Wednesday, October 07, 2009

From Hive to Bottle to Table

Did you know there’s a board that actually goes around promoting honey? I thought that was funny too because to me these puppies sell themselves.

But, yep, there’s a National Honey Board, and I found out about them recently when they invited me to a special honey dinner at Perbacco in San Francisco. The Firestone, Colo.-based board packed up their honey and went on the road, putting on these special honey tasting dinners with the help of local chefs.

Honey? Oh, yes. Free dinner? Duh.

So last night I went over to Perbacco, the chic Italian restaurant in the Financial District, and brought along fellow food blogger and honey lover Foodhoe. We also met up with Food Gal, who drove up from Silicon Valley, and I also spotted or briefly met other food bloggers such as Tablehopper, Cooking with Amy, Kitchen Gadget Girl and Jen Maiser of Life Begins at 30. It was a virtual honeycomb of bloggers.

When we arrived, there was a bar offering up honey drinks and I picked up a honey mojito that had just the right balance of sweetness and mint. That primed my palate for the honey tasting in the back, where we listened to a presentation on the varieties of honey.

We tried 10 different types of honey, and learned that the names didn’t necessarily translate to the taste. Like the avocado honey didn’t taste like guacamole or the pumpkin honey didn’t say pumpkin pie. They just get their names from the plant’s pollen used to create the honey. But they were all quite different (although they all were achingly sweet; yeah, you try putting a teaspoon of straight honey in your mouth 10 times).

Some were light, others rich and gooey. The weirdest one was the buckwheat honey, which was thick as molasses, slightly dark like tar, and gave out a weird funky smell that was anything but sweet. It’s an acquired taste.

Speaking of taste, Perbacco’s staff kept us from getting tummy aches from all the sweets we were tasting by nourishing us with appetizers such as smoked goose breast with honeydew melon, honey and citrus marinated Asian pears with gorgonzola, and a salt cod croquette with lemon-honey aioli.

Then it was time to sit down for dinner, where we feasted on a five-course meal prepared by Perbacco’s Chef/Owner Staffan Terje. Chef Terje briefly talked about the challenge of using honey in preparing foods because, he says (and I agree), that you can’t use too much or else you increase the likelihood of burning.

First course: Honey-Glazed Smoked Trout with Roasted Beets and Horseradish Schiuma. Paired with a white wine: 2008 Langhe, Collaretto, Oddero, Piemonte.

The trout slices were layered with perfectly roasted slices of red and golden beets (I heart beets) and topped with a garnish of what seemed like miniature Italian flat leaf parsley that were seasoned with a light vinaigrette. The honey glaze served to lock in the moisture of the fish, but allowed the exterior to have the smokey look and flavor. Everything was beautiful and well balanced.

Second course: Sheep’s Milk Ricotta Agnolotti with Chestnut Honey-Brown Butter. Paired with a white wine: 2007 Kharisma, Ragnedda, Sardegna.

This was probably the star dish of the night as everyone raved about the honey brown butter, which was rich and luscious, gently kissing the light ricotta stuffed pasta. The brown butter and honey were a decadent combination that truly shows the strength of using honey in a savory dish. (BTW, my plate might not look as exciting as maybe Foodhoe’s or Food Gal’s because it lacked any of the slivers of sage sprinkled on the pasta. So now it looks kind of bland, although it tasted totally opposite.)

Third course: Honey and Arneis Poached Halibut with Thistle Honey Artichokes. Paired with another white: 2007 Roero, Arneis, Renesio, Malvira, Piemonte.

OK, this is where I’m going to blame the poor lighting and my bad eyes because I couldn’t really read the menu so wasn’t sure what this course was. So when the server placed the plate in front of me, I thought we were eating tofu. And I thought the tofu looked so white and bland that I turned my plate to show off the other components. So that’s how I took the picture above.

After I found out the main dish wasn’t tofu but a halibut filet, I retook the photo to give the halibut its due.

The halibut was silky like silken tofu. I guess you would be totally smooth and silky too if you sat in a pot of honey. (How many bottles of honey do you think would fill up my tub?) Overall, the dish didn’t have a distinct honey flavor.

Fourth course: 36-hour Honey and Barbera-Glazed Wagyu Short Ribs with Fall Vegetables and Herb Salad. Paired with a red wine: 2006 Barbera D’Alba, Tre Vigne, Clerico, Piemonte.

That’s right, that’s no typo. 36 hours, baby. This was a hearty dish of tender boneless short ribs. The honey glaze wasn’t overly sweet or sticky, instead it was a muted skin to the richly succulent meat. The roasted parsnips, carrots and potatoes with a tiny herb salad (with a minty zing) rounded out this dish.

Fifth course: Dessert plate of Milk and Honey Panna Cotta with Lemon-Zest Gelatina, Torrone Semifreddo, and Butermilk Bombolone with Honey Dulce de Leche. Paired with a dessert wine: 2008 Mascato D’Asti, Strev, Marenco, Piemonte.

I was looking forward to dessert because I thought this is where honey would really shine, but Chef Terje used a controlled hand again with the honey in dessert. So none of the desserts were overly sweet, including the panna cotta, which was more milky than honey. The torrone semifreddo was nice with some bits of nuts for the base, but I wished the dulce de leche with the bombolone was a bit more sweet because at the end of the meal is when I would throw caution to the wind and go crazy with the honey.

Overall, Chef Terje delivered an exquisite meal using honey both as a taste component and a cooking technique. It makes you realize that honey recipes don’t have to always be sweet, but savory too.

Speaking of recipes, try some of mines featuring honey:
Pomegranate-glazed Pork
Honey-Mustard Salmon
Asian-Style Pulled Pork Sandwich


foodhoe said...

Wow single guy, great write up! I still haven't even looked at my pix... You really made an effort to mingle, I didn't see half of the bloggers you mentioned! Strangely enough, I seemed to taste the honey less and less as the evening progressed... tastebud fatigue? Thanks again for bringing me along, I still have the flowers in the vase on my counter in the kitchen!

Cookie said...

It's amazing how you can use honey is so many different dishes. I used to think you could only drizzle it on dessert but lately I've been using it in savory dishes too. I especially like to add it to slow cooked meats to give it a slightly sweet flavor!

Hungry Dog said...

wow, sounds like an incredible evening! I'm jealous--what do I have to do to get invited to the next see-and-be-seen event with fabulous food? ;) Great writeup.

Carolyn Jung said...

What a dinner that was, huh? I wish I could have more of the pasta right now. ;)

Jenster said...

Wow, what an amazing opportunity to have this type of dinner! Since the theme was honey, I wonder if anyone had considered serving mead as one of the beverages? Or perhaps the honey in the mead would have clashed with the honey in the food?

Gudrun said...

Great write up! You captured the evening perfectly, and your photos are great. I cannot believe I forgot my camera :-(

My favorite dish was the halibut, I thought the gnocchi had a little too much brown butter for my taste. The cocktails were both outstanding, I hope those recipes are available on the honey board site...

Single Guy Ben said...

Foodhoe, Carolyn, it was fun having dinner with you both!

Cookie, I use honey all the time now.

Jenster, I didn't know what mead was when you mentioned it but after I looked it up that sounds like a perfect drink to serve at a honey dinner. But I guess it must be hard to find someone making it.

Gudrun, nice meeting you at the dinner! The halibut was silky, but I still loved the pasta. :) And those drinks were great!

OneBlueMovieStar said...

Was the "honey" dinner especially for the food critics or is this available to the public?