Sunday, March 11, 2007

Lugano - James Beard House Preview Dinner

I drive by Lugano nearly every day on my way to work, and yet we've only been there once before. I'm not sure if it is because the location is borderline suburban, or if it is that the locally owned Italian restaurant maintains a low profile. Nonetheless we had enjoyed our first visit years ago, and so I was thrilled when J booked us for their James Beard House preview dinner.

Chef Greg Neville prepared a tasting menu centered around Italy's Veneto region and paired with wines from two wine makers from that region. Representatives from both wineries, Bisol and Le Salette, were at the dinner to speak about their beautiful wines. In our city of nutty liquor laws and limited selection, for a split second, we got to experience that romantic connection between chef and winemaker.

Italian Wine Lover's Dinner - $55 per person, $35 additional per person for wine pairings

Reception Appetizers
Venetian Sole 'in saor' with crispy cipollini onions
Ahi Tuna tartare w/ quartered quail eggs, extra-virgin olive oil, shallots & capers
Warm savory profiteroles filled w/ mushroom duxelles & langoustine

The quail eggs were a sweet treat atop the tartare, and the langoustine was a unique challenge to crack open at a table full of strangers.

Duetto of Carpaccio
Fresh ruby red albacore 'crudo' w/ shaved raw asparagus salad & fresh black truffle vinaigrette
Beef carpaccio w/ dungeness crab remoulade & julienne celeryroot/crab salad

We both like it raw, so we were delighted to see these two uniquely different versions of carpcaccio on the menu. Both were scrumptious. The albacore version tasted garden fresh and light, whereas the beef carpaccio was topped with a bold and richly flavored salad.

Sea Scallops with Beans
Stewed borlotti beans with seared sea scallops and ripasso reduction

The meal's theme was venetian, but with the beans, fennel and olive oil, J found this course to be quite Tuscan. In fact, it brought back memories of dining on a quiet street behind Siena's il Campo. He couldn't get enough, and kindly offered to help me with mine, but with the plump scallop tucked under the thinly shaved fennel, his services were not needed.

Pancetta Wrapped Monkfish
Roasted pancetta wrapped monkfish tail w/parsnip & cannellini bean puree, wild mushroom Valpolicella reduction

It was fun to have the reduction made with the very wine we were drinking with this course: a ruby red from the Veneto region. The smoky pancetta was the perfect blanket for this delectable white fish lounging on a bed of creamy puree.

Short Rib Filled Calamari
Braised short rib-filled calamari 'in umido' with snow peas & lobster risotto

After finishing this opulent course we knew a trip to the gym needed to be in our immediate future. To call it rich would be an understatement.

Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta
Vanilla bean panna cotta with sweet Cartizze aspic and butter cookies

I'm not a real panna cotta fan myself, but of course that didn't keep me from downing the sweet finale to this delicious meal.

It is an honor for a chef to prepare a dinner at the James Beard House, and so this Salt Lake City preview dinner felt like a party of locals celebrating Neville's upcoming jaunt to the Big Apple. Neville and his team's ability to pump out such interesting food for an entire restaurant of people all at the same time was nothing short of tremendous teamwork and focused communication. On Wednesday, March 14, 2007 Neville and his team will recreate this delicious Italian Wine Lover's Dinner at the James Beard House, and in a small way we got to be part of it.

- K

3364 South 2300 East
Salt Lake City, UT 84117

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