Last night, my husband Bob and I, along with two friends, attended an awesome Top Chef dinner at Tribeca Grill. If you’re not familiar with the show, Top Chef was a reality TV series from the makers of Project Runway that aired on Bravo a few months ago. It’s similar to Hell’s Kitchen, except that the premise is more civilized and the contestants actually had talent.
The menu for the night was prepared by winner Harold Dieterle (shown in photo above), and finalists Stephen Asprinio and Lee Anne Wong. As we walked up the steps to the banquet room, I heard a familiar voice greeting the guests. Sure enough, it was that of contestant Miguel Morales, who agreeably posed for pictures with us.
When we entered the room, we were served an irresistable array on canapés–from delectable chicken, scallop and pork dumplings, to oysters, to a foie gras with apples on ham, to a kampachi with cucumber soba, all of which were prepared by Chef Lee Anne. As we waited on line for Stephen’s passion fruit mojitos and guava margaritas, we met another contestant, Andrea (the natural foods chef). With all the excellent cocktails, canapés, and reality TV celebrities abuzz, the $95 price of admission already seemed to pay for itself.
After a bit of schmoozing with Andrea, Miguel, Harold and Stephen (Harold and Lee Anne were less visible initially, busily preparing in the back), we were all seated at round tables, wedding style. Miguel asked to join our table and then sat next to me! He was a lively character, true to his portrayal on TV, and discussed his experiences on the show and quasi-celebrity life after reality TV with us. During the meal, he called Dave, another finalist. He got his voicemail, but we all left him a greeting.
Restaurant owner Drew Nieporent then introduced the event as “the dinner by the Top Chefs who actually got along with each other,” and challenged the guests to guess who devised each dish, Stephen or Harold. The first dish was a shrimp cocktail with lemon verbena vinaigrette, paired with a delightful and dry white wine, a Ruggeri Prosecco. Most of us at the table guess this was Stephen’s dish (it was actually Harold’s). The next course was a tuna nicoise paired with a New Zealand wine with gooseberry undertones (Stephen’s). The third course was a poached duck a l’orange, served with a spoon serving of tangerine-ponzu, paired with a French rose, domaine Audoin Marsannay Rose. I’m not a fan of the gamey taste of duck, but I loved the mildness of the duck from the slow poaching. Stephen’s mother came up and and emphatically identified this as her son’s dish; it turned out mother knew best.
The three glasses of wine and cocktails had kicked in by now and I excused myself (and nearly stumbled) for the ladies room, which was apparently occupied by some of Stephen’s entourage–his website designer, aunt and grandmother, too!
By the time I returned from my break, we were ready for the main dish–a grilled lamb au poivre with sunchoke-creamed spinach and red shallot puree. “Sunchokes” were a dead giveaway that was Harold’s dish. In the finale, judges raved about Harold’s inventive use of sunchokes in his steak dish. As a final special touch, we were served a Canadian Riesling Icewine, which is quite difficult to obtain here in the States. This complemented our 5th and 6th courses of a trio of cheeses and saffron creme brulee with rainier cherry compote, respectively. The icewine was chill, and had a sweet, almost syrup-like muscat flavor, and was extremely well received at our table.
We ended the meal intoxicated and satisfied. I managed to get a few signatures and some more photos. Even Lee Anne hung out a bit at the end. A truly memorable meal; we can’t wait to taste the fruit of the labor of next season’s Top Chef finalists.
Update: Harold is opening a restaurant in NYC called “Perilla” (opening date TBD). Lee Anne currently teaches at the French Culinary Institute in New York. Stephen is scheduled to open his restaurant in Southern California in 2007. Miguel is a chef at the Mandarin Oriental in New York.