Samar in the winter. I ate enough to keep warm and hibernate for 3 months.
Pyles hosted D Magazine's most recent supper club tonight at his international-fare restaurant, Samar, on 2100 Ross Ave.
My dining partner and I discussed the importance being a chef. (Just speculating, as neither of us know squat about running a restaurant). "it's all about the food" and I strongly disagreed, saying "it's all about the dining experience, entertainment and ambiance included". But after our experience at Samar last night, we both won. I have not been to any supper club event before, but I am certain that Pyles has set the bar for forthcoming events.
Just when you get the impression that the event is carefully calculated and choreographed, I got the insider scoop of how spontaneous Pyles can be behind the curtain. As a last minute touch, the restaurant was subtly adorned with big red leaves in the corners, floors, and also present were hand-picked pomegranates for the tabletops. The red runners on the table and the amber lighting was perfect for a warm ambience to compliment the spice adventure we were about to endure.
Fine dining is typically not an option for vegetarians - we typically look the other way. However, Pyles was kind enough to accommodate two lonely vegetarian plates among a sea of omnivorous diners.
All courses were accompanied by wine pairings. Alcohol, fortunately, is vegetarian, and we were greeted at the door with Samartinis, a Ketel One vodka and Pama concoction with a little sugar surprise at the bottom. We met several other Dish-ers as we made our way to the table.
For starters we had a trio of spreads with Naan: Hommus (chickpea dip), Moutabal (lebanese eggplant dip), and Labne (a beautifully rich and creamy yogurt spread). ALso on the table we were served a mix of Idiazabal cheese cubes and marinated olives. The really impressive piece in this segment were the blistered Spanish chilies with smoked sea salt. This was paired with Naveran, Brut Cava.
While waiting for the next course, we were surrounded by belly dancers chiming to the beat of the music. It was cleverly done with audience/diner participation and everyone was engaged by the candle balancing acts. The belly dancing would follow between courses through the entire dinner. It was an excellent transition and distraction from one course to the next and before you knew it, your last plate was picked up and the next one was served.
Next course was Tres Vasos, a showcase of 3 tastings. We had only 1 of the 3, but it was the first of several gastronomic ventures. We had the ruby red grapefruit with feta foam and lemongrass-ginger gelee and it was very inventive and delicious. The lemongrass was a nice "finish" with each bite. This serious was paired with Martina Pietro, Verdejo and it was perfect.
The next dish was the endive-orange salad with fennel and pecan lubne. This salad was definitely a favorite for me last night. The lubne on the endive spears was very rich and creamy, like a rich yogurt, with a sweet note at the end. But the show stopper here was the sugar crusted orange slices. I believe a technique was used here similar to how the crisp layer is achieved on creme brulee, but this was on the orange slice, hence yielding a sugary shell. Very impressive and very delicious! In the same course we also tasted crispy pumkin kofte (patties) with a simple garnish on top. This is when we were getting pretty full, but we had many more dishes to taste! The entire course was paired with a Bordeux Blend.
After this course we saw some amazing belly dancing balancing acts including one woman who poured a liquid from one shot glass into the next on her belly, using her belly. The women has changed clothes since the last course, alluding to a Bollywood theme. This set the stage for the next Indian-inspired/themed course.
Next we tasted a samosa chaat, especially prepared for us, for our meatless preference. That was accompanied by three pappadum cones each filled with a distinct "cachumber" (salad). One was with a home sprouted mung bean, another with pomegranate and savory mixture, and the third with a cucumber mix. Fantastic presentation - we has all of our surrounding carnivores eyeing our dishes. It was especially nice that this was prepared so out of the way for us. While our dinner companions enjoyed the coconut fish curry, we had a plate of 3 different cauliflower preparations. Each a different species within the cauliflower family, but prepared with a yogurt marinade and a tandoori oven. The caulflowercould have been a little more tender, but the flavor was there. While the rest of the group continued to taste the Murgh Makhani, we were served a paneer dish with a darker, creamy gravy, with tri-color blend of peppers. The course was paired with an appropriate Riesling.
At this point I was so full I was trying to prepare my hypothalamus for more. Dessert. And certainly, no matter how full you are, dessert cannot be foregone. Especially not the 5 desserts we were about to taste. And might I say, to my benefit, desert is always lacto-ovo vegetarian, except for this chocolate covered bacon trend that's been pervading the city lately. We started with a Turkish Coffee pot de Creme and it was awesome! My two loves - chocolate and coffee. What's not to love? I enjoyed the rich chocolate in the chocolate samosa with the rose notes. The apricot labne pudding with Marcona Almonds was very mild, and justly so, as the spotlight should be on the creamy apricot glaze. Many people at the table enjoyed the candied ginger croquetas with natilla and the pistachio, rose and gum mastic ice cream cone. And finally to finish, we enjoyed a brief Afghan Tea ceremony with Cardamom spiced green tea, followed my a mildly spiced masala chai.
The dessert goes without saying, and reflecting on dinner, i was not expecting a bunch of dishes made just for us. I was really impressed and that was really nice for him to accomodate us. While he could have serves us paneer makhani instead of murgh makhani, and while he could have taken an easier route to accomodate us, Pyles inadvertently showcases more of his talent, but above all, his hospitality.