Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Chef Mike's Debut

There are several dream sentences you want to be greeted with when going round a friend’s house for dinner. “I hope you don’t mind but my missus has her yoga mates in the room next door and they are getting pissed and rowdy” ranks up there with “We Swing” but my new favourite was uttered by Chef Mike as we walked through his fragrant front door at 7:30 last night…”I had some left over meat so there’s an extra course…meatballs”. The review was always going to be favourable after this inspired stroke of genius.

So for the second week in a row it was cherry popping time at the Thursday Club with nearly Italian American (something to do with his gran’s milkman but I lost track) Mike as commander of pans for the night and he chose to treat us to an all Italian five course extravaganza. The menu was…1) A gob pleaser of skewered meatballs with raw, fresh snow peas/sugar snaps/green things, 2) Courgette (none of your zucchini rubbish) and Parmesan Basil Soup with Parma Ham and Basil-Buttered Toast, 3) Bolognese Ragu over Pappardelle, 4) Stinchetti di Maiale all Birra (Beer-Braised Pork Shanks) over a Pancetta, Parmesan and Hominy Polenta, 5) Strawberries and Rhubarb with Balsamic Zabaglione.

First up was the amuse bouche (which Adam still believes means shut your pie hole) of meatballs which were a real delight…more moist than an otter’s chuff and the fresh green thingies provided a fantastic crunchy contrast. There was even some polite jostling over the last meatball…clearly enough wine had not been drunk.

Next up was the soup which stood up to the universal test…namely that I could have had a bucket of the stuff and walked away a happy, well fed man. Incredibly fresh and fragrant basil cut perfectly through the creamy parmesan to provide the ideal bath for the discernable chunks of courgette…the lucky bastards. The side of basil buttered toast with a generous portion of Parma ham was yet another stroke of genius from Chef Mike.

Then out came the veal bolgnese ragu over pappardelle. To describe the sauce as sauce isn’t truly accurate as it was nothing like the pissy tomato based pap I’ve had a million times in the past. Instead it was clearly 90% meat and had texture, structure, bite and everything else you want to keep your pasta company. The thick ribbons of pappardelle was yet another inspired choice and I am definitely stocking my cupboard with some in time for winter as it could double as an effective scarf.

Now even a large-framed chap like myself was starting to get a bit full at this stage so we had a break to discuss high-brow political issues, clingwrap Mike’s “dog” and over-analyse the size of some girl’s ass who I’ve never met but would now like to. Which reminds me, is anyone free for Don Giovanni on Sunday?

We were getting close to understanding what Jason does for a living when out trots course four. The pork shanks had clearly been bathing in beer for the better part of a month as the meat and fat fell off the bone in equal measure as the plates passed the fan. The parmesan and hominy polenta topped with crispy nuggets of pancetta (all topped with pan juices) nicely provided the starch but I was having difficulty getting it down given the food mountain I had already consumed.

Now I am going to use a cliché and say I’m not much of a dessert kind of guy but for me, the strawberry and rhubarb with balsamic zabaglione ranks up there as one of those all-time stonking finales. The creamy yet tart yoghurt consistency zabaglione set off perfectly against the spunky stewed fruit and I once again managed to forget how full I was.

The nonsense chat continued into the wee hours accompanied by a couple of growlers (not a euphemism), Mike’s ill missus and half the cast of Evan Almighty. Good work Mike, a resounding debut success. Now if you would be so kind as to move to Manhattan to make my journey home easier then I would consider you the perfect host…

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