very long table situated in the middle of Bayshore Drive (normally reserved for vehicle traffic and joggers/bikers) next to the St. Petersburg harbor. After perusing the menus online, we originally picked Marchand's at the Vinoy (a historic hotel in downtown St. Pete down the street from the event) as our restaurant; unfortunately, I received a call a few days beforehand letting me know that Marchand's had pulled out (as did a couple of the other restaurants, not a particularly good sign), so we were forced to choose another. Luckily for us, one of our favorite places to dine in Tampa (Mise en Place) was still involved and that became our fallback.

On the night of the dinner (which was scheduled rain or shine), the weather happened to be picture-perfect as we made our way through North Straub Park towards the bay shore. Instead of one continuous table, the organizers had set up three separate ones (each representing one of the three remaining restaurants involved), and although they were, in fact, lengthy, they lacked the sort-of awe-inspiring quality that we'd envisioned ("Maybe they should have called this the Long Table instead", opined the missus). You can judge for yourself below.

Regardless, the photo above shows that you certainly couldn't beat the location, with boats/gentle surf on one side and a park filled with dog walkers and something that looked like a group doing hula hoop aerobics on the other. Anxious to chow down, we settled in for the beginning of Chef Marty Blitz's four-course creation, a cannelloni of crab and raw tuna garnished with Meyer lemon pickled cucumber dice, micro watercress, and Aleppo sea salt. Our wine pairing was a 2011 Chalk Hill Sauvignon Blanc, ideal for the warm evening.

Up next came a soup course, a lip-smacking salmorejo (a Spanish soup made with pureed bread and tomato, similar to gazpacho) containing rock shrimp, corn kernels, roasted pumpkin seeds, avocado, and cilantro crystals paired with a 2011 Alta Maria Pinot Noir. I could have easily consumed a gallon of the salmorejo (followed by a quick swim in the bay), thus forsaking the remainder of the meal.

For the main dish, out of the little outdoor kitchen came what resembled a collection of rarefied German or Austrian fare, a wonderful plate of seared duck breast in a Morello cherry rhubarb port vinaigrette, a single large raviolo filled with pulled duck confit and foie gras, and a tasty pile of caraway wild boar and bacon creamed savoy cabbage. It wasn't needed, but the glass of wine that accompanied the duck (a 2011 Katherine Goldschmidt Cabernet Sauvignon) went down very easily.

Last, but not least, was our dessert, a pineapple and honey tart tatin with a dollop of coconut marscapone semi-freddo and a blood orange spiced rum reduction. My photo doesn't really do this dish justice (I'm aware that it looks like a pile of McDonald's hot cakes); however, trust me when I say that the components came together beautifully in a whirlwind of sweet, sour, and creamy, even more enhanced by the 2012 NXNW Late Harvest Riesling from Washington state.

Before we realized it, day had turned into sunset and then twilight by the time we had finished. Little twinkling lights covering the park's trees came on (Were these left over from Xmas? Does it matter?) and even the aerobic group's hula hoops were glowing like neon signs (or maybe that was just the wine goggles) as we said goodbye to our dining companions and headed back home to the Canteen. We're already looking forward to next year's Long, er, Longest Table event...

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