by: Chef Paul Capel, 21 West End; photos by: Candise Montemayor
We gathered at 21 West End to indulge in a spectacle of lunch. Along with Chef Carlos, our new sous-chef, and six others, I was hoping to form a stunning holiday meal that wouldn’t break the bank and still felt like a holiday treat, yet strayed from traditional choices. We were in search of a menu that invoked the flavors of the holidays, but used ingredients that wouldn’t occur to most people.
First, we put together an Arugula salad with pecans, golden raisins, fresh apples, strawberries, and feta cheese, all tossed the salad in a light white balsamic vinaigrette. With cinnamon spice on the pecans, fresh fruit, and raisins, the flavors of the holidays came out immediately and finished with a peppery spice from the arugula.
We then sought to come up with traditional sides using atypical ingredients. First up was the plum risotto, which was filled with fresh plums, pumpkin pie spice, brie cheese, and butter. The al dente risotto with the soft texture of the plums and the sweet cream finish of the brie left me wanting more. I guess you could say thoughts of sugar plums were dancing in my head.
Following that risotto was no simple task. We thought everyone loves sweet potatoes for the holidays. . . except that some people don’t, so why make two different dishes? Chef Carlos and I decided to make traditional mashed potatoes and add raisins, cinnamon, and mascarpone cheese. The result was a creamy, sweet vibration of flavor that appealed to both sweet potato and traditional potato fans alike. With the fig demi-glace we did later, there was even, dare I say . . . a gravy for our taters.
Since we already had two creamy side dishes, we wanted a vegetable next—and something a little heartier and easier to eat than a traditional holiday casserole. Our solution was perfectly-blanched asparagus wrapped with cherry wood smoked bacon and finished with a drizzle of a light tarragon cream. The balance it added to the meal was exactly what we needed.
Next up we wanted entrees that weren’t roasted poultry, ham, or prime rib. Don’t get me wrong—there is nothing wrong with a good holiday turkey—but today we were thinking outside the box. We decided on pork tenderloin and a side of salmon.
The pork we trimmed, then butterflied, then further tenderized. While macerated cherries sat in pinot noir to absorb flavor, we made a mousse spread with borsin and parmesan cheese, spinach, and a few eggs to hold it together. We spread our mousse on the inside of the prepared pork tenderloin, sprinkled the cherries in, and rolled it up as tight as we could. For a sauce, we made a red wine and thyme demi-glace. We finished the dish with dried figs and a little mount of butter. The result was a burst of sweet and savory flavors that almost brought you back home for the holidays, yet had a pleasant this-isn’t-what-I-always-expect quality.
This marvelous pork was followed with a honey pepper salmon finished with honey saffron butter. Salmon’s higher fat content means that when baked properly, it has a feel of a soft, flavorful piece of ham fat. You know the piece you love, but have trouble chewing? The salmon was so flaky and buttery you could enjoy the flavor and texture without the disappointment of not being able to chew. This dish was a great accompaniment to all of our previous dishes.
After we inhaled our fantastic meal, in a sophisticated manner and over great conversation, of course, we were then left to think about dessert. For this course we made a croissant French toast with baked peaches and sugar-coated strawberries, finished with fresh mint and cardamom ice cream. The ice cream was the perfect balance of holiday sweetness with a creamy texture that made your mouth water for a crisp, baked peach and a bite of the cinnamon-coated French toast. The almost chai-like flavor and the freshness of the fruit was a great way to end the meal.
For one to procure all ingredients to make this meal at home, the cost would be a little much. On the other hand, think of the cost of every holiday meal, of all the things you only buy once a year. Think of the time you put into such a meal.
What if you could experience this meal at home without all the hard work? By adding another chef to complement Chef Paul and help out with our growth, at 21 West End we can produce a meal like this, for a minimum of 12 people, for about $35 per person. You can even customize your meal with a chef.
Additionally, you wouldn’t have to worry about spending all your time shopping, prepping, and baking. You could just sit and enjoy the holidays, all for about the price you would have spent on the meal in the first place if you had to add special ingredients to your pantry.
We are here to serve you throughout the year and through the holidays with the best service and food this area can provide. With your support, we will do our best to stay true to our standards and continue to meet your needs.