fiddlehead definition

fid·dle·head [ fídd'l hèd ] (plural fid·dle·heads) noun
Definition: edible fern shoot: the coiled frond of a young fern, often cooked and eaten as a delicacy

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Sprig Mountain Dinner

It was one of those astonishingly beautiful days in the north Georgia mountains- brilliant sunshine, blue sky, slight breeze, and the scent of wild flowers blooming. I stood under the low branches of a tree listening to the rushing Toccoa river, thinking how this day could inspire a thank you poem from e.e. cummings. I was so grateful to be included on the list of guests for this coming evening.

Bottles were already being opened to celebrate this inaugural seasonal dinner by Sprig Restaurant. I grabbed a glass of Albarino (a good day drinking wine) and joined designer Kim Smith Fong of Studio Song for a hike to find table scape materials. She has such a discerning eye for natural beauty.
Kim spotted things most of us walked past. She collected curled roots that resembled driftwood, spongy moss, and rhododendron growing along the banks of the river to mingle with the slate rocks she pulled from the water.
river rocks
scenery on our walk

White table cloths were placed on the rustic tables in the gazebo by the water and then magic was created.
Leftover Mason jars from put-ups from country put-ups were filled with candles and strung from the rafters.
twinkling lights

 Serious prep work was going on inside with Executive Chef, Britt Cloud, as well as periodic cork popping sounds. The freshness of the Georgia mountain trout really had me anticipating dinner.
Thank goodness our chef came prepared with the trout from Inland Seafood because our fly fisherman came in empty-handed. In their defense, it is difficult to fish with a cocktail in your hand.
Peeling the free range, local eggs which were soaked in a colorful natural tea
Cutting lardons from the smoked Riverview Farms  grass fed Berkshire pork belly

salad plating

Guests began to arrive. We nibbled on Georgia pecans from a family farm of Kim's, roasted both sweet and savory. We tried cheese from Udderly Cool Dairy- a smooth and creamy Cool Creek cheddar and a velvety, mild blue. I loved the spicy pickled carrots and beets from Hillcrest orchards. Sourwood honey from Wally's Bees was the perfect local accompaniment to the cheese but also very good with our homemade biscuits in the morning. 
The group sauntered down to the gorgeous tables and settled in for a memorable meal. The temperature was perfect, the company was a mix of people from Atlanta and north Georgia. We had much to talk about and many bottles of wine to share. Anthony Tiberia, co-owner of Sprig with Jennifer Tiberia, welcomed us to dinner and toasted the night.

 First course: Soft boiled egg (see the lovely crackle finish?), local pea shoots & radishes, smoked pork belly, and red wine reduction. Every egg on every plate was cooked perfectly. I watched as each guest cut into it and the creamy yolk poured around the crispy pork belly. It was a dish both decadent and light, creamy and crunchy.

Darkness was falling and the evening became ever so convivial. We were laughing, sharing stories, and appreciating the company of new found friends. We talked a lot about local, sustainable food and how this was important in our lives. Everyone had a story and a favorite. French Broad Chocolates, Spotted Trotter charcuterie, Emily G's Jams, Phickles Pickles, The Turnip Truck, Spinning Spider Creamery, Highland Brewery, Farm Mobile, Mercier Orchards, Burge Farm... I could go on and on
2nd Course: Seared mountain trout with Anson Mills Carolina Gold rice grits cooked with saffron threads and braised baby artichokes. It was really a tremendous experience to taste this trout next to the water it once may have swam in. It was so fresh and delicate that a guest near me, who swore she did not like fish, commented on its tastiness. The aromatic saffron grits were hearty and homey seeming but actually quite light in preparation. Carolina Gold has such a great mouthfeel.
Dessert Course: Rustic Georgia peach tart with lavender scented cream. I am having difficulty writing about it because I miss it so much. It was warm and flaky with gooey, hot, fresh, Georgia peaches. I ate the lavender cream separately because lavender is one of my favorite flavors. My seatmate and I finished the bowl leftover cream.
40 year Taylor Fladgate Tawny port--so mellow. What a treat to enjoy such an aged port. It was rich in color, mellow and hazelnutty. The night had cooled down quite a bit and this really warmed me from the inside.

There was much applause for chef Britt Cloud and he was finally able to settle in with us and enjoy the night. We talked for hours about how important the heritage of southern food is to him. He loves to present the authentic flavors of food to his diners. Simple, fresh, seasonal, and local are words that echoed all evening. I am so looking forward to another dinner like this. Perhaps this fall we can also forage on site for a few ingredients. 

Friday, May 18, 2012

Atlanta Food and Wine Festival 2012-tasting trails

I brought along my nerdy notebook to Atlanta Food and Wine Festival this year to write down my experiences with tastes. It was a well conceived idea but one not brought to fruition. I simply was having too much fun and making too many memorable experiences to take the time to write. I had even more fun than last year.

Foreshadowing that the festival experience was to be memorable was the moment I walked into the welcome center and saw my friends from The Chocolate Lounge in Asheville. We met at last year's festival over chocolate, Stella, and a hot tent. Since then I have become a frequent shopper of their delicacies and a devoted follower of their business philosophy. The biggest smile was thrust upon my face and we hadn't even clinked the welcome toast for the festival yet.

More on sessions and dinners later.

Here's a list of my favorite bites and sips from the trails within the tasting tents (And now I can read other recaps. I didn't want to be swayed):

Lamb from the lamb trail

Overall favorite from the tasting trails: lamb ribs from No. 246. Falling off the bone, tender, seasoned perfect lamb from Drew Belline. No photo, I ate it too fast.

Whole Pig Trail: (1) Scrapple from City House with sorghum poppyseed agrodolce.

                             (2)  Crispy pig ear tacos from Farm Burger and Farm 255 ...I had thirds.

The tacos were made from Anson Mills Carolina Gold cornmeal and fresh masa on site.
Loved talking to Terry Koval about his tour of Los Amigos masa. It gave time for Whitney Otawka to make me another too.

(3) Charcuterie from Table. I loved the slices of cured pig face.

Southern Sweets Trail:  Tie between the bourbon caramel and sorghum caramel from French Broad Chocolate Lounge

Beef trail: Beef tongue terrine with Swiss cheese espuma from One Eared Stag. Chef Robert Phalen said it was a play on a Reuben. I could have eaten 20 of them.

Seafood Trail: Smoked mussels with fresh cubes of watermelon from Lure. This simple dish with pure, fresh flavors makes me really look forward to this restaurant's opening.

Bourbon Trail: First, what a spectacular trail this was to sample. My favorite sip here was the American Spirit Whisky Southern Mule. Gingery and dangerously delicious.

Fried Chicken Trail: 3 way tie among Rosebud and Cardemom Hill's fried chicken and South City Kitchen's fried chicken livers.

Craft Beer Trail: Highland Brewing Razor Wit. Amazing on the nose and tastes of ginger, cumin and orange peel.  Such a great summertime beer. It was fantastic talking with owner Oscar Wong about it. I was recently in Asheville when he was announced Small Business Person of the Year. He is pretty beloved. When I described the flavors he nodded, noting that I missed only grains of paradise, something I had never heard of but what gives the beer its kick.