I turned 51 this week. It wasn't a milestone, but I figure it is better to celebrate it than not have it. The last few years, I have been able to celebrate my birthday with dinners at well known restaurants. Three years ago, I had on my 48th birthday one of the most memorable meals of my life – my second visit to elBulli. It was a dream! Two years ago, for my 49th, I had another wonderful meal at Alinea, with whom I share a birthday. Last year for my 50th, I ate at home (it was a Monday night), but the weekend prior I enjoyed two incredible meals – one at Studio Kitchen for the first collaboration between Alex Talbot and Shola Olunloyo and the other at Aldea, a restaurant that anyone who reads this blog with any regularity will know is one of my absolute favorites. Though some good friends took my wife and I out for a lovely dinner this past weekend, the dining wasn't quite up to my recent high standards, but then very little is.
This was to be a quiet birthday, one to cook at home for. While my meal, again, was not quite of the caliber of those previous birthday meals, it was a meal I enjoyed very much nevertheless. We started with some pan-seared merguez sausages from Dancing Ewe Farm. They were reminiscent of a good chorizo, though made of lamb rather than pork. The sausages were extremely tasty, as one would expect of sausages made from a recipe personally given to the farm by Daniel Boulud himself.
My next course was pappardelle with fresh shiitakes and Sheldon Farm ramps in a Parmesan cream sauce. While any number of mushroom varieties would work well here (morels would have been particularly seasonal), the shiitakes were outstanding. Zehr & Sons Farm grow terrific mushrooms that they sell at the Saratoga Farmers Market. I had originally wanted their beautiful oyster mushrooms, but they had already sold out by the time I got there. Regardless the dish was a delicious and a big hit.
I followed with a CVap ostrich fan roast (via D'Artagnan) that had marinated in olive oil, garlic, rosemary and Parmiggiano and was finished on a natural hardwood charcoal grill. I cooked the ostrich for about 4 hours in the CVap at 125ºF before searing it on the grill. The CVap cooked the meat to uniform perfection and was one of the most umami rich and delicious pieces of meat I have had in some time – probably since Fabio Trabocchi's lamb at The Four Seasons. The ostrich was served with Parmiggiano dusted roasted Saratoga Apple asparagus – the first of the season for me.
The nice thing about having a dinner like this at home is that I can break out some outstanding bottles of wine and not worry about breaking the bank as that bank had already been broken! On this night I opened a 1982 BV George de la Tour Private Reserve Cab to accompany the merguez and the pasta. The color was a classic brick red, but the wine was still drinking beautifully with soft tannins and a remarkable retention of fruit. For the ostrich, I opened a 1997 Gaja Barbaresco, a wine that was nothing short of brilliant. Full of black cherry and other red fruits it held just a touch of wood, great acidity and perfect balance. This proved a perfect bottle for the evening.
A birthday dinner is not complete without a birthday cake. My wife made a wonderful one for me – Julia Child's Queen of Sheba cake – a complex chocolate cake made with pulverized almonds, unsweetened Bonnat chocolate and a few other ingredients. Having to work the next day, we refrained from a dessert wine (hey, I'm not getting any younger!).
Even though I didn't dine in one of my favorite restaurants, this was still one of my better birthdays. It was nice to relax and to cook and I was quite pleased that the dinner came out as well as it did. Fifty-one wasn't so bad after all.