Monday, March 17, 2014

A Dinner Club Like No Other

Of course, the primary reason for our visit to Antigua was the Dinner Club Road Trip and dinner was set for tonight. Despite the anticipation - after all the road trip was over a year in the planning - we needed to give our hosts some time to prep their Antiguan morcels. As Jeaux and Matt diced and sliced, the rest of us took in some of what the island had to offer. Axel and English Doc went for a scuba dive while Lady Di, She Who Must Be Obeyed, Boo and I decided to wander around the thriving metropolis of St. John's.

Antigua's capital and biggest city, St. John's still only has a population of around 24,000 to 25,000 and it's abundantly evident that the city and country is dependent on tourism - with cruise ships and their day visitors being a primary focus of the city centre. Most of the shops and market stalls are geared to cruising tourists who meander in the shadow of the huge ships that tower over local buildings.

We started our visit off with what was to be a quick bite at a local lunch spot. Unfortunately, that proved to be our undoing as SWMBO's purse and camera were stolen right out from under our noses as we were sitting in the street-side, public dining area. We still have no idea as to who might have pulled off the dastardly deed but it certainly put a damper on our plans as the girls had to return to the resort to cancel credit cards and deal with the issues that arose. The one good thing was that their passports weren't in the purse.

At the girls' insistence, Boo and I continued to amble around St. John's - not that there was an awful lot to take in. We hiked up to St. John's Cathedral but the old Anglican cathedral was undergoing extensive renovations and wasn't even open for viewing. We continued our walkabout and made our way to the local food market but, it was Monday and that's not one of the big market days. As such, there was no real buzz around the place.

Once we'd had our fill of town, we made our way back to our villa and started prepping for Dinner Club. As circumstance saw fit, it was St. Patrick's Day and, unbeknownst to us, St. Paddy's is quite the going concern throughout the Caribbean. It must be all the drinking associated with the day! Forever the consummate hostess, Jeaux was well prepared for the day with a parade of Irish accoutrements - as well as an array of libations. She even started off the evening with green cocktails - a Midori Pineapple concoction that set the tone for a dockside evening.

If Jeaux hadn't written down the menu, I'd have had a hard time recounting it because the names of and many ingredients of the dishes were certainly foreign to this Canuck. Jeaux and Matinder strived to feature local ingredients and whip up some of the most popular national dishes. Appies on the deck started with Keshi Yena - cheese stuffed with spiced meat - that is believed to have originated with the slaves from the Dutch Empire who stuffed the rinds of Gouda or Edam cheese with meat table scraps. These were followed by Fiery Shrimp and Potato Cakes (made with "hairy potatoes") and Conch Fritters.

Prior to our arrival, I likely mentioned to Jeaux (but no more than a dozen times) that, if she only served dish at Dinner Club, I hoped it would involve conch. Girl came through - even though she pointed out that conch is not the most delectable of seafoods and isn't even all that easy to find on local shelves. No matter. Conch is what I think of when I think Caribbean cuisine and I got to go home and say that I'd had some.

I've also always thought of Caribbean foods as having an underlying heat. So, when Boo and I saw a bottle of off-dry bubbly in the Toronto Airport Duty Free, I grabbed it - figuring it'd be a nice way to start off the evening's wines.

1551.  N.V. Peller Estates - Signature Series Ice Cuvée Rosé (VQA Niagara Peninsula - Ontario)

Made in the traditional method (read Champenoise), the Ice Cuvée Rosé is a sparkling wine made from primarily Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes; however, in a bit of a detour from traditional Champagne grapes, 10% of the wine is Cabernet Franc. I was also intrigued to see that, for this sparkler, Peller Estate added a dosage that is a combination of Cab Franc Icewine and Vidal Icewine. The intended result is off-dry notes on the palate but with a dry finish resulting from the tannins in the Cab Franc that forms part of the base wine.

Of course, bubbles just naturally hint that a celebration is at hand as well and I think travelling over 5700 miles, one way, for "a dinner" is a bit of an occasion. Bubbles also lead to toasts and we heartily toasted our missing comrades-in-arms. Tyrant and Panda Guy were all arranged to make Dinner Club with us but they had to back out shortly before we left when a family health issue arose.

Truly disappointed that they couldn't join us, that just meant that we had to eat and drink enough for them as well.

1552.  2012 Pedroncelli - Signature Selection Chardonnay (Dry Creek Valley - Sonoma County - California)

1553.  2012 Chemin des Sables - Savion (Rosé d'Anjou AOC - Loire - France)

If you check out my posts on previous Dinner Clubs, there's often a preponderance of big reds through the evening. Jeaux knew better and her request for wines this time around were for whites or rosés. We also had to rely on the selection of wines available down at the Epicure grocery and, while I have seen worse, the array of wines was rather limited and included a lot of globally commercial brands. Bright, light and cheerful was obviously the route to take.

Turns out that there was a bit of bonus for the blog when I saw that the Rosé d'Anjou was made from Cabernet Franc, Gamay Noir, Pineau d'Aunis and Grolleau. I was a little surprised to see that I hadn't added Grolleau to my Wine Century Club tally yet but, sure enough, it wasn't there. So, this little road trip had an unexpected addition to that list - in addition to the (much expected) fine dinner.

And, speaking of that fine dinner, Jeaux and Matinder started the sit down portion of the meal with callaloo soup. Another well-known staple of the islands, Jeaux made her's with fresh callaloo greens which were, again like the conch, not the easiest of ingredients to find. In keeping with the secondary St. Paddy's Day notes, the soup arrived with a green Irish soda bread. Is there no end to this gal's creativity?

1554.  N.V. Sartori - Pinot Grigio Blush (Pinot Grigio Delle Venezie I.G.T. - Italy)

The Blush was paired with yet another trio of traditional Caribbean dishes:
Salt Fish and Ackee, Green Papaya and Breadfruit Salad (with its potato-like flavour). The first dish is considered to be Jamaica's national dish but it has migrated throughout the Caribbean. The salt cod is sautéed with boiled ackee (a treefruit brought to the islands from West Africa centuries ago), onions, hot peppers, tomatoes and spices. I don't know if Jeaux cooked fresh ackee or not but I have since learned that it can be poisonous if the fruit is unripe and TIME magazine named it one of the world's "10 Most Dangerous Foods." Somehow I missed this fact during dinner - if it was even mentioned.

We all lived to tell though. And, thankfully, all lived for dessert.

Capturing the tropical nature of the dinner - and with a tip o' the cap to St. Patrick - we finished off the evening with a Pineapple Carpaccio doused in a Ginger/Lime dressing and a dollop Coconut Ice Cream.

Of no assistance to my speedy conclusion of reaching 2001 Bottles, we did not pop the cork on another bottle of wine. Rather, Matinder twisted our arms and served up a nightcap of Bushwhackers - coconut cream, Kahlua, Dark Rum, milk and Crème de Cacao. Another popular drink that he's picked up on the sailing circuit, those Bushwhackers had us all ready to call it a night.

As if the five hours of dining and drinking wouldn't have been enough to leave us knackered as is.

I can't say as I've ever travelled this far for a dinner party before. Conch. Ackee. Breadfruit. Callaloo. There's little doubt that Jeaux and Matinder came through with a Dinner Club menu and location for the ages. They might have a hard time equalling this one when it's their next turn to serve it up in Vancouver. I can't wait to see how they try though.

1 comment:

  1. I didn't want to kill anyone...the Ackees were canned! Jeaux