Sunday, April 05, 2009

Inaugural Dinner of the Westside Gourmet Cooking Society: Suzanne Goin's "Sunday Suppers at Lucques" Cookbook

The question I get asked the most by the members of my Dining Club or anyone else who knows about my passion for exploring the food landscape in LA is "Do you cook?" In a way, there's not a real clear cut answer to that question. "Do I cook?" Sure. I think everyone cooks to some extent, whether it's as simple as boiling an egg or something that takes more work like making mole sauce. I've been known to scramble an egg, make spaghetti or even bake chicken if I'm so inclined. I think the real question should be "Do you enjoy cooking?" Now that's a question that's easy to answer. No, I don't enjoy cooking. For me, it's more of a chore than anything else, but "Do I enjoy being cooked for?" Yes. "Do I appreciate those who have a passion for cooking?" Definitely.

As you can probably tell, if you didn't already, I'm more of a restaurant person than a cooking one, but I am surrounded by friends who do have that passion for cooking and across many a restaurant table, there's been talk about possibly starting a Cooking Club. Than suddenly one night over a Thai meal, it was decided and somehow a non-cook, namely me, became part of the now named Westside Gourmet Cooking Society. Of course, I did protest a little bit. What in the world am I going to contribute to a Cooking Group? As I mentioned, I don't even enjoy cooking.

It didn't seem entirely fair for me to just show up and enjoy the fruits of their labor without something in exchange. As it turned out, there were some things I could contribute. Namely, I'd be the one taking photos and journaling about our menu for the evening. On that note, the theme for the Inaugural Dinner of the Westside Gourmet Cooking Society was based on Suzanne Goin's cookbook, Sunday Suppers at Lucques and for the first time out, dinner was at G's house. There will be different hosts for subsequent dinners.

Having dined at G's house before, I knew it was going to be quite an event. Walking into the house and seeing the pretty table was already a great start. I was actually amazed at all the wine glasses on the table. At each table setting, there was a name and a copy of the menu which was as follows.

Dungeness Crab Salad with Avocados, Beef, Lime and Creme Fraiche

Broccoli Salad with Pinenuts and Burrata

Swiss Chard and Goat Cheese Tart with Pinenut-Currant Relish

Cassoulet Soup with Herb Pesto

Blood Orange Granita

Seared Halibut with Meyer Lemon Salsa and Fingerling Potato, Pea and Pea Shoot Mash

Boeuf Nicoise with White Mushrooms and Pearl Onions over Roast Carrots and Buttered Egg Noodles

Meyer Lemon and Chocolate Tart Topped with Rhubarb

Tasty menu, don't you think? One thing to note is that the 3 of the dishes aren't recipes in Suzanne Goin's Sunday Supper cookbook. The Cassoulet Soup and Granita were last minute additions from our host while the Meyer Lemon Tart was S's recipe.

C and I actually arrived earlier than the rest of the group to help G with some of the preparations or I should say that C helped more with the preparations and I took lots of pictures. Before we got started, C brought the fixings for a cocktail. She was still perfecting it and I have to admit to getting a just a little buzzed (I'm such a wimp) trying out her different variations, but finally, she got it just right. In the end, it was made up of prosecco, vodka, peach liquer, homemade ginger syrup with a candied orange peel and frozen grape. It was quite refreshing.

Now the format for this meal will vary depending on the host. G does it restaurant-style. While there is some prep done to all the dishes beforehand, each member will finish up their dish just before it's time for them to serve it. The first course was supposed to be D's Dungeness Crab dish, but she was running a bit late, so we started with Tre's Broccoli Salad with Pinenuts and Burrata. It was a great eating dish and I enjoyed both its crunchy and soft textures.

Upon her arrival, Tris had popped her Swiss Chard and Goat Cheese Tart in the oven. As everyone was enjoying the Broccoli Salad, she went into the kitchen, finished it off with a pinenut and currant relish and got it ready to serve. I loved the flavors, which at times were a little bitter, a little pungent and even a little sweet.

In the midst of the first two courses, D and M arrived with their Dungeness Crab dish. Apparently, instead of purchasing pre-made crab, D actually bought live ones and steamed them. That effort took a little more time than she intended. Is that dedication or what? The crab was served on a top of a bed of watercress and were accompanied with roasted beets and avocado slices. After it was said and done, it was one of the prettier dishes, plus it tasted good.

Three courses in and the next four courses were courtesy of G. After the Dungeness Salad, came the Cassoulet Soup. Back to the kitchen G went and proceeded to top the soup with an herb pesto, cheese, more herbs before serving it. It was a rich and tasty soup and I loved the smoky sausages.

Soon after the soup, we were served G's granita that he made that day from C's blood oranges. Refreshing and tart, it was the perfect palate cleanser.

Next was the Seared Halibut with a Meyer Lemon Salsa accompanied by a Fingerling Potato, Pea and Pea Shoot Smash. This dish also made for a pretty presentation. The Meyer Lemon Salsa was intense in flavor and paired well with the milder tasting halibut and I liked how the potatoes were first baked, smashed (by hand) and than fried with the other veggies.

By this time I was actually feeling really full, so I wasn't able to give justice to G's Boeuf Nicoise with White Mushrooms and Pearl Onions over Roasted Carrots and Buttered Egg Noodles and I really wish I was able to. The beef was meltingly tender and that sauce was rich, flavorful and I could have easily just eaten that by itself over the noodles and would have been one happy person.

Finally, the 8th and last course was S's Meyer Lemon and Chocolate Tart topped with Rhubarb. What a perfect way to end the meal. Personally, my favorite desserts have lemon as an ingredient, but this is the first time I've had lemon and chocolate as ingredients together in a dessert. What a wonderful pairing of tart and sweet.

8 courses and many glasses of wine later, this inaugural dinner was a resounding success. Even more for me, it was being able to see the care that everyone put in their dish. When you dine out as much as I do, it's easy to forget about what's happening at the back of the house. But as I was photo-documenting all the moments in the kitchen and watching the concentration on everyone's faces as they finished up their dishes, it was easy to see that they really cared about what they put out, very much like an artist showcasing a painting for the first time. Then when tips and tricks were being shared, the sense of community was palpable.

Overall, it was more than just a meal. It was a peek into a world that I'm usually not in touch with on a regular basis. Don't get me wrong. It's not as if I'm going to put on an apron and start cooking in a kitchen any time soon; however, as a non-cook, I certainly have an even deeper appreciation for those who practice the culinary arts, whether it's at home or in a professional kitchen.

Unfortunately, I don't have the Suzanne Goin's cookbook so I can't share the recipes with you, but at least, you can get a visual of how the recipes could look like.

To see pics, go to:


H. C. said...

Lovely photos and commentary - I think being the club's photographer and scribe is a good trade-off for such scrumptious-sounding and -looking meals.

pleasurepalate said...

H.C.: Thanks. :) Hopefully, I can do all that great cooking justice with my words.