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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Local Foods Connection Culinary Walk, Year Two, and my First Master Gardener Class

Greetings readers!
It's been a busy busy week but I'm finally ready to share with you the photos from the Culinary Walk I went to which is run by the great organization about town, Johnson County Local Foods Alliance.  We went to the walk last year and were very excited to do it again.  My husband wasn't feeling well so we didn't make it to every stop, but it was still worth every penny. 
Luckily it was another gorgeous fallish day in Iowa City.  This is the view West, looking directly at the Old Capitol.  

Like last year, we started the evening at the Cow.
Pork (from my pork lady!) with some local veggies and some kind of green sauce.  The pork was so tender and juicy, and the vegetables were well seasoned.


Next up was Devotay, who served up a little sausage with caraway cream, lamb meatballs, a wonton with greens, and watermelon gazpacho.


Then we headed to Hearth/126, where we got a few flatbreads, which I didn't manage to photograph.  We also got this little 'cannoli' and I was very excited to find out that the cream included local paw paw! If you're not familiar with paw paw, it's essentially a tropical-tasting fruit that grows in Iowa.  My guess is that it came from Red Fern Farms in Wapallo, and luckily they're having a farm tour this Saturday!  If you're interested in going, contact them at redfernfarm@lisco.com or (319)729-5905.


Then we went to the New Pi Coop where we got simple cheddar biscuits and rosemary gravy.  I could smell the rosemary from blocks away, so I was more than hungry by the time I got there.


The last stop we made it to was the most exciting because we've never actually eaten at the restaurant, Chef's Table.  I have a policy with new boyfriends and restaurants: if they don't stick around for at least a year, I'm not interested.  That policy, combined with the fact that this place is overtly fancy, have kept us from venturing into its doors.  That said, Chef's Table took complete advantage of the Culinary Walk as an opportunity to show Iowa City what it's all about and in my experience they were successful, with a few minor misses. 
We walked in the door and were handed a glass of sparkling wine and shown a table of charcuterie.  As we helped ourselves we were told this was just the first of four stations we'd be going through in the restaurant, which had been shut down to accommodate culinary walkers.  The dining room is nicely lit, but the tables were a little small for the multiple (totally appropriate) wine glasses, and each side of the room was flanked with soft bench seating, which seemed contradictory to the otherwise upscale interior.  (My first thought was, "if I were here in a pretty dress, I'd be slouchy in this seat", because one comes to restaurants like this specifically to wear fancy dresses)


We proceeded to the wine room, which has an excellent reputation and has been written up in several publications including Food and Wine and Wine Spectator.  We had a kitchen sink red and a few cheeses.  They were good, and the wine was good, but the room was spectacular and the wine person on duty was friendly and informative. 


The next stop was the most interesting to me, and I think will be to you too.  We were invited into the kitchen to see the facilities and watch the team prepare a local tenderloin with carrot puree.  Obviously the staff knew hundreds of people would be walking through, but I have to comment on how clean and organized each station was.  The dishwasher food tray was even clean!  I am NOT an organized person, but when I cook I need things to be in their places or I can't focus, so I very much appreciated how systematically the kitchen is set up, and how well the staff communicated with each other.  (I admit my mind wandered to how much all this could possibly have cost.) 



I believe the man on the right is the chef, who told us all about the dish and led plating. 

Take a look at this station.  Each of those little bottles holds a different sauce or oil. I want some of those.  Super bright lights over the plates is so helpful, both for the them to see the food and to keep it warm.  


The result was this plate of carrot puree, local bison tenderloin, local potatoes, and microcarrots with a little jus.  The tenderloin was seared and seasoned perfectly, but truthfully the combination of the creamy puree, jus, and meat was a little on the rich side.  I wanted some acid, especially since this course wasn't served with anything to drink.  But it was beautiful and showed a mastery of the basics of execution.  


We ended the tour with jalapeno margaritas and chocolate with hops.  The margarita was super sweet but the heat was nice and went very nicely with the hoppy chocolate.   



We don't invest much money in eating out, but Chef's Table reminded me that beautiful food served well is worth it.
While we were sad to miss the other restaurants on the tour, the Culinary Walk was a great experience, and worth much more than the food we received.  We will go again next year and recommend you do the same.  It's a great time of year to spend the evening walking around downtown and enjoying the transition from day to evening.


Aside from eating, I've also been learning things!  I've had one Master Gardener class so far and it was very interesting and somewhat overwhelming.  The two topics covered in our three hours were soil and botany.  The classes are offered by professors of these fields from Iowa State University.  Iowa State is a land grant university, and is very well known for its agriculture programs.  (In particular, the the Leopold Center for Sustainability does great work and is worth your attention.)  
So, the program asks these professionals, who are some of the best in their fields, to summarize their knowledge into an easily digestible 90-minute lecture.  And to perform it over webcast using powerpoint instead of a chalkboard.  The instructors performed very well and I enjoyed both presentations immensely, though it did require significant mental effort to consume as much of it as I could.  Luckily I had a doughnut made with apple cider from Wilson's Orchard.  


I put a photo of the soil lecture on this blog's facebook page, which you can 'like' if you're into that.  


I miss being home since these are week nights, but spending time listening to lectures is better spent than watching t.v. or surfing the internet, so I'm more than happy.
Tell me, what are you learning and eating these days?

3 comments:

Kurt M Friese said...

Alicia,

You're right when you said "I believe the man on the right is the chef" of Chef's Table. His name is Eric McDowell, and he's one of the most talented chefs in the state.

Diana@Spain in Iowa said...

Alicia, I would love to go to the culinary walk next year. The food looks wonderful and it seems like such a good time. Also, CONGRATS on becoming a master gardener! I so want to do that myself. I'm excited to see any future posts you have on your classes. Have a great week!!

Sean said...

I love your photos... and your obvious passion for food. Very engaging blog. :)

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