Tuesday, August 25, 2015

An Impromptu Wine Dinner at Mezzanotte Ristorante

Sunday August 16, 2015: With the dining room fully reserved for a private party, the folks at MezzaNotte Ristorante decided to get a few more customers in for the evening by throwing a special prix fixe dinner out on their very private back patio. It was an undercover, secret agent kind of dinner and only super special wonderful insiders were on the know. I was not one of them.

But my friend Cookie got an email just 5 days earlier announcing the event - 6 courses and 5 wine pairings and asked me along - how could I resist! Because the event was all hush hush apparently (nothing on the web site, or Facebook, or Twitter, or g+, or Foursquare....) I promised to keep my stupid notepad and picture taking cool in case we were spotted as spies. I snuck this picture of the establishment, located near the corner of Route 155 on Western Avenue in Guilderland, off their FB page so I wouldn't get caught:

The restaurant's exterior - parking is to the left and in a small lot on the other side of Cornell Avenue
It was about 95 degrees with the humidity somewhere near 98%, and so was I, but I don't like others to see me sweat, so I wore as little as possible without giving away my secret identity (no tights, anyway). But they decided instead to seat us upstairs in a lovely private dining area where the AC was humming, and again, so was I. There were about 16 of us but the space could have held more. I might even suggest communal tables for events like this to meet some new people. There was lots of noise (even though I thought we were sequestered for some reason) - everyone was laughing and talking and looking forward to a great meal.

The upstairs dining room was laid out for parties of 2 or 4, all with advance reservations
The first course was Eggplant & Zucchini (home garden grown, thinly sliced, lightly sauteed, chilled and layered with minted vinaigrette) alongside Blue Corn Blini (Scottish smoked salmon, chive horseradish creme, capers & lemon). The plate was also dressed with a few olives, including buttery Castelvetranos, a spicy pickled red pepper, a fresh fig stuffed with goats milk cheese, and a bit of sweetened celery. Every bite was divine. The starters were served with a Sardinian "Costamolino" made from Vermentino grapes. A wine expert was with us to talk about the wines - his name was Joe and he was a delight - describing this one as "balanced and full", a bit piney but with no oak. It was a great choice against the strong flavors in those appetizers - bright and acidic.

The first course: the zucchini and eggplant was tender and savory
Our next course was Fried Oysters - crispy buttermilk fried Summerside oysters (Produit de PEI) atop a bit of foie gras butter, ponzu and creamed leeks. This was an amazing feat of culinary creativity - I closed my eyes when I ate the second of two - salty and crunchy and oniony and tender. Wow.

The shadows on this shot (and the others too if you really look at them) are pretty funny
Next came Tomatoes & Burrata topped with a bit of fresh basil and some EVOO. The tomatoes were bursting with flavor, the cheese was gooey and sublime, all delicious and at their peak - just the right temperature (room) and season for this classic.  These two dishes were served with Le Rose di Regaleali from Sicily, which I quite liked - dark pink and not at all sweet.

I didn't take any pictures of the wine because by this point in the evening I was already a bit tipsy
So these were NOT "tastes of wine" exactly - nice pours with a few topper offers, and maybe not as much food as I might have wanted, so by now Zena, Goddess of Fire was feeling a bit more like Zena, the Spin Dryer and I had to slow my pace (which was hard to do since the wines were all so wonderful and went so well with the menu). The half-empty/full glasses started to stack up. Anyway, the next was a pasta dish, Ricotta Ravioli - stuffed with ricotta and topped with a Grand Marnier sauce with a nice hit of orange zest. This was a bit on the sweet side, as you might imagine, and the pasta was a tad underdone, but I loved it. This course was complimented by a glass of Lugana, made with Trebbiano di Lugano grapes from the San Benedetto parcel in Veneto, Italy. This one was kind of citrusy and herby - a nice choice with the oranges.
Four little ravioli with a Grand Marnier sauce
Next was Chilean Sea Bass on a bed of mashed potatoes laced with leeks and topped with a port demi-glace with a few tender-crisp asparagus. The mashed was a bit salty and the fish was a bit sweet, but together it was a nice combination. The fish was white, thick, clean tasting, super fresh and perfectly cooked. A rich, lush red Mertitage from Stratton Lummis in Napa called "The Riddler" was served aside - slightly dry and smooth.

The sea bass was salty and sweet balanced with a touch of bitterness from the asparagus
Last was a trio of dark chocolate truffles with zabaglione and raspberries, with what Cookie and I thought was the best wine of the evening, Bera Brachetto from Piedmont, Italy. This was a sparkling wine made with a red grape using the charmat method like our good friend prosecco. Slightly sweet but with a nice bit of acidity, it was a perfect dessert wine.

I ate all three and almost licked the plate
It was a classy, stimulating event. The service was impeccable and the wine speeches were a nice surprise and very informative. I would do this again in a heartbeat. I felt special, well-fed, a bit loopy and happy to be part of this pop-up, and I would encourage MezzaNotte and other restaurants in the Capital Region to do more of this, and get the word out. This is such a wonderful opportunity for the chefs to be creative, off-menu, and in season, and for bringing people together. Thanks to all of you for making our dinner out such a wonderful experience.  Oh, right: $88 including tax and tip, a great deal if I may say, especially if you don't have to drive home afterwards.

Zena, the Spin Dryer
Zena, Goddess of Fire

The wine flows at MezzaNotte's Impromptu Wine Dinner
P.S. Just about when The Riddler showed up it dawned on me that it was all in my head this secrecy thing and that it was just a last minute idea to throw this little party and I was lucky to be there and that my arch-enemy wasn't around so we were not only well-fed and glowing but safe as well.  Love to all.

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