After a lovely weekend back at Amherst, enjoying all of the parties without the emotional burden of graduating, I found myself back in New York, looking forward to my wonderful friend CJ’s graduation dinner. The dinner was at the James Beard House, the former home of – you guessed it – James Beard, a man at the forefront of all culinary arts.
The themes for the night were CJ Bernstein, because she’s the best, and Oysters and Lamb. Some of the top chefs, farmers, and a sommelier were there to prepare an amazing meal and help us enjoy each bite and sip as comprehensively as possible. It was a five course meal where every course incorporated oyster and/or lamb in a creative way, all the way through the dessert. The cocktail hour and the fact that each course also happened to be paired with a wine or whiskey made for a very happy group of people at the end.
Oysters in Turnip Vichyssoise, Pickled Radish, Lamb Ham + Barboursville Vineyards Reserve Viognier 2013 – This was a chilled soup, and it was AMAZING. My mouth just started watering thinking about it, but you’d think a cream-based dish would feel heavy and make you feel kind of gross after a whole bowl of it, but it was actually so fresh. There were plump little oysters hidden in the broth and under the lamb ham, which made for a delicious combo.
Poached Tilefish with Clam Butter and Oyster Mushrooms + The Boxwood Winery Rosé 2014 – One of the lighter courses, but I almost tried to lick the bowl because the leftover broth/sauce was unbelievable. Were the Oyster Mushrooms oyster or mushroom? It is a little unclear … I think they were mushrooms, but that’s neither here nor there. Point is, I love fish and this was really good. The rosé was also really nice, and summer is rosé season so an all around win. Seared Lamb Saddle Poke with Pickled Spring Onions, Ginger-Charred Onion Ponzu, Hijiki Seaweed Salad, and Puffed Tendons + Barboursville Vineyards Reserve Nebbiolo 2012 – That’s a mouthful in every sense of the word…ha! Anyway, super interesting combo of French-style and Asian flare, with the tarter ginger, ponzu and pickled tastes. We were debating whether or not the “Puffed Tendons” were gluten-free or not, but I’m pretty sure my celiac friend ate them anyway. Yolo, as they say. Miso-Peanut Lamb Ribs with Green Tomato-Clam Kimchi + The Boxwood Winery Boxwood 2012 – Another successful Western-Asian fusion dish. The lamb could not have been cooked more perfectly. Again, my mouth is watering. All of the fat was still on there, but it literally melted in my mouth. Paired with the kimchi, the fat wasn’t as overwhelming as it could have been. The things I would do for that same dish…fun fact: I really love lamb. The red wine paired with this was also full-bodied enough to match the lamb. Chocolate Bavarois with Virginia Peanut-Lamb Fat Brittle and Condensed Milk + Dessert Copper Fox Distillery Wasmund’s Single Malt Whisky NV – First of all, see?! Lamb or oyster was actually in every dish. Second of all, the dessert was perfectly decadent. Lastly, as much as I wish I were a whisky girl, I don’t think I’m ready for the hardcore stuff yet. Whisky on the rocks – fine. Straight up? I’m ashamed to say that I was using the dessert as a chaser (which, quite frankly, wasn’t that bad of an option.)
I can’t speak more highly of her, but then again, I can. CJ is one of the hardest working, generous, kind, wonderful people I know. She is always searching for adventure and never allows herself to be complacent. She’s one of those rare specimen that seems to have a grasp on life at all times, and even when things get a little bit chaotic, she holds down the fort with rational and mature thinking. I can never quite get over the generosity of the Bernstein family, but I continue to feel so so so so so grateful. Life has shown me that there are some very sleazy people in this world and we sometimes have to take some unwanted punches. But to be able to experience one of life’s simplest pleasures – food – with some genuinely high quality people – I couldn’t ask for anything more.
Cheers to CJ !!!! (even after the multiple cheers that night…) You deserve nothing but the best, especially because you have worked so hard for it. You remind me always that authenticity exists and that to cherish a friendship isn’t just a cliché.