Saturday, October 23, 2010
We finally got to make it to one of the Gracious Gourmand dinners, a biweekly event launched in August this year by our friend Joshua Katcher, otherwise known as The Discerning Brute. Hosted in a cozy private room at Williamsburg's Second Stop Cafe, Gracious Gourmand features a rotating cast of guest chefs who all create their own gourmet, sustainable, cruelty-free menus.
Last night our chef was Ayinde Howell, who in addition to being a great chef is also a lifelong vegan, an actor, musician, writer, and founder of the blog I Eat Grass. He's also, at least the two times I've met him now, a super nice guy. This is his second appearance at Gracious Gourmand, and this evening we were treated to a Moroccan-inspired menu, and even a couple surprise courses to boot. I apologize for the quality of the photos below, they don't do the food justice but it was very dimly lit in there and I only had the camera on my phone!
I was actually the first person to arrive, so I had the honor of taste-testing one of the Preserved Lemon Drop Martinis with a Date Sugar Rim. If you like lemon drop martinis, you would love this one. It was lemony, but not too tart, and sweet, but not overly so. After a long week at work, I so needed this.
The first course was Shwarma "Street Meat" Skewers. I've never eaten "street meat," but I can tell you that these were amazing. They definitely had some kind of lemony marinade on them, and were delicately but very nicely seasoned. I wanted to just order another big plate of these and call it a meal, but I'm glad I didn't...
After the shwarma, we had a Mediterranean mushroom soup, which was nice but I didn't get any good pictures of it. You'll just have to trust that it was good. Next, we got a surprise course that was a roasted sweet potato with scallions and cilantro butter. Simple, but suprisingly rich and tasty.
And then we got yet another surprise course of "mac & yeese" with a side of greens, pomegranate seeds, and black olives. The mac & yeese was one of the most unusual and most delicious versions I've ever had. There were spices in there that I just couldn't figure out, and it had a very pleasant, almost vinegary tang. We were desperately trying to figure out the ingredients, but Chef Howell would not divulge anything other than that the "cheese" sauce was a family recipe, it was nutritional yeast-based, and it included lemon juice (not vinegar), among other secret ingredients. I guess I'll have to hope he publishes a cookbook in order to get the recipe.
The main entree was Chermoula Tempeh over Raisin Couscous. Chermoula is a Moroccan type of marinade usually used on seafood or other meat, and again includes lemon juice and/or preserved lemons (lemon being the definite motif of the menu), and a mixture of fresh herbs and spices. I really enjoyed the tempeh prepared this way, and the couscous soaked with all the juices from the marinade was also delicious.
And finally, as if we had room left after all that, we were treated to a Cashew Ice Cream Affogato, which basically means a shot of hot espresso over ice cream. I love coffee-flavored ice cream (or coffee-flavored pretty much anything), but I have to tell you that I stopped drinking coffee several months ago, so just this shot of espresso, even mixed with the ice cream, was STRONG! At any rate, this was a very nice ending to a fantastic meal, and a good way to combine coffee with dessert so they could get our butts out of there before the next seating.