Christmas came early for Cleveland food-and-drink lovers at last week’s Emerging Chefs Naughty Claus.
Going in, I knew if there was anyone who could break up the monotony of holiday meals, it would be the Emerging Chefs team. And I was not disappointed as they teamed with Chef Adam Lambert from Ohio City’s Bar Cento/Bier Markt/Speakeasy for an evening of Christmas mischief and culinary adventure.
Located beneath Bier Markt, the sultrily-lit prohibition-themed Speakeasy lounge warmly welcomed us from the frigid December night.
After settling into a corner booth with Jen and her husband Matthew, we started the meal off with Chef Lambert’s interpretation of a Snow Globe.
Using a classic Christmas Eve ingredient – oysters – as the basis for this dish, Lambert created the illusion of a snow globe by encasing it in a gel-like substance mixed with juniper, tonic and Douglas fir.
Although it was beautiful to look at, I unfortunately found that the consistency and taste of the gel overpowered the oyster too much, leaving only a hint of it.
While the snow globe’s taste wasn’t to my liking, it was paired with a Bijou. Made of gin, vermouth and chartreuse, it had a very potent, evergreen-like flavor. Stirring in a few ice cubes from my water cut the bitter bite and resulted in a nice cocktail for gin lovers.
This was followed by Lambert’s XXX-Mas Cookies and Milk Punch.
Ladies, next time you’re having a bachelorette party, these *ahem* “mature audiences only” cookies are a delicious alternative to your typical adult treats.
The suggestively-shaped, lightly-flavored cookies were topped with foie gras and whipped chantilly icing and paired with a warmed rum and milk punch.
Honestly, I’m thankful the punch – my favorite drink of the night – came in such a tiny mug. If I didn’t have work early the next morning, I could have curled inside an oversized bowl of it. The dish was a milk-and-cookies combo fitting for a Naughty Santa.
The third course was a pair of “Snowballs” – arancini topped with white truffle shavings. The rich, savory interior of these fried rice balls mixed very well with the light breading that coated it – a winner with me and my tablemates.
It was served with truffle-infused Everclear. Although I wasn’t a fan of the cocktail’s heavy truffle flavor on its own, I decided to give it a second try to see how it paired with the arancini.
After taking a bite of the dish, then a sip of the cocktail, I was floored. The original truffle flavoring of the drink had been replaced with an almost fruity flavor.
I know that there are drink and food combinations which complement each other in taste, but this was the first time I ever had the sum of a pairing actually change its parts. I really enjoyed the experimentation this pairing lent itself to.
Chef Lambert’s next course was “Who Ham for One,” in which he took traditional Christmas ham and wrapped and cooked it around a chicken bone to replicate the look of the ham in How the Grinch Stole Christmas.
To complement the playful presentation, Chef Lambert prepared the meat with clove, cherry and pineapple – full of succulent flavor.
Unfortunately, my allergy to red wine kept me from trying the mulled Sangiovese served with it – but as Jen noted in her WhyCLE recap, it was her favorite of the evening and a perfect fireside sipper.
The last course of the night was my overall favorite, both in presentation and taste: Chef Lambert’s Kosher Khristmas.
Inspired by A Christmas Story, he served an Asian-style shredded duck with crisp and colorful vegetables. It was presented in – what else – small Chinese take-out boxes.
The duck was so moist and rich. Like the milk punch, my Christmas wish is for more servings of this dish.
The Kosher Kristmas was paired with a chilled sake sangria – whose slight fruitiness provided a refreshing contrast to the duck and cut down on the meal’s richness.
Regardless of whether you were nice or naughty, Chef Lambert left us all with sweet treats: a bit of coal for our stockings made of bitter fernet hard candy and more of those delicious cookies with a glass of homemade scotch eggnog.
It was an evening of indulgence, to be sure – with plenty of bawdy laughs and misbehaving elves rounding out the night. We even got a visit from
Jolly Naughty Ol’ St. Nick bearing gifts courtesy of Ambience.
Missed Naughty Claus? Chef Lambert and his team have put together a delicious New Year’s Eve menu for Bar Cento, located upstairs from Speakeasy. You can view the full menu – along with details on their other Bier Markt, Speakeasy, Market Garden and Nano Brew parties at http://bit.ly/VnHoUE