Tastings: A Progressive Dinners

Sunday, August 15, 2010 - 
One of my favorite places in Indy, Tastings: A Wine Experience, has continued to amaze me with each visit.  Located in the Conrad, I have been recommending this downtown hot spot to anyone that I can.  Why you may ask?  The relaxed but sophisticated environment lends to the perfect atmosphere to enjoy wine and divine food.  And that is why I can firmly say that if you have $20, you need to spend a Wednesday evening at Tastings.

This past Wednesday, hubs (T) and I joined our friends for another memorable wine dinner (missed out on our last dinner - read about it here.)  This week's theme - truly progressive dinner, vegetarian style.  T and I arrived early to have a few wine tastings before the dinner began (once again, love how you can try anything without purchasing a whole glass if you don't want to!) and instantly our stomach's began to growl as we watched the 6:00 seating wrap up. When you make your reservation (yes, I say when because I expect you to, you don't want to miss this!) you can either reserve space at 6:00 or 8:00.  Our friends then arrived, and we grabbed our seat (there are no bad seats in this arrangement!)

We began our evening with the aperitif - a white gazpacho mary.  I'm not normally a fan of bloody mary's (it's the pepper, don't ask) but this gazpacho was nothing like your normal mary.  Made from grapes, apples, horseradish and cream to name a few, it was full of so many tastes!  Heavy but light - creamy but fruity - tart but spicy - the spectrum was all over the place.  You take a sip and think, "Interesting," and then you continue to sip some more.  The many flavors had you guessing "What is that?"  Who would have ever thought - gazpacho in glass, without the bread and beans!
The first course came quickly, and I was anxious to dig into the tomatoes and french green bean salad.  The green beans were tossed in a whipped vinaigrette, which gave it a sweet element.  I was curious to how this worked, and the chef, Steven, was more than happy to take a minute to really explain the process of flavoring the whipped cream with a simple vinaigrette.  Another thing I love - you've got questions, they always have the time to answer.  Included in the salad was frisee and the heirloom tomato tartare, drizzled with chive oil.  My favorite part of this dish was the tomato tartare - I loved the sweetness of the tomatoes with the chive oil.  I could have grabbed some homemade tortialla chips and had a free for all with the tartare.  All the flavors complimented each other so well -  perfect first course on a hot evening.
The wine pairing was a rose - Le Domaniers Cotes De Provence Rose, 2008 - to be more exact.  After enjoying the fruity first sip, I found myself shocked.  I normally stay away from roses, but I found myself returning for another sip almost immediately.  Maybe it was the combination of the whipped vinagrette, but I found myself drawn to the light spice balanced with the taste of peaches.  It was, once again, perfect for the hot evening.
The second course, made with all local ingredients, featured an Indiana sweet corn tamale, braised kale, goat cheese and a tomato cream sauce that I could have ate all evening.  This is a sneak preview of Steven's dish for DigINdiana, which is a festival of local Indiana foods.  Am I happy to have seen and tasted this dish!  I don't know if I'll ever have a tamale with perfect texture as this, paired so well with roasted peppers and the sweet tomato cream sauce.  Everything about this dish was amazing - I wanted a full plate immediately.  I thought hubs (well, me too) were going to lick the plate it was so divine.  Mark your calendars, cause you too can try this luscious dish at DigIndiana (if you can't make it, follow me on twitter to get updates throughout the event!)
A delicious pairing, we were offered the Italian Barone di Valforte Montepulciano.  Walking us through the areas of Italy, this Italian wine from Montepulciano was the perfect compliment to the tamale dish.  Full of flavor, soft tannins and an intense fruit flavor.  Not overpowering in anyway, I could have sipped it all night.
Third course was for mushroom lovers, thus it was for me.  Balsamic-roasted portobello with shitake mushrooms were set upon a creamy base of risotto and yams.  The farro risotto was melt in your mouth creamy, textured with chanterelle mushrooms.  Complimented with the sweetness of the yam puree, it was a dream come true.  There is possibility no way that you would have missed the meat.  These full flavors could easily stand alone, but together, it was a full bite of fall.  I would easily demand this dish to be put on the menu for a fall menu (hint hint Tastings!)
The wine to compliment the mushroom dish was the best of the evening.  A deep red from Spain, Juan Gil Monastrell stood up to the flavors of the dish. The fruit flavor balanced with oak undertones and lasted long on your palate with a smooth finish.  It was amazing - you had to keep alternating sip with bite to get the full experience.
Final course of the evening, I felt as though chef Steven was speaking directly to me because of my cheese love.  I adore a great cheese platter, appetizer or dessert, and in this final course, I was not disappointed.  Three different types of goat cheese atop three different kinds of jam on some wonderful breads were the perfect ending to this meal.  You had your traditional goat, melt in your mouth creaminess with the texture of a brie rind atop a berry compote.  In the middle, a sharper goat with a texture similar to a cheddar paired with a combination of berry jam (maybe some blueberries, blackberries and raspberries.)  And finally, a creamy goat which you could spread so easily over the apricot jam.  Heaven - the perfect way to showcase a truly underappreciated cheese by many, each one stood on it's own while complementing the whole plate.
Do you see how beautiful this combination is?  I loved it so much that on Saturday's farmer's market (Carmel's Farmer's Market is fantastic - I recommend!) I bought some Scholar's Inn bread and local vanilla and fig jam from Circle City Sweets in preparation for some goat cheese...really, the combo is so phenomenal due to the simplicity of the fantastic flavors.
To pair, we were offered an ice wine from Canada.  I learned that most ice wines are produced from Canada, and this Jackson-Triggs Vidal did not disappoint.  Normally, ice wines are too sweet for my taste (as they are for many others.)  However, it matched so well with the cheese, I couldn't help but sip it between each bite.  The taste of the frozen grapes was complimented by the undertones of apricot, leaving a silky finish on your tongue.  It worked perfectly to cleanse your mouth of the creamy goat cheese, but not in a way that masked the flavors.  This had to be the first ice wine that I enjoyed, and the packaging wasn't too shabby either!
Once again, another successful and delicious evening at Tastings.  Every bite gets getter with each visit, and I was so in love with this meal, I already signed up for next Wednesday's dinner event (Wines of Australia.)  I know the overall focus of Tastings is wine, but really, the small plates that are offered with the wines for these dinners can't be beat in the city.

Hats off to these gentlemen for a phenomenal evening - looking forward to next week and the many more Wednesday's to come!