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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

48 Nights in Review

Last night gave me an opportunity to cross yet another item off my 101 List - #19, Dine in a Guerrilla Restaurant.

Are you getting the idea that I structured my 101 list to be infinitely do-able? Yes, well, that was kind of the idea!

The Boy and I, along with friends, headed to 48 Nights. (Named after the concept-the restaurant is only open for 48 Nights.) On a side note, as a person that works in the real estate world, I thought this was a brilliant marketing plan for the developers hosting the event. They were able to generate buzz about their future development as well as introduce a wide swatch of the Dallas food-loving populace to this particular sector of Dallas.

Part of the attraction to the event was the limited run - only 48 nights! Who would want to miss out on that? As well, the organizers have cobbled together an impressive list of local chefs...and as a diner, you don't know who's cooking until you arrive. Finally, the chefs are given them freedom to make whatever they'd like to serve. Gone are the concerns of what is a sellable menu item replaced with wild imagination and a brave set of patrons.

Menus are posted at least a week in advance. We'd had plenty of time to scrutinize it, worry a bit about the different items and ponder who the chef might be. When we arrived last night, we learned that Tony Gardizi (formerly of Vue, now of Capriccio) was at the helm:

We, and about 28 other folks, were crammed into a little converted building outfitted with secondhand furniture and decor for the evening. You'd think it would be uncomfortable, but rather, it built a feeling of intimacy amongst the crowd.

As an added bonus, we were seated with George and Katie Brown - well-known themselves on the Dallas cooking scene. I wish I'd realized who they were before the end of dinner. I've enjoyed their Killer Pecans on many occasions. never know whom you'll be eating with and that's just part of the fun. For all I know, they may have gone home saying, "Wow! We were seated with Shannah Hayley." It could happen.

Seriously this place was small. The catering kitchen was just an arm's reach away:

On a side note, The Boy purchased new Euro-style glasses and looking at him makes my heart race out of control. He's just so darn handsome that I might have a heart attack one of these days. But I digress...

On to the food, which is the reason you're reading this post (isn't it?)!

A big part of the dinner that I found enjoyable was the interaction with the chef. It was interesting to hear his creative inspiration for the menu - particularly since some of the courses featured foods I would normally Not Eat Unless Overseas on a Mission Trip, Not Wanting to Hurt My Host's Feelings. And yes, I really do have a category for that.

Case in point, the first course: Slow Roasted Veal Marrow served with Parsley Salad and Lemon Vinaigrette. I'd hoped that the marrow would be served on a crudites and would be a little nibble. Horrifyingly, no. It was marrow. Served in a bone. As though I was out on the plains hunting for my very sustenance.

However, ate it. Survived it. And now never have to eat it again. (The parsley salad was quite lovely. Reminded me of a Seder meal.)

The second course: Marinated Egg Yoke and Crisp Romaine. The title didn't really do this dish justice - the marinated egg yoke had a consistency and flavor of salmon (gravalax, actually). We were told to think of the dish as a deconstructed Caesar salad. It was and it worked.

Third course: Cumin Dusted Maple Leaf Duck Breast with Cardamon-Infused Rice (with golden raisins) and Caramelized Banana. The duck was tasty - nothing special. However, the rice! Oh my... Tons of flavor, great color, wonderful mix of sweet and spicy. The banana was actually quite dry and our table didn't feel that the balsamic did much for its overall flavor.

Fourth Course: Oyster Apricot Cheesecake in 1/2 Shell. This dish had flummoxed us leading up to the meal. Was this a clever name for a traditional dessert? Would it be oyster flavor? Would there be an oyster involved?

Ummm...yes. There was an oyster. This WAS an oyster, topped with cheesecake. Think of the dish as a sweet-savory play on oysters on the 1/2 shell. Cooked oyster, breadcrumbs, cheesecake and a raspberry-Tabasco sauce.

A majority of our table disliked the dish. I ate mine as I would an oyster - all in, one bite, swallow it down. And you know, it wasn't bad. The cheesecake was too dense, a result (I believe) of being cooked in such a small serving dish (the shell). However, I like a stronger sweet to end a meal, so in that regard this wasn't the best dessert. It would make for an amazing hors d'voeuvre, though.

It should be noted that The Boy really enjoyed this dish. I doubt he'd order it every time, but it certainly was a pleasing flavor combination to his spice-loving palate.

Final thoughts: 48 Nights is a great concept and, if you are an adventurous soul who enjoys exploring food along with chefs, is a fun way to do something really different for an evening meal. If I had all the money in the world (instead of focusing on paying off our mortgage!), I'd be strongly tempted to go each week to see what our local chefs can bring to the table when critical reviews and return guests aren't a factor.

If, however, you're the type that wants traditional upscale food in exchange for your $75 fixe prix menu, then this is not the best option for an evening out in Dallas.

As for me, I'm already wondering if our budget could handle a birthday celebration at 48 Nights in July...

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