Last Saturday’s Farmers’ Market in Auburn was the scene for a preview of this month’s prix-fixe event, “A Tangy-Sweet Citrus Celebration,” when Sous Chef Ben Durham wowed the crowd with a cooking demo of the beet dish you’ll read about below. It was a perfect debut because Chef Eric Alexander purchased more than 200 pounds of citrus from local farmers to produce this menu.
Citrus Celebration starts tonight (February 24) at 5 p.m. and runs through March 1. Same proposition as always—four courses with choices (including vegetarian option) for $59.95 plus tax and tip. Best to make reservations by calling 530-823-0320 or go to www.opentable.com.
I sat down with the Chef for 45 minutes to get insight into his thinking about this menu and its preparations:
First Course (choice of one)
Smoked Black Cod (pomelo, wekiwa orange, castelfranco radicchio, avocado): Okay, so this fish isn’t local. . .it’s fresh Alaskan sable, never frozen, that Chef brines and then smokes at “super-low temperature” (his words). Then it is “flaked” and served chilled as a salad with pomelo, from the grapefruit family; wekiwa orange, low-acid with flavor similar to guava; castelfranco radicchio, Italian red and yellow speckled, crispy with a slight bite; plated with creamy avocado.
Goat Cheese Agnolotti (dried orange, wild fennel, citrus-cured castelvetrano olive): start with fresh, house-made pasta pillows seasoned with fresh herbs and orange zest that are filled with goat cheese. Then toss in a sauce made with dried orange and wild fennel. Served with citrus-cured, Sicilian castelvetrano olives.
Mandarin-Glazed Kurobota Pork Short Rib (kumquat kimchi, lettuce cups, toasted peanut): This dish is Korean inspired, but the Kurobota pork short ribs are sourced from Snake River Farms in Idaho which adheres strictly to 100% purebred Berkshire hogs as mandated by the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture. This ain’t local either, but you’ll never encounter a higher grade of pork. The bones are cut short from the meatiest part of the rib—according to Chef—then slow-roasted covered for more than two hours till tender before uncovering and glazed with a combination of mandarin juice (from Chef’s Four Tines Farm), fish sauce, sugar, ginger and garlic. The idea is to fill the lettuce cups with the meat and house-made kimchi (made with kumquats, Korean chili powder, sugar, fish sauce, garlic, scallions and ginger). Garnished with toasted peanuts and mint cilantro.
Second Course (choice of one)
Carrot-Tangelo Soup (ginger, cilantro shoots, coconut emulsion): Tangelos for this dish are sourced from Pilz Produce in Penryn. A very straight-forward preparation, Chef purées sweet carrots, fresh ginger, onions and vegetable stock with tangelo juice and zest. Garnished with whipped coconut cream and cilantro shoots.
Citrus Salt Roasted Beets (Farmers Market citrus, arugula, pistachio butter): This is the dish Sous Chef Ben Durham demonstrated at the Farmers’ Market last week (Veronica Blake won the $100 gift card drawing, BTW). First the beets are encrusted in egg white and salt with fresh thyme and citrus zest (packed in a light layer). Roasted in the oven, the beets steam inside the salt crust creating a perfume of seasonings and citrus. The beets are peeled, sliced and served salad style, resting on pistachio butter that has been puréed till creamy. Served with arugula from Hillview Farm (located in North Auburn) and an array of citrus wedges, also purchased locally or at the Farmers’ Market.
Main Course (choice of one)
Australian Barramundi (grapefruit, sunchoke, fennel, pink peppercorn): This is a sustainably farmed white fish shipped to the U.S. fresh (business class). Chef roasts in pan—forming a nice crust—and then it is served on top of a purée of sunchoke (a root vegetable a.k.a. Jerusalem artichoke, it is native to North America and seen frequently on the Carpe Vino menu) with braised fennel, grapefruit and a sauce made from grapefruit and pink peppercorns.
Crispy Duck Confit (mandarinquat, red quinoa, fava greens, foie gras sauce): Muscovy duck legs (from Grimaud Farms in Stockton) are lightly cured with garlic, thyme, orange, clove and salt. . .then slow-cooked in duck fat until tender. Finally, crisped in the oven and served with a mix of red quinoa, fava greens (the leaves of a fava bean plant—totally edible and delicious—sourced from Eric and Courtney’s farm). Served with poach mandarinquat (a cross between mandarin and cumquat) and sauce of puréed trimmings from foie gras and chicken stock.
Niman Ranch Lamb Loin (braised lamb stuffed piquillo pepper, Meyer lemon relish, black olive oil): This dish is going to be very popular with the carnivores at Carpe Vino. . .a duo of lamb: first the simple part, lamb loin roasted and sliced. The second part has a lot going on. . .a piquillo pepper (think Spain) is stuffed with a combination of couscous, braised and pulled lamb shoulder, herbs and pine nuts. Served on black olive oil and with Chef Alexander’s Meyer lemon relish, made from shallots, sugar, extra virgin olive oil, parsley, chili flakes and whole, diced lemon.
Dessert Course (choice of one). . . prepared by Pastry Chef Courtney McDonald
Tangelo-Olive Oil Pound Cake (tangelo mascarpone, citrus-mint salad): This is a classic pound cake made with tangelo juice and zest; extra virgin olive oil is substituted for much of the butter normally used. Served with a rich and creamy tangelo mascarpone, citrus segments and mint.
Orange Flower Panna Cotta (orange blossom honey, pine nut “sandies”): This is an eggless custard set with gelatin and made with cream, sugar and orange flower water; orange blossom honey is drizzled on top and serve with pine nut “sandies” (cookies).
After writing this, I’m literally exhausted and starving. Plan on seeing me in the restaurant this week!