Thursday, May 31, 2012

Emilia-Romagna Long Table Dinner at Prima Strada

Last night was the first time Sheila and I could make it to the Prima Strada Long Table dinner.   We have been wanting to go since we first saw a table being set up for one more than a year ago.   We went for Sheila's birthday and did not look at the menu at all, which was both good and bad.

The long table dinners are a fixed menu for a table of 16 with the food served family style.  The meal is also paired with a number of wines.  Each month they have chosen a different region of Italy for their menu and the wines to go with it.  This month it was Emilia-Romagna that was the focus of the meal.

Location of Emila-Romagna in Italy
Emilia-Romagna is home Bologna, Parma, Modena, Rimini, Ravenna and Ferrara. It is the global capital of fast cars with Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati, De Tomaso and Ducati all based there.

The idea is that you sit at the table with other people and you share your food with them and you talk with each other.   The people are strangers but you know that you have at least one thing in common with of them, an interest in good quality food.  This is a form of dining I have been looking for.  I have eaten this way a couple of times in Europe and there used to be a hippy restaurant on West Broadway that survived till the early 1980s and made people sit together.   When I have eaten like this I have enjoyed it, ultimately food is the core of all cultures and conversation between strangers bring us more connections with others.

I spoke most with a retired nurse called Donna-Lee and to a lesser extend to a woman called Jill that has lived in Milan and her friend Irene.   Both Sheila and I spoke with several other people as well.   Donna-Lee was there for her 11th Long Table, she was on familiar terms with the waiter Andrew.  Jill had been to a number of Long Tables as well.

We were very well served by our waiter Andrew all evening.  He was knowledgeable about all the food and sommelier like in his understanding of the wines.

Before it meal got under way we had a chance to taste three different balsamic vinegars.  Modena is in Emila-Romagna.   The low end one was harsh and nasty but it was the mid range one I liked the most.  It had the most subtle flavour.  Andrew gave

The dinner started with Insalata di Rucola e Parmigiano - salad of local arugula & shaved Parmigiano with balsamic vinaigrette.    The salad came to the table on three large platters and you served yourself from it.

I have no idea where they found the arugula but it was not very bitter at all.  A reason I shy away from arugula is that it can be very bitter and unpleasant to eat.  The salad sat on a layer of cured pork shoulder, I missed the name of it.   The meat was a very nice cured pork and for me the perfect accompaniment for the arugula.  If I were to nit pick, the Parmigiano was not shaved as thin as I would have liked, but this was a minor point.

We forgot to take a picture of the salad so I can not show it to you.  We actually did not take a lot of pictures because we were busy talking with our tablemates and enjoying the food.
Asparagi con Prosciutto di Parma

The salad was paired with Lambrusco di Sorbara Frizzante, a sparkling red wine.   I have not had any lambrusco in years, the last time being in the early 1990s in Germany and I am still not really a fan of the wine.  This has nothing to do with the wine, but with my dislike of any sparkling wine.    It did pair well with the salad.

Asparagi con Prosciutto di Parma - local asparagus with prosciutto & hard-boiled egg and covered in a creamy lemon sauce. paired with Nino Franco Valdobbiadene Proseco.

The asparagus was wrapped in the prosciutto and then cooked so that the ham was a tight band around the asparagus.   I liked having the quartered boiled eggs to go along with the asparagus, it made a nice textural and flavour foil to the asparagus.   The lemon cream sauce, and I wish I could tell you more about what it was but I was not listening closely enough, added a nice acidity to the dish.

Another sparkling wine!   It worked well and I enjoyed drinking it, I even had my glass refilled

Zuppa di Pesce
Zuppa di Pesce - fish & shellfish soup  paired with a white wine called Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico Superiore.   The soup reminded me of cioppino, of which I had a stunningly amazing blow of it at the Silverwater Cafe in Port Townsend a few years ago.

Poor Sheila, she is not a shellfish fan and in six years we have been together I have never seen here eat any shellfish.   She did eat this and found that the clams and mussels were not bad at all.   She was still not a fan of the prawn,

The broth was multi-layered in flavours, salty, smoky, spicey, marine, rich, clean and so much more.   There was a nicely cooked piece of halibut in the bowl along with a whole prawn, mussels and clams.   The clams and mussels were nicely cooked, the prawn was borderline overcooked.  My prawn was just on the borderline, Sheila's was over a bit and did not help with her enjoyment of it. Prawns in any soup or stew are hard to deal with because the ongoing heat from the liquid can overcook it without anyone intending to.

The soup came with bread, the bread being Prima Strada pizza dough baked in their wood fired oven with no toppings on it.   I ate more than my fair share of it.   We can not replicate the flavour of that dough.

The white wine with the soup was once again a nice pairing.   The soup was rich and strong and the acid of the wine cut it nicely.

Crostada di Mandorle - Almond Meringue tart.   The translation as meringue does not seem to be correct.   It was an almond frangipane tart.   I enjoyed, especially the ribbons of pastry on top.

Even though there was no traditional main course, we were both very full afterwards.   The total cost as $65 all in per person.   This was for four courses and three paired wines.

What the Long Table is, is a dinner party at a restaurant with guests that you do not know yet.  We have hosted many dinner parties and the one down side is that you are busy with the food all the time, Prima Strada takes care of that.

Next month is Abruzzo on I suspect the last Wednesday and Thursday of the month.  In the summer they will be changing focus for two months, July will be the Saanich Long Table and August the Cowichan Valley Long Table.   We want to make this a regular part of our life.

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