Sunday, October 2, 2011

M Waterfront’s Summer Chef Series- Foie Gras Theme with IM Tapas Chefs

I was lucky, really lucky,  to reserve one of the last sunset seats at M Waterfront Grille’s Summer Chef Series on Sept. 19th, 2011 for the special six course Chef’s dinner centering around the featured ingredient of foie gras. Because of their fine cuisines, I’ve been a frequent diner and happy camper for years at Executive chef Brian Roland’s M Waterfront Grille, and also at chefs/owners Isabel P. Polo and Mary Shipman’s Spanish- oriented bistro, IM Tapas. Who else but Chef Brian would have combined their different styles into shared culinary creations, culminating in one over-the-top evening? This dinner quickly sold out to over sixty food lovers, many of whom were repeat diners at the previous Chef Series dinners. The diners who added the $45 wine pairing option presented by Augustan Wine Imports were very pleased with their choice. 
Chefs Mary Shipman, Brian Roland, and Isabel Pozo Polo
 Sunset dining at M Waterfront Grille is a treat, seated by the broad expanse of windows on Naples Bay. Relax and watch small boats go by, or an occasional dolphin- it’s a magical time of day. Add the warm autumnal indoor décor and just-low enough lighting for dining, and it’s a perfect stage for amazing meals.

Whether the evening was characterized by the “Battle of the Sexes” or “vive la différence” is up for grabs, however the three not-shy chefs were all hugs and high fives as the evening progressed! Much like a duck going quickly across water, the chefs’ calm demeanor to diners probably did not reflect any furious duck-paddling in the kitchen needed to get six courses out to 70 diners in a timely manner!
The chefs described each food course before serving. At the next dinner, each paired wine could also be expounded upon.

Chefs Isabel and Mary led with Fois gras milkshake shooters on one side of the plate-unlike anything you’ve ever had at DQ or your favorite soda shop.
IM Taps Foie Gras Milkshake; M Waterfront's Foie Gras Demisphere with Port Wine Gelée
 The rich shooter shake of luscious foie gras, cream had a touch of coffee  held a hidden surprise-the pool of  fresh raspberry reduction/gastrique/vodka at the bottom. Wow! Most of the other diners could have nursed a shooter or two of this ambrosiacal aphrodisiac, er, milkshake all night! This was topped with a Catalan pa amb tomàquet- a traditional Spanish toasted baguette slice topped with a puree of roasted tomato, roasted garlic and olive oil, then drizzled with foie gras beurre noir- the French style nutty-accented browned butter.

    Chef Brian rose to their challenge-his side of the plate was graced with a picture perfect foie gras demi sphere, served atop a Port wine gelée with sautéed apple espuma (foam), crumbled hazelnut dust and topped with tangy micro basil.
 A refreshing light contrast between the rich foie gras and the wine gelatin’s fruity taste and texture!

One of the best parts of wine dinners is meeting new friends-foodies. I was so fortunate to meet David and Kate Albers, two food lovers who honeymooned in Paris-how much more romantic can a couple be? Jim Greely of ABC Fine Wine and Spirits is one of the most passionate and knowledgeable wine mavens I’ve met. He has a down to earth way of sharing a complex subject in a way that left us eager for him to come teach a wine education class at one of Naples ABC stores.
Jim, Chef Brian, Kate and David
Chefs Isabel and Mary next countered with an addictive gem; roasted black mission fig “Sushi”, stuffed with a light foie gras mousse. The brandied mousse reminded me of umami-rich uni- the savory sweet and a touch salty sea urchin roe delicacy.
 The herbal touches of thyme, bay leaf and brandy’s depth let one quickly know that this was more than any surf or turf. The orange deep fried pickled ginger slices have a sweet sharpness and mild heat. (I’d buy a bag and eat them like potato chips, or, hmm, try to fry a batch at home.) A full bottle or two of Jumilla Olivares Monastrell seemed to have been reduced to a few blissful ounces, then artfully drizzled on the "sushi." The paired glass of Cava Naveran, Dama, from Spain's Penédes region gave a sparkling fresh mix of summer fruits and minerals-a fittingly fine vintner’s counterpoint to foie gras “sushi”.
Eight servers emerged as a team, serving all dishes to an entire table of eight simultaneously. The octet repeated this ballet for all courses and tables. (BTW, This is usual service at the Ritz Carlton.) I only wish other restaurants would take note. When a server serves first three diners at a six place table, making the other three diners uneasily wait till they are served minutes later, the first three diner’s dinners have by then lost heat, and  they have lost a bit of enthusiasm for the restaurant. When restaurants have such hodgepodge service, I choose to not return, and happily tell others of the restaurant’s thoughtless serving style. When chefs fire all of a tables dishes to be delivered simultaneously, and service delivers the dished to the diners simultaneously, you know you’ve been blessed by a professional, caring staff.

Chef Brian fired a broadside (pun intended) at the dynamic duo of Isabel and Mary with a brilliantly named trio called, “Duck, Duck, Goose! “Ménage à Foie.”
The duck fois gras crème brûlée was a lasciviously creamy blend of two favorite dishes, with the gustatory pleasure heightened by a topping of vanilla salt, lavender-sugar and Naples Honey’s honey in a lacy crystallized honey crisp. We’re talking major food porn, here. Unabashed aphrodesiacal delights. Shouldn't this Viagra-like dish be sold only on Valentines’ Day?

In the center of the plate, the duck prosciutto-wrapped summer asparagus’s taste was further heightened by Ermitage Triple Cream cheese, quince jam, and a drizzle of foie-Champagne vinegar vinaigrette. OMG!! The accompanying crisp, fruity Ladera Sagrada Castelo do Papa Godello, Valdeorras, Spain ’10 was a superb match for this foie trio. (Valdeorras means “Valley of Gold.”) It’s hard to match wine for asparagus. This golden Galician Godello grape gem from Spain’s northwest corner has Viognier –type floral and citrus accents, and retails for under $18. ABC’s Jim Greely pointed out that when in doubt, a Sauvignon Blanc is a very good pairing for asparagus, artichokes, or other unruly vegetables.

The goose foie gras torchon mini-tower (on the right, above) is a sliced pâté cylinder on a semi-frozen slab of goat cheese panna cotta, which rests on a crisply-toasted pumpernickel bread round. This Lilliputian lily is further gilded; topped with tomato marmalade and granular sea salt. “Oh my gawd! This is to die for” says one swooning dining companion. What a trio!

Dining is a social event, and I was happy to also talk with Executive Chef Christopher Cassel, Founding President of the Southwest Florida Chapter of the American Culinary Federation of Fort Myers, and Fort Myers’ Chef Jacques Perry-welcome tablemates.
Visiting from Fort Myers-  Chef Perry, and Chef Cassel
 Chefs Isabel and Mary came back with a “bubbleicious theme” to accompany their crisp skinned roasted Chilean seabass and seared foie gras, with tender sliced fennel. This was accented with bubbles of delicate sparkling Rosé cava vinaigrette with foie butter, and a Cava foam. The surprise bubble in the spoon was crafted of oyster juices, spherized by simple application of molecular gastronomy’s alchemy.
Chef Brian’s grilled filet mignon was cooked to ideal medium rare, sliced in half and topped with a perfectly scored and seared medallion of foie gras.
This was placed on crisp brioche French toast that was dipped in a foie custard then pan-seared. (Make that French toast at home!) The plate was garnished with succulent meaty roasted fresh wild mushrooms and sage. A brown butter-sweet corn and truffle buttered popcorn cream sauce was a welcome treat, with fresh popped corn and edible flowers completing a beautiful plating. The diners at my table all flipped over the amazing tastes of the synergistic combinations, which tasted far better than I can describe.

Dessert was a collaboration between the three chefs. “Foie gras three ways” is not a usual dessert course. The chocolate dipped Foi-E-Claire, was piped with a mousse of foie gras, brandy and cinnamon. The foie gras ice cream (a killer frozen creation with rich cream and sugar) was sprinkled with foie gras sugar and topped with garden-fresh mint.
A whispy cloud of foie gras cotton candy with liquor-macerated fresh berries on a smear of caramel ganache completed a fantastic dessert of a lifetime, accented with a nice glass of Vouvray. Yes, a Sauterne, Barsac or Muscat would have been a traditionalist’s predictable choice-this dinner was anything but predictable!

Bottom line- this and other Summer Chef Wine Series are a steal of a deal- five courses of heavenly food for $95, and I recommend adding the $45 wine pairing to make for an out of this world evening. The sixth and final of the Summer chef Series is October 17th, featuring guest chef David Speegle of Naples Roy’s Restaurant. The theme is quail eggs. Make your reservations for M Waterfront Grille now.

Visit IM Tapas for top quality tapas, heavenly stuffed squash blossoms, superb paellas, whole Mediterranean sea bass, Spanish wines and more-it’s clearly one of my favorite bistros in Florida. The tapas are the equal of or exceed the quality of tapas I’ve tasted in Spain.

M Watefront Grille 4300 Gulf Shore Blvd., Naples, 263-4421,

IM Tapas, 965 4th Avenue North, Naples, 403-8272,

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