For the seated dinner party I did recently, I composed a menu I thought would appeal to the host and be suitable for the occasion of his holiday party. I did a couple of back up menu options and he ended up blending two menu choices. I wasn’t a big fan of double seafood dishes, but he was paying the bill, so he got what he wanted. He stressed a couple of times how important the timing was. Last year he did a very nice dinner, that cost him more than twice as much as I was charging per person, but the dishes were so slow in coming out of the kitchen it was after 11:30pm when they got their entrees. There was an average wait of around 50 minutes between courses! He was very clear that he wanted to start around 7:30pm and for dessert to hit the table at 9:30pm. I told him that would be no problem, that the only thing we would be waiting on would be the diners, we would be doing things on their schedule, set and ready.
When guests arrived they noshed on some appetizers and sparkling prosecco to begin with. The apps were chef’s choice, and I created a trio of tasty amuse bouches:
• Roasted Apple with Caramel Sauce and Bleu Cheese Crumbles in a Phyllo Tart Shell
• Pulled Pork with Manchego Cheese and Spicy BBQ Sauce on Roasted Tortilla Chip Crisp
• Duck Confit with Fresh Thyme, Roasted Garlic and Quince Jelly
The Apple was the favorite with the ladies, and the guys liked the BBQ the best. Everyone ate the duck and all said it was good, but no one ate the quince jelly. I don’t know why.
When the apps had been devoured, the official welcome offered by the host, and everyone seated (around 7:45pm), we got right to the first course:
Roasted Butternut Squash with Root Vegetable Timbale, Topped with Seared Scallops
I did such a good job on this dish at Thanksgiving I decided to add it to this menu. I smartened up and used only one scallop per bowl, since two sea scallops was really too much. Almost all butternut squash and only a splash of cream, with a mix of sweet potato, celery root, turnip and red onion in the timbale. Tasting it in the kitchen as we reheated it for service, even I had to stop and say: “Wow”. Lots of compliments on the flavor and what we did not serve I packed up for the hostess to have the next day. My only reservation was that the soup was too thick, almost like a pudding. But it went over well.
Mixed Greens with Dried Cranberries, Golden Raisins, Burgundy-Poached Seckle Pears, Candied Pecans and Pomegranate Vinaigrette
Trying to get a nice blend of sweet and sharp, and to cleanse the palate of the soup, the salad went very well with the chardonnay the host had chosen for this course.
Grilled Salmon Filet with Blood Orange Beurre Blanc, Pink Peppercorn-Crusted Beef Filet with Bourbon-Vanilla Sauce, Kabocha Squash and Porcini Mushroom Ravioli Tossed with Browned Butter and Sage, and Roasted Baby Vegetables
A complicated dish to assemble because of the number of people who wanted different temps on their meats. We pulled it off by laying out the plates on every available surface and running around with pots and spoons. I cooked all the salmon the same degree of doneness, and it remained very moist. I chose a sashimi grade of salmon, which has more fat and flavor. The beef was teres major, which was convienient because it enabled me to cook whole pieces to the desired degree of doneness. The homemade ravioli came out the best I had ever made it, and I only lost one piece to breakage while reheating, and that was the extra piece. In my rush I forgot to properly season the vegetables, which was a stupid mistake on my part, a real amateur screw up. But on everything my portions were exactly on the money, with no extras. Sucked for the servers who were helping me, because they got to taste nothing. I apologized and I did feel a little badly for them. Once the dishes hit the table the guests switched to a pinot noir which I had recommended for the meal. It must have gone very well because I believe they went through a dozen bottles of the stuff. Plates came back to the kitchen clean, except for a few who didn’t eat their vegetables. Because of the meat temps, we should have made a seating chart so we would know who got what temp. That would have made our plate-out faster and more efficient.
We cleaned up and got reorganized and laid out the dessert plates.
Cayenne-Spiked Chocolate Truffles with Cinnamon-Ginger Dust, Almond Toffee Crunch, French Chocolate Mousse and Raspberry-Port Drizzle
So quick and easy to make that I rushed and piped the mousse too soon and it deflated a little. The dessert plates went down at exactly 9:30pm, just as the host had requested. We hit all our times perfectly and I was very pleased. They enjoyed a Graham’s 20 year old tawny port with the dessert and those plates came back scraped clean, too. We made coffee for those who requested it and proceeded to clean up and load the van. The guests stayed at the dining table, plowing through the wine, bottle after bottle, (the host had hired a limousine van service to make sure everyone got home okay), and several people came into the kitchen to compliment me and the staff. I settled up with the host while his friend, who was a bit drunk, asked for my card and said he had lots of events at his lake house on Lake Lanier that he would like me to do. Included was a pasta party for about 100 people. I promised him I could do it. I need to follow up with him on this if he doesn’t call me soon. The host tipped my two servers and my wife $50 each and said everything was terrific. We were gone and out their hair around 10:30pm. In my later analysis I discovered that my actual costs were only 2% higher than I had estimated they would be, and the discrepancy came from some paper products I forgot to account for and needed, adding coffee, and overbuying on ice. My food costs fell in at 22%, exactly where I wanted them to. From both a learning experience and a practical exercise, I was very pleased with how everything went and how all the food turned out.
I had to reshoot all the pictures of the food after the event. We took a camera but got so busy that we forgot to snap any photos.