A few months ago Heshy Fried, Yitzchok Bernstein’s sous chef and frum-satire blogger, was at the house for a shabbos dinner and he said that Yitzchok Bernstein, was back on the scene. Bernstein is the culinary mastermind behind the epic haute cuisine event that lasted some 27 courses, and which was one of the most often read posts on my blog, in the past year. Bernstein was lurking in NY for a few months – but he returned to Oakland after a short, yet successful, stint at Pomegranate.
So, when I heard that Mr. Bernstein was back – we agreed that a dinner was in order. Fried was not sure what the actual cost of a multi-course dinner was, but after a few back and forth discussions with Bernstein we were set. Well, while the dinner was set, the next two hurdles were a bit complicated; finding and arranging with 10 other participants and then locking down a date. Throughout the process, Bernstein was as professional as they come, and responded almost immediately to our correspondences. Getting the final gang together had a few missteps along the way, but while the overall process was a bit long to arrange on my end, the final outcome was an absolute delight, but more on that in a bit.
Once the gang was roughly worked out, we agreed that the date was not going to work until after Passover. So once that was decided the next step was agreeing on a final date – which took a few emails. After that we were set and then came the fun part, deciding the food and wine menu. The dinner does not include wines, which is fine with me as I am picky about my wines, but wow were the dishes impressive! Initially, there was some interest in lamb, but in the end that did not work out, as I am not that in love with lamb. In the end the set of dishes were truly innovative and fascinating and unique – so I am happy we passed on the lamb for the dishes we got instead.
I laughed so hard throughout the process because initially, the number of courses was set at 12 or so, which was 100% fine. However, throughout the process of setting the menu Mr. Bernstein kept adding courses – it was HILARIOUS, I could not help from laughing whenever I would read the revised menu. It turns out that we were very lucky, Bernstein was trying out some new recipes and we were the beneficiaries of some wicked cool imaginative dishes. To be fair, some worked really well, some were awesome, and some were just 100% off the charts. Read the rest of this entry
On Sunday night we were blessed to be part of an extremely exclusive 27-course meal, well more like 30 or so – if you count the decadent small dishes after dessert, but who is really counting. The event was put on by the dynamic duo of Chef Yitzchok Bernstein and Brobdingnagian Wine maker Jonathan Hajdu. The event was a fundraiser for Beth Jacob, Oakland’s Orthodox Synagogue – and what an event it was!
When I have tried to explain the event, attempt to verbalize the magnitude of the effort, and the uniqueness of it all, I have so far failed, till now I hope, to transport the listener, or reader, to the mind-blowing state of conscious that we were all leaving within for 6 or so hours – this past Sunday night. The meal was a, 27 or so course, of mind-blowing culinary talent – coming to life in front of us lucky few. Each dish was hand plated with such exacting detail, that not only did each plate fill us gastronomically, but also the visual sumptuousness of each and every plate truly was equally a feast for one’s senses. The funny thing was that the meal started at 24 courses, as I had an early preview of the menu. However, by the time we lived it, it had grown to 27 and could have been 30, if the participants could have kept up with Bernstein. I was more than happy to taste the other two or so courses, but I did not call it a 30 course meal, as they were not formally served to the participants.
The second we entered the home of the host and hostess we knew we were in for a real treat. The house is a lovely sprawling ranch style home, remodeled to as close as possible to the mid-century modernism style of some 60 years ago, while all the while bringing the current century’s modern touches to life in a truly non-obtrusive manner – a real success in my humble opinion. If the home is an extension of the owners, than the simplest way to summarize the hosts is, sleek, modern, highly functional, with an ode to the past and arms open as wide as the glass sliding doors that truly define minimalist architecture and the MCM movement. The openness and warmth that are exuded by the home’s colors and textures truly reflect the host and hostess, and all of us were constantly in awe of their ability to deftly steer the epic culinary adventure to the success that it was. While the event may have stretched a bit longer than some were ready for, as most needed to go to work the next day, the intimate setting and cosmopolitan mix of people truly added to the entire evening.
With the well-deserved forward now handled, it is only fair to throw the light unto the culinary genius of the evening – Chef Yitzchok Bernstein. Mr. Bernstein is mostly self-taught, but has also received formal training in Bread Baking at French Culinary Institute. He also studied pastry and advanced bread baking at SFBI. (san francisco bakers institute), and has been working in and around restaurants, since the age of 14. Food is a truly passionate thing to Mr. Bernstein; you can see his persona expressed clearly in his food and in his open and warm demeanor. Throughout the evening the dishes were harmonious, balanced, tempered, but never losing focus and always packing more than enough bite, texture, and complexity to grab and keep your attention, until magically there was yet another unending course to partake from. Each course built on the past one, adding layers and nuances that were not lost to the foodies that ensconced the close-knit twin table setting.
The other resident genius at the event was Jonathan Hajdu (firstname.lastname@example.org), the associate wine maker at Covenant Winery, and is also the wine maker for wines from the Brobdingnagian and Besomim wine labels. The Brobdingnagian/Besomim winery is located in Napa CA. Hajdu wines was started in 2007, by owner and winemaker Jonathan Hajdu. Hajdu produces small lot artisan wines, with a focus on Rhone varietals under the Brobdignagian, and Besomim labels, though the newer wines are veering all over to where Hajdu can find the highest quality grapes. The Brobdignagian name is derived from Jonathan Swift’s giants, in Gulliver’s Travels, and attests to the winemakers’ proclivity towards intense and powerfully flavored wines. Wine produced under the Besomim label, is a blend of varietals with a focus on complex aromatics. These limited production wines are available directly from the winery. Read the rest of this entry
Rosh Hashanah lunch, Herb encrusted gefilte fish loaf, Rosemary and Sage Infused Encrusted Rib Roast, vegetable kugel, and many wines
Rosh Hashanah day was a bit more wine focused than the previous evening. We invited a bunch of friends over and they brought some wonderful wines for us to enjoy. The first one being the 2008 Brobdingnagian Besomim Wine from Jonathan Hajdu, the associate wine maker at Covenant Wines. The other wine was the 2007 Hagafen Cuvee de Noirs, which I had been craving and was a wonderful surprise and delight to enjoy! We also opened a bottle of 2007 Galil Mountain Winery Shiraz Cabernet, which is another bottle that I truly enjoyed. The wines were all killer and really enjoyable. Now on to the menu and my normal format, we will get back to the wines later.
The meal started with the same starter course as we had the previous night, our reliable Herb encrusted gefilte fish loaf and green and black olives, and hummus. The reason I really like this recipe is because while normal gefilte fish recipes tastes like bland boiled white fish, this recipe tastes like herb-encrusted fish that is lightly charred with the herb and spice flavors permeated through and through the fleshy texture – quite a treat. The main course consisted of one of my favorite cuts of meat – rib roast. This was not a standing rib roast, as it was already deboned. The only way to cook this meat is covered slow and low and then blast it with a 400 degree oven to char the outside. This is the recipe of the generation X master of cooking science; Alton Brown, who I believe took much of what he learned in culinary school and Harold McGee and made it simple and palatable to generation X. The roast came out really nicely; it was NOT over or under cooked. However, the issue was that we served it lukewarm instead of piping hot. It is difficult on Yom Tov to both warm up a chunk of meat and not over cook it while trying to serve it piping hot. At least the rest of the meal was warm, including the Sage and Rosemary Jus. Along with the rib roast we had a repeat performance of brown rice, vegetable kugel, and fresh vegetable salad. The guests did serious damage to the rib roast, so I think it worked out well. We bought two chunks of rib roast, one 7+ pounds and the other one being 5+ pounds. The 7+ beast was consumed on Rosh Hashanah lunch, while the other chunk was served to family, when we all gathered for Succot (more on that is a subsequent post).
To pair with the lovely side of cow, we opened two bottles of wine, the two a fore mentioned; 2008 Brobdingnagian Besomim Wine and 2007 Galil Mountain Winery Shiraz Cabernet. The Brobdingnagian Besomim is a field blend of Zinfandel, Grenache, Petite Sirah, and Carignan. The grapes are sourced from the Chabad Rabbi’s small vineyard that he planted on his property in the Napa/Sonoma area. Jonathan then made the wine and it is truly a wine for drinking with food, this is no sipping wine. The wine is crazy rich with spice, which is the obvious derivative for its name (Besomim means spice in Hebrew). The wine easily handled the richly fat and herbed rib roast and the side dishes. We also enjoyed a bottle of 2007 Galil Mountain Winery Shiraz Cabernet. Originally, Daniel Rogov had given the wine a poor score, and I wanted to try it anyway, and I am happy I did. In a later tasting, before his untimely passing, he tasted the wine again, and scored it much in line with my notes and score.
The wine notes follow below in the order enjoyed:
2007 Hagafen Cuvee de Noirs – USA, California, Napa Valley, Yountville – Score: A-
The nose on this lovely burnt peach colored wine was lively with effervescent small bubbles, along with pear, orange, brioche, light toast, yeast, mango, apricot, peach, strawberry, and chocolate. The mouth on this medium bodied wine attacks first with a lovely mousse of small bubbles, followed by strawberry, peach, apple, orange, and pear. The mid palate is lovely and balanced with lively acidity, brioche, yeast, oak, and mango. The finish is super long, concentrated, and spicy with strawberry, lovely mousse, brioche, more chocolate, yeast, mango, peach, light oak, orange, and tea. This is a lovely sparkling wine that really needs time in the fridge and one that is a lovely now and will continue to be lovely for at least a few more years to come.
2008 Brobdingnagian Wines Besomim – USA, California, Sonoma County – Score: A-
This is a wine that truly lives up to its name. Besomim is Hebrew for a potent spice mix that is used as part of a post Sabbath havdalah (or separation) ceremony. The grapes used in this blend come from a field blend of Zinfandel, Syrah and Petite Sirah. The nose on this dark garnet to black colored wine is screaming with spices, nutmeg, black pepper, cloves, along with mint, tobacco, chocolate, a hint of tar, high alcohol to start, cedar, raspberry, plum, black fruit, herbs, and vanilla. The nose is assaulted by all of these aromas in quick succession, so I am sure I missed some. The mouth on this medium to full bodied wine is hopping and super concentrated with dark cherry, plum, blackberry, nutmeg, cloves, spices, mint, and chocolate. The mid palate is balanced with nice acidity, chocolate, mint, tobacco, and cedar. The finish is super long and spicy, with rich spices, toasty almost spicy cedar, tobacco, chocolate, tar, black pepper, cloves, blackberry, herbs, and vanilla. This is a wine that is best enjoyed with heavy foods, this wine is far to spice infused to be enjoyed as a sipping wine.
2007 Galil Mountain Winery Shiraz Cabernet kosher – Israel, Galilee – Score: B++ to A-
The nose on this purple to black colored wine is an alchemy of the two fruits used, tobacco, rich chocolate, tar, strong alcohol to start, black pepper, dirt, sweet cedar, smoky notes, raspberry, blackberry, plum, and vanilla. The mouth on this medium to full bodied wine starts off very hot, but over time cools off to show both sides of this blend, the syrah shows first with a strong presence of black pepper, coffee, blackberry, and tar, over time the syrah gives way to the Cabernet with rich blackberry, plum, sweet cedar and chocolate. The Cabernet side of this wine almost 100% reminded me of the Alexander Winery Cabernet with its sweet cedar, plum, and blackberry combination. The mid palate is balanced with rich acid, sweet cedar, black pepper, tar, chocolate, tobacco, licorice, dirt, plum, raspberry, and a nice dollop of vanilla on top. This wine pack a punch with its heat, but once that dies down, the wine has two sides that are both lovely apart or combined, and linger nicely with rich ripe plum tobacco, chocolate, a hint of tar, and vanilla.