Tag Archives: Italian

Viva Italia – Clan Gordon Family Dinner 2012

Every year the young members of the Gordon family, K and her siblings and all the significant others, eagerly await Christmas time. Not only do we get to spend a lot of time together during the holidays, we also have the Clan Gordon dinner to look forward to. K’s dad and stepmom schedule a serious family dinner within a week or so of Christmas, so that we can have a big event for a small group of family. It really is one of the highlights of the year.

If you’d like a primer on why it has been so awesome in the past, take a look at the last couple of Clan Gordons:

2010 – The Clan Gordon English Dinner

2011 – The New Orleans Clan Gordon Dinner

Enough with the past, let’s get on with it.

CG 1 aprons

Preppy Kitchen

Clan Gordon officially started on Christmas morning when everyone got their own custom family aprons with the really awesome Gordon family crest. Since K’s dad really goes to extreme lengths to make this incredible dinner, the kids will try to get over to his house to serve as line chefs during the process. K and I went over early on the afternoon of the dinner to lend a couple of hands.

CG 1 bechemal sauce

We jumped right in by helping with the stuffed mushrooms with the bechamel sauce.

CG 1 bechemal sauce 2

Smooth, slow stirring as it thickens up.

CG 4 Cooking

Team work.

CG 1 Mushrooms

Almost ready. Check out that bechamel now mixed with all the delicious chopped prosciutto.

CG 1 Mushrooms 2

Here they are, ready to go into the oven. We helped out with a few other final details before heading home.

CG 2 cannelloni

Cannelloni waiting to go into the oven. This would turn out amazing, more details when we get to dinner…

CG 3 Quail

The stuffed quail wrapped in speck waiting for cooking. Beautiful.

CG 5 cheesecake

Here’s Ks stepmom’s amazing cheesecake hot right out of the oven. I will explain later, but I’m normally not a huge cheesecake guy, but I guess that is just because I have never had a cheesecake that was this good. It was light, airy and amazing.

CG 6

Table is set and ready for action.

Dinner Time

Later that evening, we all arrived at the Gordon house and got started.

Cocktail, Canapes, and Company

For these family dinners, we go back to dressing up for dinner and starting the evening with a cocktail hour. Every course during dinner would have a dedicated wine pairing, but this was a good chance for people to start with some sparkling wine or cocktails of their choosing.

cg 6 2

 

Always room for for a White Russian, even during the Italian dinner. If you’re wondering, bydand is the Gordon clan motto, meaning steadfast. Party cup roadies elevate any party, just sayin’.

CG Meal Course 1

During cocktail hour, we got the first taste of K’s dad’s masterpiece dinner. He baked some fresh tuscan bread and made two variations of this amazing liver pate. I could have eaten all of it. It was insanely rich and awesome. The only thing holding me back from killing the whole ramikan was my experience at previous Clan Gordon dinners. One must pace oneself, lest he run out of room before the end of the meal.

Belly in our Bellies

The antipasti course at the table was the product of a serious long-term planning. In February of 2012, we all went over to the Gordon house to make homemade bacon, and while doing that K’s dad started some pork belly confit, so after 10 months it was time to bust it out.

cg 7

 

Here’s the belly out of the skillet before getting plated. So good.

CG meal course 2

Here it is served up with polenta and a cherry reduction. This combination of sweet and salty was awesome with the polenta. Also, it was pretty darn awesome to eat something that we had put together so long ago.

Primi – Can I Canneloni

Next up was a serious Italian masterclass. While researching the menu, K’s dad found this recipe, and it was described as only being made on the most special family occasions, so it was perfect for this event. After hearing about how much work it takes to make the cannelloni and then to make the tortellini that goes inside it, I can see why it is such a rare treat.

cg meal course 3

Here it is baked up after being covered in more bechamel sauce. Inside is the tortellini and prosciutto. This was unreal.

cg meal course3 2

Look at that. Tortellini stuffed with spiced chicken in side a prosciutto wrap inside a spinach cannelloni topped with bechamel. Gimme a break.

Secondi – Stuffed Quail Stuffed Me

So, after the pasta course, you naturally have a meat course. This one was incredible. K’s younger brother delivered the speck from a recent trip to New York, and it served as the outer layer around some de-boned quail and provolone cheese. It was topped with a little honey, and it was insane. The quail was so tender. I know it is related to chicken, but it had so much flavor. Really speaks to the benefits of branching out in the poultry family.

CG meal course 4

 

Plated up with them were the decadent stuffed mushrooms that we had worked on earlier in the afternoon. Find a recipe for them online and make them, serve them at a party or at lunch or whenever. Dang Gina.

Just Desserts

 

Every dinner must come to a close at some point, and this one closed with the light, airy ricotta cheesecake that you saw come out of the oven earlier. So many cheesecakes seem too dense and too smooth, and it is like they loose something in the translation.

CG meal course 4 2

This was cheesecake like you would imagine it should be. Served with this potent raspberry vinegar, which was so good that you could probably have sipped on a shots worth, it was a delightful end to such an awesome dinner.

Bydand

So, I mentioned that the clan motto meant steadfast earlier. What I like so much about these dinners is the coming together of a family that holds on to that ideally dearly. They are steadfast and supportive of each other, and it is truly a blessing to be involved with such a good group. That each year that passes ends in an amazing dinner is a bonus, like a celebration that this family is and will continue to be. Cheers to Clan Gordon and here’s to an awesome 2013 for the whole family. And cheers to you and your family in 2013. Hope it is an awesome one. See you out there!

-Thomas

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hello Ciao Bella!

Chef Johnathan Steenerson and his team at Ciao Bella invited me over for dinner the other night to get to know them, to serve as a ‘guinea pig’ for a couple of new dishes, and to try out some of the stalwarts on the menu. I was happy to accept after embarrassingly letting them know that I had recently eaten at the restaurant, and that because it was a last minute decision, I only ended up with a terrible cell phone photo. I couldn’t use that in the blog as evidence of how good it had been.

So, the Professor and I met up over in Erin Way and settled in for an intense night of deliciousness. They led us back to a nice, well-lit (good for photos!) booth in the back and our great server Cole got us started with a round of drinks. I’ll go ahead and get this out there, but when I was talking to Jonathan during the meal, I was hyping up how good the service was, and he let us know that it was only Cole’s second day at Ciao Bella. Props to him, as he was excellent, as in knowledgeable, nice, and attentive.

New Bar Menu

Chef gave us the scoop that the restaurant is unveiling their new bar menu tonight (Wednesday), so he wanted me and my buddy to serve as guinea pigs to test a couple dishes out. Sounds good to me!

First up is the must-get lamb and pancetta slider. This beauty had ground lamb, pancetta, and cheese on a Bluff City Coffee-made bun. In fact all of the breads and some of the desserts come from the great team at Bluff City. This was incredible. It was a playful take on the sloppy joe, and it was really awesome. It came with some house-made pickles fried up in a panko crust. Delish!

This is the Ciao Bella take on the old, faithful spinach and artichoke dip. This one is made with feta and quesa fresca, great greek linake (I think that is right) sausage, fresh spinach from Woodson Ridge Farms in Oxford (side note – Woodson Ridge provides about 60-70% of the vegetables at Ciao Bella depending on the season), and some artichokes.

It was really great. Did I dip my lamb slider into this? YES WE CAN!

If these two dishes are indications of the quality of the upcoming bar menu, then you should definitely hit it up after work soon. The bar’s a nice little spot to watch a game, drink a cold one, and now eat some great special food.

Calm Before the Storm

The chopped salad is a mix of greens and a lot of awesome flavors. I especially appreciated the delicious champagne vinagrette.

P is for Pasta

Jonathan brought the next dish out with a story. Ciao Bella has a lot of long-time customers and families that love to eat there. In talking to them, especially the older crowd, he made this next dish to be like the pasta that our Italian grandparents (if we had them) would have eaten. Here is the Old World Carbonara.

Chicken, cream sauce, peas, and a soft-fried egg. Light, simple flavors and totally delicious. As he said, “the egg is the sauce.”

The Knockout Punch

Next up he hit us with the triple threat. Three dishes, all delicious.

Chicken on a Stick

The chicken santorini is awesome. Let’s get that out of the way early. They take a piece of chicken and marinate it in greek yogurt (awesome) and spices for three days. Then they panko crust it and flash fry it before finishing it in the oven. Some people say it is the best fried chicken in the neighborhood. I say it is damn good. The orzo was great and the homemade spanikopita was awesome. Great dish.

Meat and Potatoes

The Kobe beef brisket gnocchi is one of my favorite dishes around. Such a great Italian take on meat and potatoes. The gnocchi is so tender and soft and the meat is perfect. This is flavorful and awesome. You can get a small portion of this, which is still pretty substantial. Go try it out.

Classic

Whats a trip to an Italian restaurant without at least one meatball? Well, I can’t describe it, because we got a plate of meatballs and peppers.

Loved them. Honestly, I loved them more the next day, because I had to take most of them home. The yellow and red peppers were sweet and delicious and were great companions to the meatballs.

Death by Dessert

At this point, I was trying to hold out just a little bit of room, so that I could at try some dessert. Chef came out and gave us the run down, and we ended up going with two. A classic and an Italian classic.

This death by chocolate is aptly named. This cake came from the great team at Bluff City Coffee, and they made it extreme. Went well with the coffee. Every bite took me one sweeter step towards death.

The homemade tirimisu was delicate and sweet. It was really good, and it was a perfect end to this grand feast. I’d get this again for sure. Easy to eat even after eating so much!

Meet the Chef

Jonathan Steenerson is doing some really awesome stuff over at Ciao Bella. He really, really cares about his product, and he is dedicated to using as many good, local ingredients as possible.  He is excited about the way our food set-up is going, but he hopes that we all really continue to support our farmers, just to give them that next big push.  The business is one that is very supportive of the community and of many causes. It is really a perfect example of the many ways in which a local business can add value to our city.

Jonathan was highly complimentary of his team in the kitchen, as those guys all work extremely hard and are very talented. With my 8 or so plates as a sample size, I can confidently back him up on that. Here he is with his crew.

Thanks so much to all of those guys for making my dinner such an outstanding experience (and loading me up with enough leftovers to eat a couple of lunches)! It was really kind of Jonathan to treat me to dinner and to take some time to share his stories. I can’t wait to go back. When you do, make sure to give them a shout-out, as they are really great. See you there!

-Thomas

PS. I was on the way out, and I saw how great their patio is. Would be a nice place on a warm fall night to get out and have a drink and some dinner.

Awesome.

You want to go to there:

Ciao Bella
565 Erin Dr
Memphis, TN 38117

Ciao Bella Italian Grill on Urbanspoon

Hog & Hominy, or How Brookhaven is in Good Hands – Birthday Week – Italian Feast parts 1 & 3

Ok here’s the deal. I turned 31 on July 7. From July 6-12, I was in full fledged birthday week feast mode. In setlist form it went something like this:

Iris > House Party > Country Club > Italian Feast (Hog & Hominy > Andrew Michael > Hog & Hominy) > Iris

It was epic. It was fierce. Most importantly it was spent with good friends and family along with some really, really good food. Today I’m going to hone in on the Italian Feast. Really, I’m going to hit on the Hog & Hominy parts, as the whole Italian Fest would take too long. I’ll circle back later tonight to write abut the Andrew Michael part.

Set One – The Opener

Here’s how this went down. K (thanks K!!!) got in touch with our pals at Andrew Michael and asked if they would do a special “No-Menu Birthday” for me. They thought that sounded great, and we were set for a Wednesday night dinner. Sounds normal from here, right? Well, this Wednesday night was also a soft opening night at the guys’ new place Hog & Hominy.

I couldn’t let this big night pass without stopping by to see the place in action. Really, I’m so proud of Andy and Michael and their whole staff for what they have accomplished since opening AM Italian Kitchen. I had to get in there and give some hugs and high fives. As you’ll see, that is not all that we got…

We (5 of us) sat down about an hour before our dinner reservation, thinking we’d get a drink and a small snack (famous last thoughts). Matt came by our table and got us started with some wines, beers, and a crisp club soda. Water was served in sweet bottles.

Then, it began.

#whiteboyproblems #firstworldissues #amIinBrooklyn?

The idea behind Hog & Hominy is that the menu is going to feature the foods that Andy and Michael would want to eat themselves. Fortunately for us all, they have incredible taste!

First thing out of the kitchen was the insane crispy headcheese starter.

Here’s my thought process as I take my first bite.

Headcheese -> Great
Fried -> Better
Add an egg -> Best
Add some watermelon -> Genius

I’m not going to lie and say that crispy headcheese is not one of the most delicious things on the planet by itself, but the addition of the watermelon made this dish all-time in my opinion. The sign of people that are on top of their game.

Begin Side Note – What’s with the hashtags in the header? Well, during the night, I had a conversation that I never expected to have. After a different crispy headcheese dish at Andrew Michael, we sat at the table questioning which was the best headcheese appetizer of the night. This is not a normal conversation under any circumstances (except maybe in Brooklyn and Portland). Moving on. End Side Note.

Hot Oven, Big Lovin’

While we were hanging out over drinks, I snuck back into the pizza kitchen (you can see them cooking from the dining area, also they custom made the pizza oven from the bricks that were on the chimney on the restaurant before they renovated) and asked Michael what pizza I should get for our table to try one out before dinner. With a smile, he said “I got you.”

That statement is one of my favorite things about having gotten to know the guys in the kitchen at the two restaurants. I will often show up for dinner and let them decide what I should have. It makes it interesting, and I always end up getting something that I might not have ordered, but that I end up loving. So here we go!

The Red Eye pizza. Bask in its glory. This currently sits on top of my favorite pizza charts. Pork jowl, celery, red eye gravy, and a fried egg. It is like the best breakfast ever put into a pizza. Just trust me.

The Boom-Baba resides right up at the top of the charts as well. Prosciutto, figs, and a balsamic reduction turn this puppy into something extremely special.

Next up is the Prewitt, named after fellow Memphian Ryan Prewitt, now a chef in New Orleans. This one is made of boudin and scrambled eggs. Awesome.

So, as you can see, the pizzas are off the chart. I certainly didn’t expect us to eat three of them (before dinner), but it was a birthday blowout.

Set II – An Andrew Michael Interlude

In effort to keep this blog at a reasonable length and to keep the focus on one restaurant at a time, I’m going to discuss the Andrew Michael dinner in a separate post.

A Thrilling Encore

After finishing up our last savory course at Andrew Michael, our server told us to head back across the street for dessert. At this point, it was getting late, and we were the last people in there, so we tasted all the desserts, while the H&H squad had their final team meeting before opening for real the next day. Things got a little out of hand (in a good way).

I’m Southern, thus I love chess pie. Simple enough, correct? But take that pie and make it into handheld bars, and I’ll love you. They did, and I do. Loved them.

Here’s a nice little slice of a peanut butter pie with a creme brulee crust (what!!!). Yes, it was as good as it looks. I had a pie expert at the table next to me, and K’s expert testimony was something like “omg yum omg yum.” (Paraphrased, as at this point, the food buzz was at an all-time high).

This fine, although slightly out of focus, specimen is the peach crostata. That translates into something like a small pie that might have been cooked in a muffin pan. This was my favorite of the desserts for sure. They were all so good, but the peaches were so delicious in this and combined with a crispy crust and sweet vanilla gelato (house-made), it was just everything I want in a summer dessert.

Last, but not least, they sent out a series of shakes for us to try out, featuring their house-made gelato. These came in two styles, for the masses and for the adult masses. I’m obsessed with the straight up Nutella shake, as it is most delicious. The adult version, a Nutella shake with vanilla vodka was quite a hit at the table as well. The shake above is made with their blueberry gelato and some blood orange liquor. It did not last long.

After Party – aka My Closing Remarks

Here’s what I posted on Facebook right after dinner:

After 4 hours in Hog and Hominy and Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen, I can safely say that Brookhaven Circle is in good hands. Thanks to all the guys and girls that put together an awesome birthday dinner for me and my crew tonight.

At this point, I’m too full to even begin to start talking about it…

A lot of people worked on this birthday event for me, so thanks again to Alison, Ryan, and Ryan at AM, to Trevor, Aaron, Branson, and Matt at H&H, special thanks to Nick for all the great work he does at both places, and a final shout out to Andy and Mike, who have put in so much love and effort into both of these places. Together you’re all bringing Memphis something extremely special, and I thank you for that. And on a day in which you guys had probably 150 or so faces in each restaurant, you all made me feel like family. (If I left anyone out, know that I love you too)!

Brookhaven Circle is truly in good hands with these fine people leading the charge, and I encourage everyone to get out there and see why. See you there!

-Thomas

you want to go to there:

Hog & Hominy
707 W Brookhaven Circle
Memphis, TN 38117

Mon-Sat: 4pm until… / Late Night Menu: Thurs-Sat
Closed Sunday
Lunch Hours Beginning July 23rd

Hog & Hominy (Coming Soon) on Urbanspoon

PS. If after all that you still want to read more, check out Kerry’s take on H&H here.

Someone’s Words about Hog & Hominy

 

Great article about my buddies Andy Ticer and Michael Hudman and the opening of their new restaurant Hog & Hominy in today’s CA.

“Man, I haven’t slept in a week,” said Andy Ticer, but lack of sleep is expected when you’re running one successful restaurant, with a chef-business partner, and opening another just diagonally down the street. Read the rest of Fredric Koeppel’s article here.

I went by the other night as part of my birthday celebration week, and I tasted some apps, some pizzas, and basically all of the desserts. I’ll get a real post up on all that soon, but I thought this made some good Friday reading for those of you yet to make plans for after work. See you there (a lot)!

-Thomas

You want to go to there:

Hog & Hominy
707 W Brookhaven Circle
Memphis, TN 38117

 

 

Bari, Brad Pitts, and Battleship

Here’s the deal. When enough people rave about things, you should probably start listening. Raise your hand if you’ve heard this before:

Brad Pitts is the best bartender in Memphis and the bar at Bari is awesome.
-Almost everybody

If you haven’t heard that, then you haven’t been listening. And if you haven’t seen that, then you haven’t been reading the Memphis Flyer’s Best Of issue each year. Well, I took my own advice for a change and hit up the bar at Bari with K the other night before we went out to a movie (more on that later). Brad got us settled in with a couple of frosty beverages, and we started to look over the menu. Fortunately for me, a good friend of mine. and a Bari regular, was sitting next to me to give me advice. 

Side note – No wonder I have such a hard time cooking at home, I really just want other people to tell me what to eat. – End side note.

Fortunately the Salvation Army soldier was full of good info, and K and I remembered enough of her brother’s recommendations to be dangerous!

The mussels at Bari have come highly recommended to me by many people. It is not often that people say “they might be as good as Tsunami’s” about anything, let alone the mussels, but that’s what they say. What I’m saying is that there is now room in my heart for another mussels dish. Totally different and totally awesome. It is doubtful that I’ll ever start a meal at Bari without these. Just sayin’.

Next up was the oriecchiette, which looked good enough on the menu for me to embarrass myself by mangling the pronunciation when I tried to order it. It came with some rapini, tomatoes, anchiovies, and garlic. This was really delicious. The tomatoes and the rapini were perfect and the rest just punched up the flavor.

These scallops were amazing, and the sauce that came with them was the absolute truth. The caramelized fennel and onions with sambuca was a serious combination. Was I using the bread to sop up all that sauce? You’re darn right I was.

Here’s the deal. All those people that told me to go to Bari and eat at Brad Pitts’ bar were right. It had it all, excellent food, attentive and friendly service, great recommendations on food and beverage, and a lively fun atmosphere. It was obvious that a bunch of the people at the bar with us were regulars, which is as good of a recommendation as I can give. So give it a shot, for reals.

Your Battleship Just Sunk My Spaceship

I definitely like to go to the movies. Always have, and I assume I always will. Basically I want to see all of the very good movies (critically acclaimed) and all of the awesomely bad, awesome movies (read summer blockbusters that will never win an award). I’ll leave it to you to figure out where Battleship falls. But if you can deny a movie with Riggins, Liam Neeson, and warships, that’s on you.

It was awesome.

-Thomas

You want to go to there:

Bari
22 S Cooper St
Memphis, TN 38104
(901) 722-2244
Bari on Urbanspoon

Swine to the Nines

The benefit of blogging about a meal that only happens once a year (and is a custom menu) is that I guess it isn’t a big deal if I forget to actually post the piece for a few months. Things like that are the collateral damage of having your local eat local blog writer also be your local lacrosse coach. I know you all want our fair city to have good lax, so I appreciate that you bear with me during the lulls of the spring.

Besides, we’ve all been hitting the gym to lose a few pounds to get ready for “Suns out, Guns out” weather, right? This post wasn’t going to help that, at all. But, since it is Barbecue Fest weekend, and I’ve got pork on the brain, what better time to get this out? So, with no further ado, here is a photo journey through Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen’s 2012 Swine and Wine Dinner.

First thing first, get inside and get a beverage to start off, then find your seat at the community tables. K and I were across from each other and in between two pretty fun groups. We had a bromantic man-date on one side, two married guys, whose wives watched the kids, so that they could come out to the Swine and Wine fest. Basically, they traded in a guys poker night or football game afternoon for a trip to Andrew Michael. By the end of this blog, you will realize that they chose wisely. On the other side we had a fun loving crew that involved a local chef, which was cool as he was able to explain a lot of the flavor combinations in detail, and I am now a major believer in micro-greens.

Let’s say you skipped that paragraph, the short version is that community seating allows people to meet each other and interact in a way that isn’t as prevalent in our world of linkedbooks and pintergramming. Try it, you might like it.

The menu laid out our seven course dinner and the wines that would be paired with them. Here we go.

One

First up was the boucherie plate. It was made of blood sausage, berese, mortedella, lardo, liverwurst, pork jerky, and homemade corn nuts. Here’s another view with the rest of the plate.

It doesn’t get much better than putting a sliver of lardo on a homemade pork rind. This course was served up with a nice cold PBR.

Two

Here we go, on to the second course. This pig ear was awesome, especially the thicker pieces, which hold a surprising amount of flavor. This dish included bomba calabrese, roasted peanuts, and a basil vinaigrette. One of the coolest parts of the dinner was that this wasn’t a bacon and pork chop kind of pork dinner, it was a showcase of all the different parts of the pig that can be used to make fantastic dishes. This was served with a arneis.

Three

On that topic, this was a pork skin canneloni, served with spinach soubise, ham brodo, brisket, and egg yolk. Like everything, this was awesome. This was one of the early highlights of the meal (remember, we aren’t halfway done yet). It was served with a pinot noir from the Willamette (“It’s Will-am-it, damnit”) Valley.

Four

Next up was a gargenlli with offal ragu and a Sardinian goat cheese fondu. Highlight of this course was when a guy a couple seats down asked the server what “offal” meant, followed quickly by him saying, “oh lord,” This was a rich course with the meat and cheese together. This came with a syrah.

Five

This was a crepinette, aka a small flat sausage, made of snout and heart, served with sauerkraut, lentils, and mustard seeds. It was kind of the most fancy reuben ever. It was awesome. This came with a rioja.

Six

This was it. This little slice of pork jowl changed everything. This was like the flavor that the fatty part of bacon has times one thousand. Every small bite was an explosion of flavor. It was just magical. This rested on a blood and beet risotto, which balanced the fatty flavor of the jowl, and had mushrooms and a rhubarb agrodolce. I was talking to Michael after dinner about this dish, and he said that people are nervous about ordering jowl when it is on the menu, and I’m here to tell you to just do it. You don’t need a lot of it, but you do need to get it sometime. Insane! They served this up with a chianti.

Seven

The last course was the ice cream cone. This wasn’t vanilla by any means. The cone was full of popcorn gelato topped with pig fat caramel and smoked sea salt. As you got further into the cone there was a chocolate blood torte, which was like the worlds richest peanut butter cup. This is one of K and I’s favorite desserts ever. A variation of this was on the menu when I went for dinner a few weeks ago, so I’d strongly advise you to try it out. It was served with a chianti as well.

Whoa

As you can see from the pictures, the annual Swine and Wine dinner is not to be missed. It is an awesome venue for Andy and Michael to show of their creativity and the care with which they use the entire pig. They really put a lot of heart into what they do, and this dinner is a great example of that. I guarantee I’ll be there in 2013. See ya there!

-Thomas

You want to go to there:

Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen
712 W Brookhaven Circle
Memphis, TN 38117
(901) 347-3569
Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen  on Urbanspoon

No Menu? No Problem! Andrew Michael Edition

First a Flash-Forward

What you see above is the menu at Andrew Michael that we received after finishing our dinner. “What” you say? That’s right, on No-Menu Monday, you don’t get to see the menu until after the dinner. Why would anyone do that? Why would a consumer give up their choice to come get a surprise meal? I was discussing this with my friends at the table, and I said that I loved that we were all eating the same meal, just like I do when I eat at my mom’s house, and I love that every bite of what we had was what the chefs had chosen to cook.

As dinner wound down, both Andy and Michael came out to say chat with all of the guests, and when I was talking to Michael, I explained how much I enjoyed the experience of not having a menu. He described going to Italy with Andy and how some of the best food came from small places. They would go in, someone would put a bottle of red and a bottle of white on the table, and they’d start bringing food out from the kitchen until the guys said “no more.” That’s where they go the idea for their no-menu night, which happens once per month, and it has proven to be a big hit. Check out the 5 reasons that it was with me.

Fried Clams

They got us started with a fried clam amuse bouche, which is a fancy way of saying a bite-sized hors d’œuvre, which is a fancy way of saying a small snack. My description will prove how un-fancy I am when it comes to discussing food, but it was like a tiny clam hushpuppy with tarter sauce. It was delicious. We would have been happy with a big bowl of these. This was a great way to get started with a tiny bite that gave us something to talk about over our beverages.

Dan Quail

Next up we had a delicious quail dish.

This was awesome and full of flavor and was the consensus favorite of the night. This was served up with baby fennel, satsuma, radish, and roasted garlic. Get this. Both chefs said that this might make the new menu.

Duck, Duck, Agnolotti

It wouldn’t be a trip to Andrew Michael without a pasta dish, and this dinner was no exception.

This agnolotti, which seemed suspiciously like a ravioli, was right up there with the quail for me. It was put together with chestnut sugo (which is a traditional sauce) and brown butter pana grata was full of duck. It had a little bit of cheese and some crispy breadcrumbs (probably something fancier than breadcrumbs!) on it, which gave it a rich flavor and an awesome contrast of textures. Excellent! I’d order this as my pasta dish in a heartbeat.

Is that a noodle?

What’s the most fun part of eating a no-menu meal? Trying to guess what exactly you are eating! We had a long conversation about the next dish, and by the end of the course we had a decent idea of what was going on.

So, initially that looked like some sort of scallop related seafood (by the way it seared) wrapped around some sausage. Then, we couldn’t decide what kind of seafood actually comes in a case like that, so we wondered if it was a noodle. As we took our first bites, it became pretty clear that it was a seafood wrapped sausage. Read that last bit again and take it all in.

This was squid that had been stuffed with burning river sausage (props to the Hard Corps Foodie for making the sausage), and it was served with lentils, celery root, and brussels sprouts. It was definitely intriguing, spicy, and good. In order to put this together, the guys had to sous vide it in a hot water bath for over 4 hours, then they seared it up before serving. When you think about what has to happen to have perfectly cooked sausage inside a perfectly cooked piece of squid, you can see that these guys are creative!

Deserted

Last dish was, of course, a desert. Who doesn’t like a desert served in a little mason jar?

Here we have a salt caramel budino (which is something like a pudding or peau de creme). This came with a cinnamon pecan biscotti and some apple preserves. I was a big fan, as the other diners could tell by the way I was eating K’s after she had enough. Busted.

Liquid Desert

Two of my friends got the win pairing that came with the dinner, and the dessert wine was actually a cocktail that was too photogenic to pass up.

This sweet, dessert cocktail was made of Buffalo Trace bourbon, apple, cinnamon, and pomegranate. Call it the Old Memphis, because that’s what they call it.

Feast of the 7 Fishes

I’ll let you know that I was so impressed with the no-menu evening, that I made reservations for the next one on the way out of the restaurant. I then called my brother up and told him to make sure he got in town by the 19th, so that he could join my group.

I talked with Michael Hudman for a while after dinner (side note – I love restaurants where the chefs are people that know their customers and come talk to them). He is a great to talk to because this guy is genuinely excited about what they are doing, you can just tell by his voice that he is passionate about the food and about making their restaurant a great one. As if we couldn’t tell that from the quality of the food and the service already! Well, anyway, Michael told us that they did a no-menu event last year based around the Italian event of the Feast of the Seven Fishes, and it was a HUGE hit, so they are bringing it back. Expect five courses and seven fishes and all kinds of awesome. See you there! (Really, I have reservations for 6 people at 7:30, so come say hello).

-Thomas

 

You want to go to there:

Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen
712 West Brookhaven Circle
Memphis, TN 38117-4504
(901) 347-3569
Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen  on Urbanspoon

Andrew Michael – Italian Stallions

K and I went out for a little date at one of Memphis’ newer awesome restaurants, Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen (really, check out their awesome website).  Michael Hudman, the Michael of the name, is a friend of mine going back to our battles on the lacrosse field first as opponents at MUS and CBHS then as teammates on the Flying Elvis club team.  The guy is a great ball player, but he takes his game to the next level in the kitchen.  Between him and Andrew, they may be the true Italian Stallions.

He's a piece of iron

B for D

You go out to dinner, look at the starters expecting to find a series of salads and little dishes, and then something catches your eye.  You rub your eyes once to make sure that you aren’t seeing things, and then you realize that someone did just do that.  A breakfast item on the dinner menu.

AM Breakfast, look at that pork belly

How many times did I want breakfast for dinner at my house growing up? Let’s just say that if I wasn’t good at math, I wouldn’t be able to count that high.  Not only did Andrew Michael throw a breakfast item on the menu, they took it up a notch and made it an awesome one.  Polenta, a perfectly poached egg, a great slice of crispy pork belly, and some homemade pork rinds.  This was awesome, and while bacon is constantly gaining in popularity, it is the pork belly that should be soaking up some of the attention.  While bacon is getting the press like LeBron James’ pending free agency, pork belly is stepping it up and scoring 30 in the NBA Finals like Kobe.  Pay your respects and remember that (championship) rings do matter.

Use it or lose it

While we were working on the breakfast dish, a server came out and asked if I was eat local memphis’ secret identity, and he told us that Michael had sent something special from the kitchen.  The next thing he said was an explanation that the guys like to use all of the food they get, not just the common parts.  Out came two big pieces of halibut spine cooked with lemon and rosemary.  The meat on the spine is some of the most tender from the whole fish, and the marrow from the bone really holds a lot of flavor!

Eating the meat from the spine was a visceral experience in which we alternated digging meat out with our fingers or attacking the bone with a corn on the cob technique.  Either way, it was a way to connect with the food in a different way, and it really showed the knowledge and versatility of the guys in the kitchen. To be honest, it was fun to get in there and get a little scrappy, while eating at such a nice restaurant!

Halibut Spine

The story on the spine is that in the old days, the wealthy in Italy would buy the fish from the fishermen, then they would take the choice cuts and have their cooks season the spines and pass them out to the poor families.  The spines could be eaten or used to make a great stew or broth.  The meat wasn’t the most convenient to eat, but it was some of the most flavorful, tender fish that I’ve ever had.

On the razor’s edge

Next up (really, there are a lot of nexts, so you might want to get comfortable), was the special appetizer of the night.  Razor clam.  I didn’t know what that was, but I knew that it sounded extreme, and that was alright with me.  They took the clam out of the shell, chopped it up, and served it with almost a fruit salsa, there was peach, mint, some watermelon, some greens, and some other exciting things.

Paragraph break for emphasis – This was incredible.  Everything in here was so fresh, and so full of flavor.  The sweet and the salty went well together, it all just worked.  Little things like this show the genius behind chefs. They build a food vocabulary and can put complex ideas together that often seem to be a random collection of tastes, but which really are all selected to be complimentary of each other and to highlight the main ingredient.

Razor Clam

Pass the pasta

I used the Eat Local Facebook (here) page to do a little research before I headed over there, so I knew that I was going to have to try a lot of different items.  Fortunately, the pastas are served in appetizer and entree servings, so K and I were able to share a couple of small portions! A couple people from the Facebook went out of the way to recommend the gnocchi.  It came with a Gorgonzola cream and was topped with arugula.  It was a grown-up version of the mac n cheese that was a part of everyone’s childhood. The pasta would melt in your mouth. It was a major treat.

Gnocchi

I appreciate anything that is named after a cooks grandmother (see Muddy’s Bake Shop).  Naturally I had to get the Maw Maw’s Ravioli, as it is a family recipe that is totally nailed.  Recently I went out to talk to a group about local food, and I met a local chef that knows the guys at Andrew Michael.  All he could saw was that these guys took great family recipes, learned to cook at the highest level, and consistently nail the preparation.  So in each meal, you get tradition + technique in a major way.  The ravioli was great with a great meat sauce.  This would be good as a full dinner or in the appetizer size that we shared.  Thanks Maw Maw!!

Maw Maw's Ravioli

Veal or no deal

Ok, so as I have written this, I am starting to realize that I definitely ordered a lot!  That didn’t stop me from ordering up the Veal Chop with asparagus risotto and peperonata.  The veal was perfectly cooked, so tender and flavorful, and the risotto was a great light compliment.  The server really mentioned that the guys like to let the flavors of the meats really shine, and with the cooking, seasoning, and the right side dish, they accomplished that one right on the money.

Veal chop

Cake K didn’t make

To finish up the meal, we ordered a coffee and an espresso and spent a few minutes going over the dessert menu.  Choosing between the chocolate cake and the zepolle was a difficult one, but we went with what we know, and that is chocolate cake.

Chocolate Cake

Every now and then, it is fun for K and I to see how other people put together the things that she works with every day.  This chocolate cake was a short slice that looked like it was cooked in a pan.  It had a crisp crust on the top and bottom, and a hot center.  It came with rhubarb, vanilla ice cream and a caramel sauce.  It was just the right amount to top of an amazing night of dinner.

Follow that pig to AM

Viva la Italia! Viva la Andrew Michael

That is probably terrible Italian, but whatever, I’m a single lingual, and that is the best I’m going to manage.  What I will tell you in English is that you should make a reservation and get over to Andrew Michael for dinner as soon as possible.  They can really cook, and the atmosphere is a great one to go on a date or have a little family get together.  I can’t say enough about what they are accomplishing over on Brookhaven, so I’ll leave it up to you. See you there!

-Thomas

PS. Thanks to everyone that gave me recommendations here! I’ll have to go back until I try them all.