From the outside, 167 West 12th in Greenwich Village is undistinguishable from the rest of the street. Built in 1844, the interior of the townhouse belonging to the late James Beard is typical of the Victorian revival architecture of its time. Books about cuisine, many of which were written by the famed connoisseur of food, line the shelves of mahogany bookcases. Ornate dark wood columns separate the rooms and are contrasted by the forest green walls; in the mid 19th century patterned walls were the fashion, and color was based on the room’s use. Red plush curtains cover the floor-to-ceiling windows. A large portrait of the gastronome is hung prominently above the fireplace.
The house became the James Beard Foundation in 1986, a memorial to his memory, and has been since a hub of activity for award-winning chefs, restauranteurs, food critics and would-be food aficionados. They are the honored “leaders making America’s food culture more delicious, diverse, and sustainable for everyone” – the mission of the James Beard Foundation. Multicourse tastings are prepared by a team of renowned chefs, who pair their culinary creations with superb wines. The professional waitstaff at events is exceptional and the result is always a memorable, flawless experience.
I was a guest at the Westcoast Wild – British Columbia Wines, which hosted an elegant seafood celebration with Vancouver-based Chef Ned Bell, well-known for his preparation of seasonal seafood cuisine and ocean life sustainability. In the kitchen with him were Executive Chefs from the Four Seasons Hotels, Shaun Acosta (NYCDT), John Johnson (NYC) and Sean Murry (Chicago) and Chef Seamus Mullen from Tertulia and El Colmado (NYC). The team created a stellar five course dinner and a dessert course.
The first course, a Geoduck with Pacific Scallops crudo, bottarga and blood orange — a delicate pairing of the raw, pearly clam and scallops with salted, cured fish roe. The combinations were oceanic, creamy and smooth on the palate. The course was served with Steller’s Jay Méthode Classique Brut 2010. The sparkling wine has a straw color, a mild nose, and a taste of sweet apples. The bubbly was well chilled, bringing out the crisp minerality of the wine.
Asparagus, artichoke and a vegetable puree were the foundation for the light, flavorful Second Course, an Albacore Tuna Tataki surrounded by plump peas drizzled with a citrus vinaigrette and topped with a few sprigs of lemongrass. Tataki — the manner in which tuna is prepared in Japan – is gently pounded and marinated briefly in vinegar, ginger and citrus, pan seared quickly and dipped into ice water to intensify the flavor of the soft flesh. The lightly steamed asparagus and peas contrasted the delicate, melt-in-your-mouth tuna.
The course was paired with a delicious Riesling 2015 from Little Farm Winery, Mulberry Tree Vineyard in Similkameen Valley, Cawston, British Columbia. The weather conditions caused early ripening of the Riesling grapes, which are grown in soil rich in calcium carbonate, and which preserves the crisp acidity of the wine. Owners of the small vineyard, Alishan Driediger and Rhys Pender, MW believe that the flavors of the wine blossom when there’s low intervention and minimal manipulation in the growing of the grape, and in the cellars as well. The Riesling, a certified BC VQA (British Columbia Vintners Quality Alliance) is aged for ten months in old barrels, producing a bone dry, full-flavored wine. This is one winery worthwhile visiting.
The Third Course, West Coast mussel and clam soup was laced with fennel pollen – a suddenly trendy, intense spice in the U.S. (it’s been used in Italy for ages) that added the taste of citrus and anise to the chowder. The addition of white wine added a richness to the creamy soup, as did another Canadian/New England classic ingredient, maple syrup, which enhanced the savoriness and texture of the shellfish.
The British Columbia Vintners Quality Alliance (BC VQA) recognizes the continental areas of the Okanagan and Similkameen valleys as producing some of the most exceptional wines in Canada. Winemaker Graham Pierce of the Black Hills Estate Winery noted that all the grapes are handpicked, pruned and maintained, and each variety is crushed, fermented and barrel aged separately. According to his notes, “the Chardonnay 2015 from the region is “rich and luscious with bright flavors and aromas of apple, pear and mineral with tropical notes.” The complex Chardonnay paired well with the mussel and clam soup course.
My thoughts were “so what,” when I read that the Fourth Course was BC Salmon. Still, when served with mushrooms, celery roots and hearts with a black truffle dressing, the taste was unlike anything I’d had. The pureed celery roots and hearts were creamy – the roots are like a potato, but they’re not as starchy; they have a milder celery flavor and they have more vitamin B than potato. Black truffles lack the musky, pungent odor found in white truffles, however, the mushrooms atop the salmon brought out the intensity of the understated dressing.
The B.C. farmers of Atlantic salmon work to achieve the standard set by the Aquaculture Stewardship Council. Hormones and genetic modifications are never used to enhance growth in B.C.’s farm-raised salmon.
Good wines don’t happen overnight. The Cabernet Franc 2014 (Okanagan Valley) established itself as a wine with a gentle expression and attitude. The medium-high acidity combines with the flavors of herbs, while maintaining a leafy soft texture. The tannins are mild and don’t overpower the back of the palate. Formerly used as a varietal, this Cabernet Franc has achieved its own place among the Okanagan Valley red wines.
The Roasted Halibut, the Fifth Course, from the B.C. Islands of Haida Gwaii – is, according to anglers, among the most flavorful seafood in the world. Sprinkled lightly with a little smoked Vancouver Island sea salt and glazed with maple syrup, the slightly sweet, flaky, ultra-lean white fish was served with chicken jus, caramelized onion crema and parsnip foam, which added a slight bite to the dish. Anglers were right, anyway you cook it, the fish is moist, tender and flavorful.
The course was served with a Poplar Grove Winery Syrah, 2013, a dry, earthy red wine that didn’t overpower the halibut. Notes of ripe and dense dark fruit with good complexity, the Syrah suggests the nuttiness of Mid-Eastern spices. Soft tannins allow the wine to be full-bodied with an exotic expression.
The most popular ingredient with chefs to serve for a dessert is chocolate. Here, a chocolate mousse was drizzled with caramel and garnished with kumquats. For an unknown reason, it was suggested we not eat the crispy kelp “planted” atop the chocolate.
I tasted the Bench 1775 Winery Paradise Ranch Viognier Icewine 2014. True to form, the Okanagan Valley wine was fruity and sweet. Notes of tropical fruits were well balanced with the zest of orange.
Having eaten at various five-star restaurants throughout the city and having lunch at the James Beard House was a treat that’s worth repeating as often as possible.