This year I decided that I wanted to do something epic for my birthday. After all, it’s a significant one: the quarter century!
An idea came to me: a 25 course (taste) meal for 25 friends for my 25th birthday.
Crazy? Yes. It took me a while to convince myself to undertake this project, but I’m glad I did!
So now, I share with you, dear reader, the experience we had that evening.
1. Cava with Sherry
Upon entering the venue, guests were greeted in a candlelit corridor by @chocomeat, and handed a numbered wine glass, indicating their corresponding seat number at the table. The glass was filled with cava and a splash of amontillado sherry. The sherry gave the refreshing bubbly a touch of nutty goodness that reminded me of the taste of perfect oatmeal raisin cookies.
The guests, coming from my various different circles of friends, were set free to mingle while sipping their sherry spritzer.
2. Gold Label Authentic Balsamico
I wanted to start the meal off right with something unique and interactive: an unconventional toast! I circled the table with a small vile and poured a drop of the liquid within on each guest’s wrist. A tricky endeavor as some people’s hands were more level than others!
Once all hands were adorn with the thick, brown liquid, everyone was invited to “kiss their wrist.” We all smiled in delight as we tasted rich, sweet taste of decades of time and artisan blending of what was once nothing more than boiled grape juice!
Guests were asked to contemplate each taste along the way and write their notes on the game board styled placemat at their place setting.
3. Balsamic Soda
Playing off of the teasing taste of balsamico, I decided to continue the theme in the next beverage. Aged balsamic vinegar with half a strawberry and a touch of basil topped off with soda water. The result was a sweet and sour soda that played well with the accompanying food items:
4. Heirloom Tomatoes with French Olive Oil
I was lucky to be able to find perfect-ripe tomatoes the day of the party. The slices were dressed in a French olive oil so luxuriously smooth that I wanted to drink it on it’s own. The oil’s sweet body balanced out the tomato’s acidity letting the tomato’s deep flavor shine through.
5. Zingerman’s Paesano Bread
Most of my friends have heard me rave on about the perfection that is the bread from Zingerman’s Bakehouse in my hometown of Ann Arbor, MI. So I had some of their bread shipped in so everyone could experience it themselves.
I thought the semolina flour paesano bread was a good choice to pair with the tomato and olive oil. A bread with a distinct flavor on it’s own and a texture perfect for sopping up all sorts of other flavors.
6. Marinated Yucca Blossoms
Having been recently gifted a whole bunch of fresh yucca blossoms, I decided to incorporate them into the meal. I never had yucca blossoms before and their earthy flavor reminded me of artichokes, so I treated them as such. After a quick blanch, I marinated them in lemon juice and divine Spanish olive oil for an entire week.
7. Sheep’s Milk Ricotta
Mistaken by many guests as buratta, this cheese was irresistibly creamy with a lingering, complex aftertaste from the sheep’s milk. Paired with the tomato and bread, it was pretty unbeatable.
Because it would be boring to sit across the same person for a five hour meal.
8. Anti-White Wine
Proof Wine Collective’s Anti-White was love at first sip… and whiff. A very floral nose that speaks sweetly, but wonderfully deceptive of the taste within.
9. Bitter Melon Greens in Cocoa Butter Vaudovan Curry
One guest wrote on their placemat that this dish was like “kung-fu in my mouth.”
Rich body punched by crazy curry, super bitter greens, sweet kecap manis, all kicked up to another level with a sprinkle of ghost pepper salt. I think the curry was a fun pairing (or follow up?) to the Anti-White.
10. Anise Salad
A simple salad to cleanse the palate after the crazy curry. Also serving as a time to contemplate the difference between the anise flavor of fennel and that of tarragon. Dressed with a splash of aged sherry vinegar and Chilian olive oil that complemented the anise flavors well.
11. Sour Ale with Raspberries
I like to say that sour ale is the new IPA. That is, I predict it to be the next trend in craft beer and all the breweries are going to be on it!
This belgium sour red ale had a delightful mild pucker on a clean and refreshing finish. A few fresh raspberries dropped in the glass fit right in, as the tart flavor of the berries is reminiscent of the sourness in the beer. Think lambic, only better!
12. Duck Fat Fries
Served in a grease-stained brown paper bag and passed around the table. Then dipped in…
13. Tomato Fig Ketchup
I challenged @sippitysup to make this ketchup for the party and he delivered! Roasted figs and tomatoes blended with vinegar and spices made for an interesting twist on the sweet/salty/sour/spicy classic.
14. Braised Lamb Shank Sandwich
You know your friends that say they don’t like lamb? They would like this sandwich.
Beautiful pasture-raised lamb shanks from Lindy & Grundy braised in red wine, pulled, stewed, slathered on bread with a delightful sheep’s milk cheese melted on top. Oh, another interesting salty note: brine-fermented purple bell peppers (that lost all their purple color to the brine). It was made even better with a smear of the fig ketchup!
11–14 are enjoyed to the sounds of Tom Wait’s classic album Night Hawks at the Diner. Because I said so.
Another change of scenery, and a new perspective.
15. French Hard Cider
I first tasted this Cider at Domatine LA and was instantly intrigued by it’s “barnyard-y” aroma and flavor. Made from 40 different varieties of apples, it has a complexity that is off-putting for most people, but I find it delightful.
It reminds me of childhood apple picking trips with my family in Michigan. Wet grass, hay, musky apples. Apple picking always meant fresh pressed cider and fresh fried donuts, so naturally I had to make some…
16. Cinnamon Sugar Duck Fat Donut Holes
Once again, I enlisted the help of @sippitysup. He fried up these beautiful little donut holes in duck fat to a beautiful crunchy brown exterior, then we rolled them in bourbon syrup and then in cinnamon sugar. We served them hot in paper cones. Sublime.
@chocomeat and I raided the office supplies closet and found some mini clip boards and decided that, lined with parchment, they would make really fun cheese boards.
17. Der Scharfe Maxx 365
Sharp, raw cow’s milk. Pungent and almost garlic flavored with beautiful, large crystals.
18. Papillen Roquefort
Intense blue, sheep’s milk. Super creamy body. Pairs nicely with 20.
19. Double Cream
Oozy, French fat cheese. You know the kind I mean…
20. Creamy Raw California Wildflower Honey
Waxy-thick with a tingly sweetness. Paired with the roquefort, it turns down the intensity and let’s the more subtle flavors shine through.
21. Pluot Sauce
California pluots cooked down for hours with cinnamon and bourbon syrup.
22. Avocado Honey
Perhaps you remember this treat from last year’s Honey Tasting Dinner. It’s rich, molasses-like flavor has an uncanny similarity to…
23. Labyrinth Porter Home-Brew
My first foray into beer making, this porter is brewed with maple syrup. I can’t say that it tastes like maple syrup… but perhaps it tastes like maple syrup devoid of sweetness. Can you imagine what that tastes like?
I named the beer after the Jim Henson film Labyrinth. Why? That’s a long story. Just know that the label has an illustration of David Bowie on it.
24. Urfa Pepper Ice Cream
Ice cream infused with whole vanilla bean and urfa pepper flakes. The sun-dried purple peppers lend a leathery, chocolate-rasin flavor and a mild heat that plays well with the vanilla.
It also plays well with the beer, so we put 24 in 23 and drizzled with 22 to make…
BEER FLOATS (bitches)
We were listening to David Bowie now BTW… and watching Labyrinth. Naturally.
25. Askinosie Chocolate Sampler
What better way to end a meal about tasting than with one of my favorite taste experiences? Chocolate!
Askinosie’s incredible single-origin chocolate bars are easily the best chocolate made in America. Made with superb beans sourced directly from farmers in places like The Philippeans, Equador, Hondurous and Tanzania, these chocolate bars show terrior like no other.
Plated with a bee’s wax birthday candle melted to the plate. After singing “Happy Birthday,” everyone decided to leave their candles lit.
Savoring amazing chocolate by the light of 25 candles? I couldn’t ask for more.