I would follow Hitchcock owner/Executive Chef Chef Brendan McGill and his 8-course Spanish-themed meal pretty much anywhere. Throw in some adult beverages from Finnriver and I would pick last Thursday’s event at The Velvet Underground Dining Experience (VUDE) over an unlimited pass to swim in a pool of Valrhona chocolate (which, by the way, has always been one of my fantasies).
There are no walls separating the front of the house from the kitchen so I use it as an opportunity to poke around and then scurry back to my table just as the next course is being served.
Highlights? There are too many to list, but I will try anyway:
1) Chef Brendan McGill’s posse: Cooking an elaborate eight course meal for 30 people means you need your entourage or at least a subset of your posse. McGill came prepared with his cohorts, Manuel Alfau and Tiffany Ran, who each have talents of their own. Alfau is in the midst of opening up his own food haven, La Bodega, a Dominican sandwich shop in Pioneer Square. In addition to cooking with Chef McGill, Ran is also a food writer and editor.
You can tell these three go way back as they bust their butts with intense focus and deliberation, while cracking jokes the way good pals do when they are at a bar.
2) Watching the evolution of the first course: When I make mussels, it is a pretty simple process of boiling them and serving them in a butter & white wine broth. Not so for these guys.
3) Hearing talk about each course and the story behind the food: The sour green grape garnish from the mussels dish originated from the new farm McGill just launched under two weeks ago. The modest chef also gave a shout-out to the former head chef/co-owner of Harvest Vine, Joseba Jimenez de Jimenez, as his mentor for Spanish cuisine. McGill worked under the iconic chef at this Madison Park establishment specializing in eats from the Basque region.
Oh, and now that we are getting all international, did you know McGill can speak proper Japanese? Ask him about what the Japanese characters tattooed on his arm stand for sometime.
4) Course 5: I would substitute dessert any day for the Plum and Asian Pear salad that was served between the octopus and pork belly dish. It is a clever palate cleanser to get the seafood taste out of your mouth before the piggy arrives.
5) Octopus mania: You know a chef is serious about his octopus when he convinces a commercial cod fisherman in the Bering Sea to deep freeze 600 pounds of octopus for him and ship it to Seattle. We get to reap the benefits from this octopus zealot by enjoying McGills’ creation of octopus cooked two-ways: First, as a terrine with pickled sweet peppers and lemon cucumber.
The second way is my favorite: Pressure-cooked with lagrima oil, paprika, and potatoes.
6) Albacore tuna prepared three ways: I know I like something when it is a week later, and I am still talking about my favorite variation of the tuna: a filet of Mr. Fish served with the blood line intact. The air-dried tuna with vanilla bean oil is a close second. Chefs generally remove the bloodline because they worry customers will shy away from it and also because it significantly reduces the shelf life, but that doesn’t faze McGill.
You just may be able to treat yourself to some cured tuna from Hitchcock’s Deli on beautiful Bainbridge Island.
7) Chuleta de Cordero a la Plancha con Regaliz: If you know what that means, good for you. Otherwise, let me translate. This handsome dish gets all “Mary had a little lamb” on you: Lamb chops with licorice and wheat grass. I derive so much satisfaction from eating meat straight from the bone. Paired with the health benefits associated with licorice and wheat grass, I feel like it is my duty to devour that dish.
8 ) Finnriver cider in the hizzie: In the Basque region of Spain and in the Normandy region of France, you can easily get addicted to cider. In line with the night’s Spanish theme, Finnriver brought along their artisan sparkling cider, which is so well regarded it won a double gold medal from the 2011 Seattle Wine awards. And it is not even technically wine. We also try master cider maker Drew Zimmerman’s award-winning Fire Barrel Cider. Aged in fire-charred bourbon barrels which give off hints of oak and whiskey, the cider is definitely for you if you are into full-flavored ciders.
You can visit Finnriver on your way to or from Port Townsend. They also sell their products at the Ballard Farmers Market, which is open year round.
Although my wallet and my gall bladder would get cranky if I consumed an 8-course $125 meal on a regular basis, I wouldn’t shy away from omakase meals (which translates to “I leave it to you”) just because of the price tag. These multi-course one-night only meals are a unique dining experience and oftentimes a great venue for chefs to break out of the norm and conjure up a creative repertoire. With the generous portions of food, wine and cider, all of lats Thursday’s diners would attest we consumed more than our money’s worth.
Check out The Vude (aka – Velvet Underground Dining Experience) for more of these types of dinner events.
Additionally, local writer/Q13 Fox food correspondent Julien Perry and her business partner Melissa Peterman have an ongoing fun project where they matchmake a talented chef with a booze expert for their One Night Only events (ONO). To whet your appetite, these two lovely ladies most recently spearheaded a dinner rendezvous with Chef Mark Fuller of Ma’ono and Manny Chao of Georgetown Brewing. The theme: Mexican. Subscribe to ONO’s newsletter to see what they have got planned next.
You can also read more about Chef McGill and his Bainbridge Island restaurant Hitchcock.