A long, lusciously decorated table was set for 120, ready for a four-course meal with wine pairing. Chef Jean-Georges Vongericht presented Farm Fresh to Tempting Table, a gourmet spread with a focus on seasonal produce. The concept is old, but seems to have been forgotten in these modern times of processed foods and international imports/exports. Our bodies are not immune to our environment; since plants grow with different seasons, our diets should follow the lead. Besides being healthier by consuming super fresh produce, eating what’s locally in season further lessens the impact on nature because costs (in labor, transportation, and environmental damage) are minimized.
Hosted at the Bellagio in the Grand Patio, we enjoyed a sumptuous final meal before returning home. The table and settings were both rustic and elegant. Before the first course was served, we sipped sweet cocktails named Angel’s Tear, with American Harvest vodka, St Germain elderflower liqueur, fresh white cranberry juice, and a rose petal.
Each course was paired with a particular wine, poured just before the plates arrived. From left to right, and in order with the courses, we sipped Pascal Jolivet Sancerre, Loire Valley 2011; Trimbach Riesling “Cuvee Frederick Emile,” Alsace 2006 (from the Chef’s home town in France); Faust Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley 2010; and Joseph Phelps “Eisrebe,” Napa Valley 2010.
This was a caesar salad like no other. Shredded kale was tossed in a robust and tart dressing of parmesan, lemon, mint, mustard, garlic, and serrano chili. The parmesan balanced the tartness, the mint helped to tone down the strong raw kale flavor, and the serrano brought about a spicy bite to add extra depth in flavor. This was a very zesty way to open up our palates to fresh, well prepared fare.
A dessert before the dessert course, we relished in these large and tender “marshmallows of the sea” with a nice sear, resulting in caramelization. They rested atop a bed of vegetables. A light and tart new onion vinaigrette sat at the bottom, to be dipped into with snap peas, morel mushrooms, artichoke hearts, asparagus, acorn squash, and spring fronds. Some of the vegetables had light flavors, but the vinaigrette enhanced their natural taste. The selection of vegetables provided contrasting textures and different kinds of green flavors, some sweet and some earthy. A “moss” was created with five dehydrated and powdered herbs, spooned over the top and garnished with chive blossoms. This dish was a very rich homage to the bounty of the land.
The prime regular tenderloin cut was buttery and lean, from the top 1% of Nebraska beef. Normally August gets ribeye when offered a choice of steak, but this filet mignon was so good in texture and taste, she might be a convert. This cut was an excellent representation of the meat used at Prime Steakhouse, so we will definitely make plans to visit the next time we’re in town. Its hat was a spinach and gruyère crêpe, which was delicate and cheesy, but in texture more than flavor; it did not overwhelm the beef. The cut’s pedestal was sauteed spinach, in an intense beef broth made with short ribs, red chili, and Japanese seaweed. It had a mildly spicy kick with a deep beef flavor that melded well with the sauteed spinach. The broth and spinach, Zach says, could easily have been a soup on its own.
To round out the meal, this layered trifle was divine. A crisp, airy meringue disc sprinkled with dried, flaked rose petals melted when bit into. It adorned a scoop of tangy rhubarb sorbet, which was surrounded by five fluffy marshmallows. These were supported by thick whipped cream over bright raspberry preserves, on top of a moist and light genoise sponge cake and a smooth base of tropical lychee puree set with gelatin. August was worried at first that this dish wouldn’t satisfy her because she is a devout chocolate lover and typically avoids fruit desserts, but she proclaimed, “I don’t need chocolate after this!”
Chef Vongericht informed, inspired, and indulged our taste buds. It’s amazing what delights can be concocted when using a finite set of ingredients that are local and in season.