Ever sip olive oil from an ice cream parfait glass and want to call it Bob?
K and I hadn’t either until we got a last-minute invitation to Big EVOO Night at Cafe Levain this week. The event, sponsored by the California Olive Ranch with dinner prepared by Levain chef Adam Vickerman, featured dishes using various types of extra virgin olive oil from the company. I am a HUGE fan of olive oil and we use a lot of it. We just polished off a big bottle of arbequina — which, according to COR’s Mike Forbes is a fresh and fruity single varietal — from Spain. As a wedding gift, friends “adopted” us a tree in an olive grove in Italy and we just got a big shipment of Italian first cold press from our grove in Rosalia. When presented with the opportunity to spend an evening with the MN Food Bloggers eating an entire olive oil-centric meal from start to finish, we simply couldn’t pass it up.
We walked into Cafe Levain and the friendly wait staff greeted us with this:
A trio of crostini featuring: Chicken liver pate with pickled rhubarb, anchovy and white beans. I went with the chicken liver and was pleasantly surprised that the slightly grainy and meaty liver went perfectly with the tart and sweet pickled rhubarb.
We were each presented with a glass of California Olive Ranch EVOO for a taste test. I have never slurped/sipped an olive oil before and I don’t intend to do it again. It tasted like — oil. If I remember correctly, this was the arbequina variety. However, when you dipped a piece of crusty bread in the little cup, you could actually taste the flavors in the oil: Fresh and fruity. Turns out I’m a dipper, not a slurper. Who knew?
We were privileged to be sitting with Kelli (from IHadaDeliciousTime.com) and her hubby David who are hilariously awesome. After the initial awkwardness of swigging oil from a glass with people you’d never met before, the conversation turned quickly to food and deliciousness and celebration and joy and grieving and parties and families and smoking pork and design and how salt doesn’t kill people, salt SAVES. We were already having a wonderful time and dinner hadn’t yet begun.
Being “food people,” we were pleased when the first dish was presented to us. Typically an amuse bouche is just one perfect bite to tickle your palate, but Vickerman took it to new heights with a cool amuse bouche soup of peas, kohlrabi, chives, grana padano and a drizzle of EVOO. It was like eating spring in a bowl and the veggies had come straight out of the Cafe Levain garden. So fresh. It was sweet, with lovely flavors of pea, nutty cheese, the occasional bite of chive and a silky ribbon of olive oil running through it.
Mike from COR, spent a few moments explaining their sustainable “olive ranching” practices and their devotion to all things olive. He mentioned they’d even named a variety after their head miller, Bob. I was REALLY looking forward to EVOBob, but it turns out they called it “Miller’s Blend.” Bummer. The oil, however, was very nice and blended subtly into our next course: A farmers market salad with local mixed lettuces, buttermilk-tarragon vinaigrette, herbs, Donnay chevre cheese and candied nuts. While the radishes were too overpoweringly sharp for my taste, the salad had a just-from-the-Earth untouched quality — crisp and light, the goat cheese was smooth and tart and the candied nuts were the playful crunchy sweet companion.
Soon after the Sitka Sound (a large body of water in Alaska) Red King Salmon arrived. It was *perfectly* cooked, just seared on the outside and warmed through to the beautiful pink inside. The small Laughing Bird shrimp (sustainably caught in Laughing Key, Belize) were poached in the arbequina EVOO and everything sat on a bed of marinated white beans and grilled snap peas. I totally dug the grilled snap peas, with the little bit of char that just enhanced the natural sweetness.
Not content to rest on his (talented) laurels, Vickerman followed the “surf” with some phenomenal “turf” — a charred beef hangar steak with fingerling potato confit, local mushrooms, balsamic and preserved lemon. I’m not a huge lover of steak, but this was honestly one of the best I’ve ever eaten. The meat had a deep, smoky flavor and the supple potatoes had a light blanket of slightly fruity, nutty arbosana EVOO in every bite. But the mushrooms — those meaty, perfect, crisp/tender mushrooms made the plate.
K actually finished the last quarter of my steak because I wanted to have room for dessert and, with just one more bite of meat, I wouldn’t have made it. And dessert was my favorite course and not to be missed. Who would have thought — a dessert course made entirely with olive oil?! It was brilliant. A tiny moist olive oil cake, buttery and vanilla-bean-flecked olive oil panna cotta, plate-lickable icy olive oil gelato with surprising specks of salt, a paper-thin crispy olive oil tuille — there were rumors of other MN Food Bloggers licking their dessert plates. I really, really wish I’d done that. As you can see, we were so excited about dessert we forgot to take a photo until we’d already eaten half.
As a blogger, I’ve never been to a sponsored event before so I thought about what I’d do if I *didn’t* like the product of the company sponsoring the dinner. I decided I would fully disclose that I received a free (kick-ass) dinner and would be entirely honest about my opinions of the product. Fortunately I’ve come away with an awareness of the California Olive Ranch products, their eco-friendly farming practices, their olive oil obsession that outshines mine and an admiration for the fact that they can offer a very high quality product at a reasonable price (about $11/bottle, depending on the variety). Thanks to Mike Forbes from the COR for the education, to Will Hsu for organizing the event, to Adam Vickerman and the amazing staff at Cafe Levain for the hospitality and to all the MN Food Bloggers for the laughs and a memorably great time. And a special thanks to K for picking up my blogger slack after I forgot a camera. He took the photos with his iPhone…just one of the 9 million plus things I love about the guy. That and he was willing to ditch our existing dinner plans (which included gianciale) for a last minute Big EVOO Night food adventure.