Sunday, November 18, 2012

Shane Campbell reviews the Huber Winery/Bank Street Brewhouse dinner on November 13.

I arrived at Bank Street Brewhouse with barely five minutes to spare. The lighting seemed dim and it appeared the small dining area still was less than half full. No one greeted me at the door, so focusing straight ahead, I walked to the unoccupied bar and claimed a seat. Sarah, a mainstay at both NABC locations spotted me and came over.

“I hear you're dining with Roger and Diana tonight.”

I nodded, but before I could say anything, she already had whirled away.

I put my jacket on the chair and turned around to see who was there. Roger and Diana were talking to people they obviously were well acquainted with. I didn't know them. Then I spotted Dana and Ted Huber, owners and ambassadors of the featured winery, and ... no one else I knew. Okay, I'd probably just hang at the bar then. Angie came over and handed me a glass of white wine. I must have looked like I needed it.

“Which is this?” I asked, then immediately felt silly at the superfluous question in light of my lack of wine acumen. “It's the Pinot Gris,” she said. “You are here for the wine dinner, right?” Sure am. I turned back and noticed Chef Matt talking to someone I didn't know. I realized later it was his wife, Kristin. I didn't get to speak with her during the evening (my loss). More guests arrived and the tables started to fill up.

When Roger collected me from the bar to join his table, I felt the interloper. He and Diana had been talking to friends when I came in and I hated to intrude on that. He assured me it was fine. As I followed him to the table he casually asked, “You know the Schads?”

Umm what? As in famous goat cheese, Capriole Farms, known coast to coast, and a prominent attorney who owns the very large building I could see looming across the parking lot with SCHAD written on it? Oh sure, they were over to the house just the other day to deliver a recipe for curried goat and show me an old subpoena with an ink stain that looks like Jesus!

I drained my wine glass. No oddly, can't say that I do know them.

Oh hell … suddenly I would be thrust into interacting with personages of note, and me with credentials currently lacking a restaurant, famous farm, or even a law firm of my own. Well, I could always play the “I'm a veteran” card. People seem to trade on that coin frequently these days. Not likely; the closest I got to combat was a Molotov cocktail tossed into the night club I was in one night in Manama! Considering the music they were playing at the time, the extremists did us a favor. Hotel California sung with an Asian accent is its own kind of terrorism. That lonely seat at the bar suddenly looked reassuringly safe about now!

You can probably guess how this turned out. Larry and Judy Schad were fabulous dinner companions. I sat next to Judy, who entertained our end of the table all evening with her views on current events and life in general, expressed in the most delightfully vivid language. Several times I imagined how shocked some of the foodie community might be to hear her views. I won't be specific or even paraphrase “Dame Judy,” as I now think of her. If you've seen Judi Dench's role as “M” in the Bond pics, you're not far off the mark.

She's seen it all, packs a wry sense of humor, and has a formidable sweet tooth. I would not want to be on her wrong side. Too bad really, as she shared some surprising news with us, but I'm sure it will come out soon enough. Judy and Roger engaged in spirited banter all evening. They tried to include me when possible, but I was just happy to be there, really.

I was terrified that Judy would ask me something and I would stammer stupidly until she had to turn away in disgust. And then she did! Judy and Roger were discussing the localism phenomenon when suddenly Judy turned to me and asked, “When you think of goat cheese, what is the most obvious word that comes to mind?”

Shit! (No, that's not it). I desperately tried to think what she wanted from me. Just as she was about turn away, I said “Chevre?” She looked at me with exasperation. Damn, I never know how to pronounce French words.

“No, no,'” she said, “I mean, who do you think of when you think goat cheese? And I don't mean me.” Nothing came to mind, so I said nothing. “Humbolt Fog obviously!” she said, and proceeded to talk about moldy cheese like she was narrating the Science Channel. I'm sure people would pay to hear Judy talk about cheese or anything else, for that matter. But I wasn't paying to listen to Judy, and I was reminded of that when Dana Huber got up and welcomed us to the event.

Ok, how do I say this? I know dick about wine. I can tell red from white at a single glance, assuming it's already in the glass. However, I'm not unaware of what others think and say about the local wines. I've met a few people with their own wine cellars, and I recently chatted with a small wine shop owner about this subject. I've noticed that local wineries aren't regularly featured at dinners in Louisville's higher end establishments.

All right, I'll just stop beating around the bush and say that my impression coming into this event was that Huber's makes sweet wine for the masses and are good at it. My own friends love Huber's, which tends to reinforce that impression, as my friends generally have poor taste. Hello? They are MY friends!

I was sure I wouldn’t notice the wine at this event, and was prepared to be okay with that. But I was wrong. While I'm not about to attempt tasting notes (see my qualifications, above), I can say we had three whites, including the Pinot Gris, Traminette, and Seyval Blanc, and two reds: Cabernet Sauvignon and a blend called Heritage. Ted Huber and his assistant, Jason Heiligenberg, spoke about the grapes, soil, and history of the wines, and I found it quite interesting. I remember some of the more obvious things, although relaying them here with any confidence is impossible. I found all the wines went very well with the dishes, preferring the whites, of which the Seyval Blanc was my favorite. The next time I go to Huber's I will order it and make my friends feel sooo inadequate for drinking the Kool-Aid (effing snob that I am).

This leaves only the food – “deconstructed” – to address. At one point I asked Roger if anyone was taking pictures of the plates. I wish I had, because this account is all from my wine soaked memory.

The very first dish confirmed my anticipated fears. Green Bean Casserole? REALLY? Calm down, it's deconstructed remember! (I'm saying this in my head, and smiling like “this is so what I hoped for”). It looked like that crispy stuff pooled at the bottom of the oven when the “green bean casserole” gets too hot and runs over. Peel a palm-size portion up and mash some waffle marks into it. That was the base of the dish. A small medallion of (cheese?) spread sat in the center of the waffle and two small green beans leaned together like two tiny sticks of firewood. I looked at this spread dubiously, as I didn't seem to have a utensil (knife, fork, spoon -- check) adequate for such a food item. I turned to see what Judy was doing, but hers was already down the hatch and she was watching me!

So, I slipped the edge of the waffle between two tines of my fork and use my knife to hold the rest down while I broke off a piece. That worked. When I tried to convey the piece to my mouth it promptly fell out back onto the plate. I looked over at Judy. She raised her brows and said, “Just looked like finger food to me.” I knifed and forked every bit of it. It took a while, but damn it, veterans must exhibit fortitude under extreme circumstances! It really did taste like the concentrated flavors of a green been casserole. I hoped all the portions weren't going to be so small, though, or I'd be stopping at DQ for chicken strips and gravy on the way home.

Next came the eggs bedeviled. There is a picture of this on the BSB Facebook page, so I'll not go into too much detail. The egg filling portion sat on top of two short thick slices of the best bacon I've ever eaten. With the mouth delighted and the way properly prepared by the hors d'oeuvres, it was on to more substantial fare.

Rounds two and three were Sweet Potato and Carrot with Peas, respectively. The sweet potato was a double spoonful mashed (like a casserole) and topped with a couple of sprigs of fennel with pistachio praline on the side. Judy gushed over the praline, and I gave her mine when it appeared again on a later plate.

The most substantial bit of the Carrot with Peas dish was a delicious granola substance. There were only a few pieces of carrot and a handful of peas. Perhaps “deconstructed” really means what is leftover after someone who was really hungry already demolished the dish. At this point, I was pretty sure there would be a drive-through window in my near future.

I was wrong (again). The Venison Loin with potato was substantial and amazing. I was raised in the country with a bunch of uncles who liked nothing better than to show up at Mamaw’s on Thanksgiving with a freshly gutted dear carcass in the back of their pick-up. A short time later, I would be forced to visit said uncle to partake of the mighty hunter's bounty. My recollection is that venison sucked serious ass! Of course, even then I would smile like, “This is so what I hoped for.” At the wine dinner, this actually was SO WHAT I HOPED FOR! The venison was medium-rare, succulent, and tender. A generous pool of mashed potatoes rounded out my favorite dish of the evening.

I recall that I liked the Turkey & Stuffing, but not really the particulars. It came with a translucent roe-like substance scattered on top (cranberries – deconstructed?). Anyway, whether owing to the fog of wine, war, or possibly distraction caused by something shiny, most details of this course elude me.

The Apple Pie was really, really tasty! Of course it was deconstructed, so it wasn't pie at all. The apple portion was ample (no DQ!) and had the spongy consistency of canned pears. I don't really remember how the caramel powder was implemented; maybe I was experiencing sensory overload. I do remember that Dana Huber came over and sat in the empty chair next to me at this point, so perhaps my distraction was justified. This course was served with the applejack brandy cocktail, which I thought was quite nice.

When the last dish was deconstructed and the plates cleared, chef came out and said a few words. Bravo chef! Aside from being a supremely talented chef, Matt Weirich is one of the nicest people I've ever met and I was happy for him. Yes, the dishes he sent out were artsy to my eye, yet they combined to make up one of the most interesting and satisfying culinary experiences ever for me.

Chef ended up at our table as did a substantial bowl of the pistachio pralines. Roger capped off his evening with a glass of Huber's Knobstone Reserve Port, and Angie brought me my favorite Willet's Vintage bourbon straight up. Judy and I shared the Vintage and the pralines as we peppered Matt with questions about the dishes. This all was so much more than I'd hoped for, and now I know that the Huber winery crafts wines far better than I can truly appreciate. I also know that no matter what you call it, dinner provided by a chef of Matt's quality is a wondrous thing.

Thank you, Roger and Diana, for taking pity on me and sharing your table and friends. Cheers!

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