@PBFW: My Last Supper, The Next Course

(Pebble Beach, CA) — The Seventh Annual Pebble Beach Food & Wine event is winding down. Cookie and SheFed have cavorted through wine seminars, seafood luncheons, and dinners prepared by star chefs. Now, before they can pack their bags, they must attend a final meal. The multi-course feast is based on Melanie Dunea's book MY LAST SUPPER, THE NEXT COURSE and features a who's who cavalcade of famous chefs...

She Fed:

Although the pace has slowed a bit after a full schedule on Friday, it is day three of PBFW and Juliet and I are still ready for more. We spend the morning at cooking demonstrations, followed by the Lexus Grand Tasting for lunch. After a quick nap for this tired BBQtea, it’s off to My Last Supper, The Next Course. Determined to grab an hor d'oeuvres or two, we arrive at a respectable hour but unlike our success at lunch we are only able to nab a few. I grab a bit of burrata by Nancy Silverton served with caviar, red onion, egg, and chives. The caviar is a perfect complement to the creamy burrata, and the finish of fresh chives and subtle red onion makes me wish there were more to go around. I can certainly see why so few are making it to our side of the room, so I am glad to secure a fried crab and tofu cake by Susur Lee. This crispy little bite has a lovely tofu texture with a mild seafood flavor; the Indian spiced tomato jam is sweet and spicy, rounding out quite a few textures and flavors in one small spoon. I watch other trays, including one with champagne, pass by just out of reach. I guess you can’t win them all…

We make our way to the dining room where we are greeted by our MC for the evening, photographer Melanie Dunea. Over the course of the evening Melanie does a fine job introducing us to each of the chefs, reviewing their last supper choices, and entertaining us with a story or two from their photo shoot. Our first course is Jonathan Waxman’s avocado crab salad alongside Arietta, On The White Keys sauvignon blanc. We are presented with a lovely little stack of avocado and crab dressed with a scattering of microgreens. The avocados are creamy and so much more flavorful than the ones we find in Michigan. I did uncover a couple shards of crab shell, but I can look past that for the sweet fresh crab. The clean sauvignon blanc blend is a light, fresh complement to the dish, making the entire course feel like quintessential California.

I am not sure about our second course of the evening. The menu tells us we will have an X.O. Spiral with Far Niente Chardonnay. We are presented a strange looking roll alongside a dollop of sauce and a piece of seaweed topped with two small squares. I’m not a shy eater so I dig in. The roll has a rubbery texture and a distinctive seafood flavor. The square bits are some kind of pickle, and after a nibble of the seaweed I conclude this is d├ęcor rather than a component of the dish. We wait patiently for Paul Liebrandt to take the stage and explain what we just consumed. It turns out the roll was pork, abalone, lobster, and a couple other shellfish. Fortunately, the wine is delicious so I sip on the chard and contemplate my first abalone experience, hoping the next will be more memorable as this one was just odd.

We are offered our next course of coffee and cinnamon marinated squab breast with Brooks Red Letter Pinot Noir. The squab is rich with flavors of earthy game, cinnamon, and coffee which perfectly complements the chicken liver pate, turnip cake, crispy taro, and apricot mustard. It is a small course, but the heartiness of the poultry, liver, and red wine is as satisfying as a large plate. I scoop the liver with pieces of squab and drag the bite across the plate to collect as much of the mustard and sauce as possible with each bite.

Our next course has everyone at the table guessing at the simple, “Southern Feast” callout on the menu. Early on, I pondered the chances that this would include black-eyed peas and corn bread. Wouldn’t that be something at PBFW? The sommelier pours glasses of Trefethen Family Dragon’s Tooth, a big fruity red I am thoroughly enjoying even before the feast arrives. It turns out Tyler Florence is the man who makes dreams come true. Shortly after the wine, a team of servers arrive with plates of fried chicken, black-eyed peas, cornbread, greens, and pickled beets; our table literally cheers at the sight of this family style dinner. We are all portioned out two large pieces of fried chicken and spoonfuls of the sides. The chicken is everything one could want in fried chicken: juicy, crispy, peppery, herby perfection. I can’t see bacon on the plate but I can taste it in the spoon bread. Home style cooking is a welcome treat after so many extravagant courses.

I am admittedly not optimistic for dessert. I am good with the almond cornetto and the yogurt gelato, but strawberry rhubarb compote is a challenge for my palette. The dessert is paired with Dolce from Napa Valley, a sweet wine bursting with flavors and freshness. Although not a strawberry fan, I give it a try and find it rather pleasant. The compote isn’t overly sweet, coupled with tartness of the yogurt I find this quite refreshing. A surprisingly perfect end to a wonderful meal!

She Fed:

It’s our last multi-course meal at Pebble Beach Food & Wine and I’m excited about the chef line-up for this evening. Nancy Silverton, Paul Liebrandt, Susur Lee, Jonathan Waxman, and Tyler Florence are each turning out a small bite and a course for tonight’s dinner. Add amazing wine pairings and how can you go wrong?

By not having enough of the small plates to accommodate your guests, it turns out. We’re able to snag the Crispy Shrimp, a tofu and crab cake with a spicy tomato jam, but most of the other offerings listed are nowhere to be seen. I don’t see Waxman’s Shrimp Toast, Florence’s Pork Belly Biscuits with strawberries, or Liebrandt’s Parmesan Croquant. At one point, several servers walk through the crowd with piping hot platters of deep fried calamari accompanied by marinara. It tastes pretty mediocre, like what you could find in any bar back home. I get the feeling something went wrong in the kitchen and they just grabbed a few bags from the deep freeze to placate ticket holders. The real disappointment is in missing the Double Magnums of Champagne Lanson Black Label. It’s highly rated among the wine publications. The only problem...there’s no way to get through the throngs of people to get a glass. Blurgh!

The doors open and the masses pour in; despite the chaos we find our assigned table quickly. We receive generous pours of Arietta’s On the White Keys, a Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon blend from Napa. I’m learning to love white wines again (after an overdose of oaky Chards) and this white is crisp and citrusy with just a hint of oak. It’s a fabulous accompaniment to Waxman’s Dungeness Crab Cocktail. I can’t think of when I felt more indulgent—okay, probably during last night’s dinner—but sipping a great California white and noshing on a beautiful stack of luscious avocado with fresh crab meat is pure heaven. No wonder Californians are so damn happy all the time. The sunshine, the great wine, and the fresh food!

Next up is Liebrandt’s XO Spiral, which has no description and looks a bit like fruit roll ups and bologna. (If you haven’t yet, please check out the photos of this dinner!) Half of our table hesitates before digging in and a few folks refuse to try it until Chef steps to the podium to tell us what it is. Turns out the “bologna” is a pork, abalone, lobster, and scallop terrine accompanied by seaweed and pickled veggies. Unfortunately, the scrawny dish pales in comparison to the decadent crab we just devoured and our entire table is underwhelmed. The bright notes of the Far Niente Estate Chardonnay do not disappoint, however.

I’ve never been a huge fan of squab, but I am a fan of Susur Lee and want to dig into his Coffee & Cinnamon-Marinated Squab Breast with apricot mustard, pate and turnip cake. The earthiness of the pate and squab along with the sweet mustard and spices of the marinade are just out of this world. The turnip cake is a nice canvas for all the lush juices left on the plate. Another wine I’m beginning to love is Pinot Noir. They always seemed so wimpy to me, compared to the big bold Cabs I love so much. But the Brooks Red Letter Pinot from the Willamette Valley stands right up to this rich dish.

At some point during these events, I crave “normal” food. Something homey and comforting. Tyler Florence’s course is listed as “Southern Feast” which leaves us all guessing. It’s paired with Trefethen Family Vineyards Dragon Tooth, a big Napa red with notes of berries and smoke. I wager we’re getting beef of some kind. Cookie leans over and whispers “What I wouldn’t give for black eyes peas and corn bread right now!” and we both giggle at the thought. Which is right about the time a seriously long line of servers stream to our table, first among all the tables in the room for some reason, and presents platters of southern fried chicken, black eyes peas, stewed tomatoes, corn pudding, pickled beets, and creamed collards.

It’s no exaggeration to say our table breaks into spontaneous applause and boisterous cheering. Chef Tyler Florence served fried chicken at a pricey dinner at Pebble Beach Food & Wine! And I think we’re all just a little bit in love with him for it. All of the sides are incredible but the fried chicken, with slivers of fresh herbs in the batter, is the clear favorite of the evening.

Finally, dessert. An Almond Cornetto with yogurt gelato and rhubarb strawberry compote from Silverton. Like a warm cookie with melty ice cream over top. A dessert wine, Dolce from Napa is paired, but it’s too sweet for me and I enjoy the dregs of my Dragon’s Tooth. Still licking my fingers from that incredible fried chicken. Mind blown.

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