Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Illumineati Dining Society: Dinner #2, Bleu Acier

“Accept what life offers you and try to drink from every cup. All wines should be tasted; some should only be sipped, but with others, drink the whole bottle.” ― Paulo Coelho, Brida

The secretive Illumineati dinner number two was finally upon us- and we clasped our hands in delight not knowing what, where or who we were to dine with yet again!  You can check out my earlier blog post here about the first dinner where we were first treated to this mystical and delicious experience earlier this fall. The suspense for tonight's dinner was joyfully rewarded.   We were to be whisked to another terre to enjoy a collaboration of southern and french  and art and wine- and of course it all paired incredibly well!  The new and old friendships flowed as easily as du vin.

As we gathered for this secret yet unforgettable meal in a setting truly unique on its own, the word terrior caught my ear as we discussed wines, great foods and regions of France. Terrior : (French from terre, "land") is the 'essence of a place'... a set of special characteristics that the geography, geology and climate of a certain place, interacting with plant genetics, express in agricultural products such as wine, coffee, chocolate, hops, tomatoes, heritage wheat, and tea. You certainly got a real sense of the terrior of our dining venue -which was both someones home, work studio, art gallery and a one-of-a-kind setting for our meal.  The essence of this place was comfortable and lived in yet you could almost hear the grind of a welding machine, the plank of the press or the satisfied stretch after completing a true work of art.

Bleu Acier is owned by Erika Schneider and Dominique Labauvie who exhibit works of all disciplines.  Their collaborative and contract studio supports many printmaking techniques as Erika is a Master Printer including: Intaglio, Photogravure, Lithography, Photolithography, Relief and Monotype.   Dominique is a fascintating metal sculptor, known for his lyrical interpretations and their related prints which adorn their work and home spaces.  They aptly named their studio Bleu Acier which is French for blue steel - the transformational moment when intense heat turns metal blue.

Our fantastic dinner was prepared that evening by Price Evans, an accomplished Tampa Chef who has worked with the astute team at Sidebern's (soon to be Haven winebar) and Elevage at the Epicurean Hotel.  Price and his team were a show to behold working efficiently and patiently plating each of the nine courses with adept hands and a careful eye.

Our Illumineati hosts were again Jimmy Breen and Johnny Ciani who greeted everyone warmly as we first gathered on the back art studio patio to start the festivities.

We then toured the expansive art studio and work spaces where Erika and Dominique demonstrated the beautiful presses they brought over from France-- you could tell that these massive machines take much time and love poured into them as they created the beautiful wood inlaid menu sleeves for tonight's dinner- each one unique, numbered and signed by the in house artists.

The menu itself was also a piece of art with the magical Illumineati logo again done by graphic artist and co-host Jimmy Breen.

We were to enjoy a vast array of French wines to accompany the dishes as well thanks to our very passionate wine sommelier.

But first,  the evening began with a specialty cocktail - their spin off of the delicious French 75.  

It was divine, truly something you could go back for seconds or thirds-and-before-you-knew-it you were transported to a park bench on the banks of the Seine listening to Parisian music and watching the twinkling Eiffel lights........ but I digress.... and the food awaits us......

Southern Duo:  An oyster po boy with remoulade, arugula, country ham with iron skillet, cornbread, pepper jam
Peanut dusted trout with smoked peach and wilted cabbage
Take a closer look next to that trout - and you will gaze upon deconstructed peanuts- I kid you not folks- this was heavenly!
Slow cooked hen egg with matsutake mushrooms, creamy grits and pork ragu

Paneed quail with creole mustard, green tomatoes, tasso and fettuccine
Bourbon laquer foie gras, pork belly, applewood smoked bacon, brioche and aged balsalmic
Roasted prawn etouffee - (incredibly huge) Galveston prawns and dirty rice
Smoked jerk short rib with Beecher's cheddar potato au gratin, bitter greens and plantain chip
Photo by Jimmy Breen of
But wait - there were still two courses left!!!!  Countless hours later we were to arrive at our cheese pairing.... buttermilk bleu, Abbaye de Belloc, fig jelly and sour cherry compote
Photo by Jimmy Breen of
Followed by a beautiful farmer's cheese pie with lemon curd, cornmeal crust and blueberry and thyme ice cream!
Photo by Jimmy Breen of
And still, before the clock could strike midnight - one of our generous fellow guests brought with him a treat beyond all hope in the spirit of the holidays....
A gorgeous 1983 Sauternes to share one and all!  Many thanks for this beautiful glass of gold!

It twas a beautiful evening that held the exceptional essence of a place to treasure...

The terrior of delicious art  
       - both on the walls and on our plates!
Photo by Noah Blaustein of the Southern Gun in the midst of the Bleu Acier Studios.