Tuesday, October 27, 2009

VeganMoFo 27: Put on Your Fancy Pants!

A few weeks back, I fell upon great Foodie Fortune. I was up in San Francisco for a yoga conference, and asked my dear friend JJTWH if I could stay with her one night. Well... as luck would have it, that very night ends up being the very night she is invited to a super wonderful 5-course meal, and I am allowed to tag along as her date! More amazing: VEGAN OPTION!

So, we headed off to the legendary Ferry Building for an evening of beauty, delicious food, and great company... the annual benefit dinner called "Sunday Supper" for the "Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture." We were very lucky to be invitees of JJTWH's friend and boss, who is on the board of CUESA. She is such a neat person, and I got to meet her friends and family who were also great.

Before dinner, there was a Drinks & Appetizers segment in the main section of the Ferry Building. The shops were closed, but there were tables lining the hall - each with a different chef offering a different appetizer or cocktail. It was fun!

You know, realistically, as a vegan, I went into this with heavily moderated expectations. JJTWH isn't vegan, but she is vegetarian... so we were on the look out for the veggie options. Truth be told, most of the appetizers were seriously Not Vegan. The all-time Not Vegan offering was "Country Pork Pate with Marrow Toasts, Blood Mousse and Quince" - uuuuhhhmm, NO THANKS. Anyhow, you can see how excited we were when we finally found our first veggie appetizer.

Here's a dark close-up - it doesn't look great, but it was very tasty. It was a toasty slice with sauteed kale and onions and peppers and tomatoes... with some white beans. But somehow, tasted like much more than the simple sum of its parts.

In the end, we found a good number of special veggie options in the appetizer zone. I wish I'd written down the lovely description of this one - it was served with a piece of fish on top, but without the fish, it was vegan. It was an assortment of Spanish Grilled Vegetables with some sort of amazing sauce, and fresh herbs. So good. It was one of my favorite flavors of the evening.

Next up, Warm Olive Bread with Caramelized Early Girl Tomatoes & Opal Basil (without optional goat cheese). GOOD. Man, those tomatoes were heavenly. I haven't really stopped thinking about them. They let me snag a few extras out of that dish in the background too... for extra snacking. Mmmm...

Well, this little oddball tasty, with the simple name "Tomato Consomme" was one of the stars of the night. It was A.M.A.Z.I.N.G! That clear liquid was a super tomatoey hit, with a ball of avocado in it... and you were meant to drink it like a shot of liquor. I wish I were more fancy with my food vocabulary, because I can't describe this cool thing well enough to do it justice. Yummy and unexpected and clear and unforgettable! That's the best I can do.

One last vegan appetizer: Smoked Heirloom Tomato Soup, Rosa Blanca Eggplant Mousseline, and Miner's Lettuce. Very smooth and lovely! We were especially surprised by the miner's lettuce, which was a great component.

After appetizers, we headed upstairs to the dinner tables. The dining area was SO beautiful - with rows of tables and candles and olive branches for decor, and sparkly lights and shimmering glasses. In total, I think there were 8 rows of about 4-5 tables. Each bank of tables was served an entirely different menu! But all were based on local, seasonal ingredients, by local chefs.

As part of the evening, there were also some words from local farmers and chefs and there was a live auction after dinner with some great prizes - and the host/M.C. for the evening was none other than Bryant Terry of "Vegan Soul Kitchen" fame! This event was just about a week after I had blogged about my unfortunate lack of success with his pickled watermelon rind recipe, and he and I had exchanged some friendly messages after that. So, after dinner, JJTWH & I went over and I introduced myself as "the one who just blogged about your pickles!" He was very friendly and fun to talk with. He's hard at work on more vegan cookbooks, and I am looking forward checking them out. (Despite the pickle episode, VSK is a great cookbook). By the way, I suspect Mr. Bryant Terry is the reason why there was a vegan option for the evening!

The table settings were just beautiful, and the bread was delicious. That is very important, because I love bread.

The first course was "Heirloom Organic Beets, Wild Arugula, and Lacquered Walnuts." The salad was served family style and there were also little balls of goat cheese on the salad plate, but they were easily avoided in a way that felt vegan-friendly. I did the best I could with these dark, romantic lighting conditions, but believe me when I say that these beets were super delicious.

Second course was "Harvest Vegetables & Warm Tomato Vinaigrette." I don't think that name really captures the variety of flavors and textures in this warm-fresh, crisp-soft salad. It was so delicious. The curls were curls of veggies, maybe they were just lightly steamed? They were crisp but not raw, and so good.

For my main course, I was served a GINORMOUS wedge of sweet glazed & roasted winter squash with a totally amazing preserved cherry sauce and roasted pumpkin seeds... alongside some fresh greens. I wish I knew more, because it was so freaky good. I swear, that piece of squash was about 9 inches long.

The fourth course, was a cheese course. There was no vegan option. On the cheese plate were a bunch of nuts and dried fruits... but I decided to save myself for dessert... plus the cheese plate contamination factor (for lack of a more delicate term) seemed high.

I wish I could tell you more about this dessert, but I never got much info on it. It was a combo of plums and other fall fruits cooked (poached?) in some flavorful juice/syrup. With a few nuts sprinkled on top for crunch and balance with the soft, sweet fruit. The fruits and nuts together were very nice. As you can see, there was also a fascinating and beautiful little candied item on a skewer. I couldn't figure out what it was, until I bit into it and discovered a cherry tomato! Odd and fun. Lastly, there is that mysterious white powder down the center of the plate. I don't know what it was but it had a very distinctive Pine flavor. My best guess is that it was pulverized pine sap. Or maybe pulverized pine sap mixed with some other neutral powdering agent. !? In all honesty, it was slightly more fascinating than delicious, but suffice it to say that my dinner plate was mostly empty by the end... save for the majority of my mystery white powder. A little bit of that stuff went a long way!

All in all, it was a wonderful evening together with my great friend. I often hear about fancy foodie events, and as a vegan I usually have the sense that there won't be much there for me to enjoy. It was really exciting to be able to really participate in the flavors and taste sensations of this fancy evening! :)


  1. Wow, that looks amazing. Especially the cherry tomato-on-a-skewer-dessert! The piney powder intrigues me!

    Glad you had such a great opportunity! I'm going to borrow Vegan Soul Kitchen from my library today!

  2. What's really cool about the vegan option at this dinner is it didn't involve trying to create meat substitutes. (Not that I'm always opposed to meat substitutes.) It capitalized on the wonderful tastes of real food. What a great experience!

  3. Fancy dinner indeed! Everything looks delicious! Lucky you! :-)

  4. pulverized pine sap? hmmm... i want to hear more about that consommé! how intriguing.

  5. What an amazing looking, fancy dinner! Lucky you. I'm particularly intrigued by the tomato consomme, how is that even possible?!


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