Monday, June 15, 2009

Epicurean Adventures: Wedded Bliss Begins at the Table

(Pictures to come!)

Part of what made my wedding absolutely perfect, since I’m a fatass with an unnatural obsession for food, was the fact that the food was outstanding. Although I was unable, for the first time in my life, to eat everything on my plate due to the high-strung excitement of the weekend and my broken sinuses, I thoroughly enjoyed every bite I WAS able to stomach.

The cocktail hour immediately followed the short and sweet nondenominational ceremony (Boy is an aetheist and I haven’t yet decided what I am, other than superstitious and somewhat spiritual), with our good friend Kat Olszewska’s signature drink as the bridal couple blend. Made with vodka, fresh mint, simple syrup, and other stuff that makes it go down as easy and fresh as slightly sparkling spa water, this has been Boy’s and my drink of choice for as long as we’ve had the pleasure of knowing Kat.

Unfortunately, the drinks were pretty much the most full serving of anything we had during this hour, as formal family wedding portraits were scheduled for half of this time. We had some really tasty treats, one of them being the mini-muffulettas for Boy’s grandfather Marty, who’d been obsessed with the olive salad and Italian cold cut sandwiches since his first visit to Nawlins, and who’d been looking forward to these since we decided the wedding would take place in the Big Sleazy. Little toasted squares of crispy French bread topped with mushrooms in a thick, buttery sauce sat in a buffet-style serving station, and mini-quiches were snatched up quickly from the white plates on the serving line. A chef cooked bowtie pasta with local tasso ham and white meat cubed chicken and tossed it all skillfully in a cream-based white sauce, not unlike an Alfredo style. The assorted bouchees (stuffed puff pastries), which came in crab and leek among other combinations, were such a hit that I didn’t get a single bite; reports were that they were fabulous, though.

The indisputable hit of our cocktail hour was definitely the oysters, though. Chef Stoltzfus outdid himself with truly fantastic fried oysters the night before, and people who had no idea oysters could be good became devout fanatics of the delicious mollusks. The fried giants of Coquette became the gateway dish to the way of the oyster, and the baked oysters were snatched up so quickly it was as if they were never served. The only evidence in place that they’d even been brought out was the pile of shells on the plates of those hovering near the serving line, nervously awaiting a fresh batch, and the watery layer of juice sitting at the bottom of the serving tray. Descending like a hungry vulture (not unlike the rest of my food-loving guests … birds of a feather and all that, eh?), I snatched one right from Boy’s plate, and hovered like the rest of the crowd after that first mouthful, waiting for more. Baked in the shell with bacon, breadcrumbs, a bit of crab, and a nice hit of garlic, they were fresh and fabulous.

After cocktail hour, we were asked to take a seat in the Robespierre Dining Room, a somewhat sparse but beautifully put together multi-purpose room the hotel uses for private events. More elegant than the awkward mirrored dining room they serve breakfast in, large pieces of artwork and tables set with napkins in fleur de lis form and shining dinnerware created a pretty picture. The massive, sweet-scented pale yellow Conca d’Or lilies, interwoven with curled strands of lilygrass and apricot Gerbera daisies pulled everything together with a lovely freshness, and the alternating heights of the floral arrangements drew many positive comments, further solidifying my absolute confidence in the super-awesome florist I chose, Ashley Bateman of Nola Flora in the Riverbend. The only thing missing were the tealights that the hotel had promised—which I didn’t even notice until the wedding was over. Obviously, not that big a deal.

But I’m sure you don’t care nearly as much about the flowers as I did, so let me tell you what else we ate.

Disaster a la Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, , in Boy’s eyes, was very closely averted by his keen eye and the passion he’d been harboring for the salad they’d served us at the tasting months before. Since I was MIA for a bit, the event coordinators spoke to Boy to confirm the menu for the night. He instantly noticed that the Salade Revolution was not the same version that had been at the tasting, and demanded that this be set to rights. His response to their protests was that there were three hours before the first course was served, and that someone was bound to have proscuitto that could be accessed within those three hours.

He was right.

A gorgeous salad of baby spring greens in a house vinaigrette was served with tender endive leaves, the Belgian endive tenderly cupping blanched green asparagus that had been tossed in a vinegar-based dressing. Proscuitto enveloped a plump, square packet of warm goat cheese, a smooth, rich flavor that added a sharp but creamy acid to the colorful dish. Hot, crusty French pistolettes accompanied the salad to offset the crazy deep flavors that were introduced in the acidic and fabulous first course, and whorls of sweet cream butter were addicting.

The second course that was formally served was a shrimp bisque, a cream-based Gulf-y soup in a vivid tangerine shade that was luxurious in velvety mouthfeel. Unfortunately, nerves had caught up with me at that point and the butterflies in my stomach were insistent on being the only inhabitants, and I was unable to stomach too many spoonfuls of the delicious soup. Wearing a fully laced-up corseted bodice on my wedding dress certainly didn’t help, either, considering I was unable to take a deep breath, nonetheless expand!

The entrées served that evening included Atlantic salmon fillets in a buerre blanc sauce, bone-in skin-on chicken in a Creole mustard cream sauce, and thick filet mignon in a wild mushroom Madeira wine reduction. Each of these options came with garden-fresh steamed and lightly seasoned vegetables (cauliflower, carrots, broccoli) and some potatoes to round it all off.

The salmon was presented as a big splash of color, the buttery cream sauce livened up with a little lemon and fresh green garnish with a sprinkling of paprika. The shimmering silver skin reflected the sparkling dim light of the room, and the coarse Creole mustard sauce on the browned chicken skin provided a similar effect. Creole mustard, as you may know, is a wholly different animal than the typical yellow or even Dijon mustard that’s commonly found on kitchen tables around the country. Instead, it’s a mild, rich, large-grained seed with a phenomenal, subtle tang that goes with pretty much anything. The chicken was, however, a little saltier than I remembered from the tasting, but it was still a decadent dish that I don’t regret choosing as our poultry/fowl option.

On the other hand, I do regret not choosing the tournedos for my own entrée. The meat that was served at the wedding reception was actually of a much higher quality than what we’d sampled at the tasting! It was tender and served medium, much to the relief of those guests who’d felt the medium-rare temperature of their steak at Coquette was a little too cool for their liking, and was still easily sliceable with their standard steak knives. In fact, the steaks were so buttery soft that one of my younger cousins was spotted biting his filet right off the fork, skipping the whole cutting aspect of eating a nice filet. The most direct route is straight, though, eh?

Rather than serving a formal dessert course, Boy and I had opted for a larger wedding cake than the hotel offered to pay for. We had chosen to use Swiss Confectionery on St. Charles Avenue in the CBD area, not just because it was one of the St. Louis Hotel’s preferred vendors, but because we fell in love at first bite. Actually, even before then – we were besotted by the time we stepped into the glass doors of the sweetly scented cakery (Swiss is not necessarily a bakery; rather, they specialize in cakes to order and don’t do the standard daily offerings of French pastries and whatnot).

Anyway, the cake was the fastest we’d ever come to a decision, especially with the wedding. Deciding on the St. Louis Hotel (the only place in the French Quarter will a fully canopied, fountained courtyard) was the second easiest.

I found the cake of my dreams in one of their standard offerings, and chose peach as the rose colors and a light spring sage as the leaf color. Lilies of the valley trimmed the sides of the buttercream iced cake (fondant is beautiful, but for me, taste and enjoyment trumps aesthetic), and gorgeous Grecian style columns formed the supports for all three tiers. The cake itself was rich with the flavor of toasted almonds throughout, but much sweeter than what we’d had at the tasting at Swiss. Not only that, but the layers were thinner than the sample slices we’d devoured, making the buttercream frosting a little more overwhelming than the mild and thin sheet we’d anticipated. I guess such is the price of beauty in a cake, though, eh? The flowers decorating the cake added about a good two inches of icing, so I can’t complain, since I thought it was delicious, even if it did hurt some people’s teeth.

The filling of the cake was a perfect complement to the sweetness of the buttercream and fluffy white almond cake—pineapple. I know! Wholly unexpected, with a tinge of lemon, giving it a tartness that caused the cake to be reminiscent of one of Boy’s favorite treats of all time, rainbow cookies.

The night ended with the little Sucre favors in their distinctive signature pink linen paper purses, with dark chocolate fleurs de lis filled with white chocolate and brown butter ganache, dusted with a gold sheen, and white chocolate wedding cakes filled with creamy toasted almond white chocolate ganache.

Everyone then took to the streets after the final song was played, a luxury that not many weddings can afford since they’re often at catering halls, not in hotels situated a block off the most notoriously raucous street in the country. Bourbon Street was a novelty to our mostly out-of-town guests (only family and like-family were in attendance, due to the economic situation and the necessity to travel for our nuptials—it seemed presumptuous to invite people who wouldn’t be able to make it since our wedding was never about the gifts), Boy and I both being from New York originally, and the party that started with most people’s arrival on Thursday continued on into the wee hours into Monday morning.

A perfect weekend? I’d say so. It may be trite and clichéd, but this truly was the best few days of my entire life … which bodes well, don’t you think?

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