My friend Renee’s birthday was a few weeks ago. To celebrate, she organized a group of us to enjoy a meal with EatWith, one of those shared dining experience companies where you go to a chef’s home and they cook you (and 8-10 strangers) dinner. The only other time I’ve been to something like this was with Emily’s First Class Cooking when Andrew and I helped cook the meal. With EatWith, you just show up and eat.
Renee, being the publicist and event extraordinaire that she is, planned this dinner as a private event, so it was just her friends. Here is a picture of the beloved birthday girl:
Because Renee doesn’t have boring friends, conversation was easy and laughter abounded. It also didn’t hurt that the food was delicious. The meal was Argentinian from start to finish, cooked by Carina Casco, an adorable woman whose hospitality and warmth made the evening even that much more special:
Here’s a play by play of the evening:
The décor. Carina lives in a charming apartment in Russian Hill/Cow Hollow area. The table was friendly and inviting, set with bright, warm fall colors and mixed-matched tableware.
Appetizer. The evening started with empanadas and a cocktail of gin, orange juice, and yerba mate. The yerba mate lent the drink a slight bitter tea flavor that cut the sweetness of the orange juice nicely. I never thought about adding tea to cocktails and I highly recommend doing so. The empanadas were also delicious, filled with minced beef, onion, and spices.
First course. After empanadas, our chef moved us to the main table where we started the first course. The menu said it was chorizo over homemade country bread topped with quail egg, but what it didn’t say was that it also had chimichurri sauce and this bell pepper gremolata-like mixture that was absolutely phenomenal. It had vinegar in it, hence why I loved it, and made the entire dish come together. It was my favorite course of the whole meal. The chorizo was Argentinian and was less salty and fatty than other kinds of sausage. The homemade bread was thick and light, and adding an egg makes any dish go up a few points. I could have just eaten that for dinner and would have been happy. I mean, look at this!
Main course. Colita de cuadril Rellana (tri-tip) with chimichurri paste in a malbec and carob reduction sauce, served with a side of rustic smoked mashed potatoes. When you break this down, it essentially comes down to meat and potatoes. However, the tri-tip was perfectly pink, the sauce flavorful but not too rich, the chimichurri adding an herbal brightness to liven it up. The potatoes were made with smoked salt to give it a smokey flavor. I’ve never had smoked salt before and it really made the potatoes seem like they were put in a smoker. I wouldn’t have smokey potatoes at every meal because they had a strong flavor, but they went well with the meat and added to the cultural culinary experience we had. Also served was a simple salad of arugula, sprouts, heirloom tomatoes, pepitas (pumpkin seeds) and a dressing of salt, parmesean-reggiano, and some sort of acid I couldn’t quite place because I was too busy eating and enjoying everything to bother pin-pointing it. At some point you have to stop analyzing your meal and just enjoy it.
Cultural Fact: Menus in Argentina often don’t mention salad being served with a meal because it is assumed salad will always be served. Kind of like how we assume French fries will be served with burgers.
The finale. Dessert! The meal concluded with cheesecake de dulce de Leche. Served with a berry compote to add a little tartness to combat the sweetness, this dessert stole the show for the party. You just have to look at it to know how good it was. It was so good, in fact, that Andrew and another member of our party raced to see who could lick their plate clean the fastest. This certainly is not the best dinner etiquette, but the great thing about our EatWith dinner was that we enjoyed the food of a high quality restaurant, but in the atmosphere of a good friend’s home. Granted, if we were at an EatWith dinner in mixed company I doubt this competition would have taken place, but being in a private party allowed us certain liberties. Also, wine was flowing pretty steadily. Enough said.
Culinary Fact: The difference between dulce de Leche and caramel is that caramel is cooked very quickly with sugar and cream, whereas dulce de Leche is cooked with sugar and milk for a long period of time. Carina cooks her for four hours!
EatWith provided a wonderful evening of great food to celebrate a much loved friend. I look forward to the day when Andrew and I live in a bigger place where we can host 8-10 people so our table looks like this all the time: