Saturday, March 31, 2012
SHARING THE "COVERS"
Inside the Swoop House, the elegant tables are filled with excited diners. There are local people, folks in from beyond Texas to attend SXSW, all manner of foodies and media types.
We're sitting, we're waiting, we can smell a delicious aroma in the air.
(This post, this event, had a prelude.
We'll still be waiting, if you missed it & want to get the backstory first.)
Dawson Ludwig, standing nearby, calls for our attention, tells us what we can expect this night. Tells us about the history of the "Covers" events from Noise Pop and graffEats, about the musical covers chosen to complement this night's gourmet offerings, about the wines from Wente Vineyards that will be accompanying all of it. He smiles, raises a glass.
The diners raise theirs in response.
Huzzah! Slainte! Cheers! Prosit!
And so it begins.
Remember that each course will be a cover: GraffEats chef Blair Warsham recreating signature dishes from the country's top chefs.
Know that it starts local, with inspiration from the ATX's sushi wunderkind: The appetizer is from Uchi: Tyson Cole's Uchiveche Salmon (with striped bass, tomato, bell pepper, garlic, and cilantro). Perfectly presented, cold, sharp, melt-in-your-lucky-mouth bits of fish sending your tastebuds directly to paradise without the need for jihad or a life of deprivation. The accompanying music is "an interplay between Japanese and American culture." Yes, it is: Takeshi Terauchi covering the Beach Boys' "Surfer Girl;" the 220.127.116.11's doing the Ikettes' "I'm Blue;" The Knack's "My Sharona" covered by Saijo Hideki.
You're chewing, you're tasting, you're listening, you're looking at your date for the evening – Buzz Moran, seated next to you near the head of the main table – and he's smiling as big as you must be smiling. Hell, everyone's smiling ~ smiling and eating. The room is lousy with grins and the sounds of happy mastication.
Next up is what you're going to recall as the single best part of this superlative parade of food: Hot Potato/Cold Potato, a dish by Grant Achatz of Chicago's Alinea. It's a hot, like, potato kebab ~ like some kind of elongated indie Tater Tot on a wooden skewer. Damned tasty, with just enough crunch to the outside, and warm spicy goodness inside. But. What it's sitting in? The cold potato soup? What is this? How does a fucking tuber come out of the ground and wind up conjuring such sensual glory in a human mouth? Smooth, creamy, yadda yadda, those words mean nothing, those words are inadequate to describe … Oh, sweet gibbering Brillat-Savarin, what a dish!
You try to steady yourself in the present, grab hold of something concrete so you don't evaporate away to a gourmand's Nirvana. You try to remember the staleness of the evening's pre-prandial popcorn snack, but you can't do it. Nothing exists except the soup, this soup, this soup, oh my god.
Music: The xx, covering Aaliyah's "Hot Like Fire;" Marvin Gaye's "Sexual Healing" interpreted by Hot Chip; White Hinterland having a go at Justin Timberlake's "My Love."
Then there's a course of Fuji Apple Salad Kimchi (with smoked jowl and maple labne) from David Chang's Momofuku, and the combo of sweet and savory, of tart and smoky, almost has your teeth jockeying for position closest to the action. Munch, munch, munch. Yes, yes, yes.
Music: Amy Milan covering Death Cab For Cutie's "I Will Follow You Into the Dark;" Grizzly Bear's version of "He Hit Me" by The Crystals; and The Zombies' "Tell her No" modernized by Tennis.
[I should mention here that, all the while, our glasses are being filled with those Wente wines. Chardonnay, pinot noir, all that sort of thing, constantly being refreshed during and between courses, the waiters and hosts as attentive and generous as flight attendants in the first-class section of a British Airways flight to Saudi Arabia. I'm not a wine drinker, but Buzz (who is) seems pleased, and all around our table and in the other two rooms I see people sipping or swigging from that bounty of the grape, telling each other "Mmmm, hey" and "Oh yes, this will do" about what's in their hands.]
Which brings us to the Roasted Cauliflower (with grapes and almonds and curry) a la Daniel Humm of NYC's Eleven Madison Park. Why, it's like a weird mirror-image of that Fuji Apple plate and downright scrumptious, a fine herald to what (we see it on the little menus that have been provided each diner) comes next: The main course of meat.
Which, as the three different interpretations of Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart" ~ by Broken Social Scene and Nouvelle Vague and Calexico(!) ~ fade away, arrives:
Berber Spice Roasted Lamb Haunch, as interpreted in San Francisco's Aziza by Mourad Lahlou, with carrot marmalade, brown butter couscous, and harissa emulsion. Serge Jorge covering David Bowie's "Rebel Rebel" begins to play as we tuck into the lamb. Gotan Project's remix of "Whatever Lola Wants" (Nina Simone) segues in as we explore the plate further. By now the conversation in the room has reached a level where it's nearly drowning out the music, but you can still hear sounds of gustatory satisfaction rising from the (by now slightly tipsy) diners. The lamb, so tender and sharply spiced, its accompaniments, so righteously complementary … You look over at Buzz. He's chewing, he's raising his glass of wine in salutation; behind the lenses of his black horn-rims, his eyes are rolling back in his head with the pleasure of it all.
Amadou & Mariam's cover of "Hope" by Fat Freddy's Drop competes for attention above the diners' motley oratorio.
And now we're on to the dessert.
Everybody's gabbing at top volume. The sound system in the Swoop's coveted interior plays the White Stripes doing Dolly Parton's "Jolene," Nirvana reprising Bowie's "The Man Who Sold the World," and Jose Gonzales doing his thing with The Knife's "Heartbeats."
The dessert plates descend on polite hands. It's from Boris Portnoy's Meadowood venture in California. It's a Caramelized Brioche (with vanilla, citrus marmalade, tarragon, and crème fraîche). It's like a cross between French Toast and Crème Brûlée, is what it is. It's delicate and crunchy and … wow, you know? It's wow.
"Hey, uh," says Buzz to our affable chef who's walking around & checking to make sure all is as it should be. "Hey," says Buzz, "this … crème fraîche? There's ~ what is that? Is there salt right in it? I'm getting a salty taste – it's delicious, yeah! – but how … ?"
And Warsham describes the original recipe and his particular methods as we continue munching, as the last sweet bites vanish down our gullets, as glasses are drained and three tables of very satisfied guests prepare to call it a night.
A night of eclectic culinary and musical curation, of a gourmet anthology
from the talented professionals of Noise Pop and graffEats and Swoop House.