My favorite time of the day is dusk. The long shadows cast by palm trees on our spotless skies has always enthralled me. Add this picturesque setting to a huge burgeoning garden dressed up to serve us all its bounty and it is ecstasy for me. Chef Gregg Wangard of Marisol and Chef Robert Trester of Gardens of Avila created an intimate, garden inspired menu served in the chefs Garden at Sycamore Mineral Springs Resort for a dinner called Supper At Sunset. The setting included long tables under a draped canopy, sitting in the prolific garden and a meal served family style. Strangers surrounded us but through the magic of food, the strangers became friends.
This family style meal had each course pared with a specialty garden cocktail made by an incognito mixologist who deserves an Academy Award for her original creations. Each drink was so unusual and although at first surprising to the taste, it harmonized perfectly. Our greeting beverage was a spicy sirrocho infused vodka concoction with herbs and a salt rimmed. Hot, but not too much, this plainly burned the taste buds off to better receive the first course. A perfect wait staff swirled around serving each dish that was garnished with edible flowers for both beauty and flavor.
These chefs brought a rare passion to every creation. They stalked the garden for the impeccable element, picked it and prepared it as if cooking for Kings and Sultans. We do not get this kind of culinary expertise and passion often enough.
The table was prepped with a basket of bread including smoked tomato focaccia and rolls. Our next drink was Mojito-esque with muddled basil and honeydew juice and limes. The Tom Yum soup started with a bowl of tiny cut cherry tomatoes, sliced cucumber, flowering coriander, pork belly, shishito peppers, Thai basil and a lemon verbena. Then they pored over the savory roasted vegetable base that brought all the flavors to life.
The next plate was as charming as it was delicious. Mixed melon and tomato salad with emulsified cantaloupe melons and dry farmed watermelon, eight different kinds of tomatoes, a sprinkle of sea salt, olive oil, tellicherry pepper and cinnamon basil buds. Refreshing and different enough to make your taste buds sit up and pay attention. It came with a Madori sour cocktail that featured pickled watermelon rind and a sugared rim. This was the drink I went back for more, as I had never tasted anything this original.
Our next offering came from an unlikely source from the sea. It was called Skate Wing, I had heard about this delicacy, but had never tried it. Skate is a fish that usually gets thrown back by fisherman (picture a manta ray). But this chef knows that the wing part is very delicate and has the consistency and flavor like crab, only better. Because of its short shelve life (24 hours) it is rarely served. Chef Greg used the fresh form the sea wing, dipped in brown butter and breaded. Then he pan-fried and served it with a meyer lemon sauce, parsley blooms, sweet 100 tomatoes and flowering thyme. To say this was outstanding is an understatement. It was soft and rich, with a buttery texture. Served with Martini glass containing egg white foam, cucumber juice and thyme sprigs. This duo categorically blew my mind.
Our next drink was a surprise to the nose, but appealing once the second sip went down. It was Mescal (a strong tequila) with kale and celery juice. It was by far the strangest drink but balanced impeccably with the roasted suckling pig. Chef Robert also prepared a whole pork confit and pork belly to go with the main course. In the hands of this extraordinary chef, this delicacy was in a class by itself. Tender, succulent and resting on a bed of chopped massaged kale (massaging the kale takes out the bitter taste and brings forth sweetness) it was also served with pickled radish, and infused melon cubes. We all had three helpings until the dishes were empty.
We were presented with a palate cleansing drink. This included a basil sorbet surrounded by with sparkling water and cucumber extract. We all sipped and then gave into the icy sorbet that opened our palate and made way for the desserts.
Chef apologized to Gary for not serving him the dessert first (his reputation proceeds him) and then presented us with an original delight. The treat was an upside-down green tomato tart with caramel pecan piecrust and sea salt caramel ice cream. I was shocked, but this absolutely worked. It was enchanting. This extraordinary concoction defied all the rules of desserts. Gary loved it so he found a way to get the chef to box four up to take home.
As our next course came, the huge blue moon rose over the garden and we applauded the show as if it happened just for our magical dinner. Our last beverage “punched a hole in our stomach” to make way for more food. A brown sugared bourbon with candied cherry tomato and Vietnamese cinnamon. It was served with basil beignets stuffed with tomato curd (using tomatoes instead of cream) and a basil sugar base. Pop one in your mouth and it was paradise, pop another and you experienced bliss.
We are hoping that this event will happen with each full moon as the intimacy of the garden setting, the camaraderie of the family style serving and the passion that each of these chefs brings to their special menus is something everyone you should get a chance to try.
The Supper at Sunset is a collaborative garden party with the chefs from Gardens Of Avila at Sycamore Springs and Marisol at The Cliff’s Resort. You can get information regarding the next event at www.sycamoresprings.comor by calling (805) 595-7302.
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Terri and Gary, you are an AMAZING couple and when I read your incredibly intricate descriptions of your experiences I'm there with you ( although I can't taste the food ! ) your AMAZING….. I will have to experience this one ! Your friend , Kat
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