223 South Elm serves seven in style

by Brian Clarey

Anyone can eat one course, scarfed down over the kitchen sink. And two or three courses… that’s just adding dessert or maybe an appetizer. A four-course meal is a civilized thing, but five courses is just a bit more so. There is no such thing in decent society as a six-course meal. And a seven-course dinner… well, let’s just say it’s not for beginners.

A seven-course meal is an event. A stage show. A symphony. Seven courses allows the chef to demonstrate the breadth of his talents, lets the diners use the full range of their senses. It is an exercise in gluttony, yes, but also artistry and social interaction, because what is a meal if not a communal experience? And if you throw in wine, it’s a lot more fun. Last week I took a companion out for just such an experience: seven luxurious courses at downtown Greensboro’s 223 South Elm paired with selections from the Kendall-Jackson collection. Most of the ingredients for the feast, Chef Jason Jones assured me, were flown in overnight from Seattle, hand-picked at Pike Place Fish Market by a guy named Mike — a promising detail. As for the wines…. Kendall-Jackson, a company with Sonoma roots, is a favorite whipping boy of wine snobs and up-selling, eye rolling waiters for years and years. The reason is probably K-J Vintner’s Reserve Chardonnay, which is produced on a huge scale, is widely available in most supermarkets and, due to its notes of fruit, buttery texture and slight hint of oak, has created a fan base among suburban soccer moms. But opening comments by Kim Wallace, a wine educator for Majestic Fine Wines, revealed a heritage behind Kendall-Jackson of which I was previously unaware — for instance, I did not know that Jackson Family Estates, which is the parent company, owns vineyards in Spain, Italy,

France, New Zealand and Australia; that it grows much of its own grapes, overseeing the process from the very first step; that it is the only American company with access to French oak, key for aging. That’s the secret behind the first wine, a 2006 Freemark Abbey Estate Viognier, from the Rutherford region of California’s Napa Valley. It’s matched with a pair of oyster shooters: a Kumomoto oyster in a parfait with whipped cream flavored by tomato and ginger and roasted peppers, and a Quilcene yearling oyster swimming in truffled mignonette. It was as good a way to start as any. A second course featured a crab cake, crumbling with Dungeness, over sweet corn and a single fried okra, doused with sun-dried tomato aioli. Its match was the 2006 Hartford Court Stone C’te Chardonnay, from the Sonoma coast. Its butteriness blended seamlessly with the sweet corn and crab, and a subtle oak finish capped off the flavors nicely. At this point, my dinner companion leaned over to me. “The thing about a seven-course meal,” she said, “is that by the end of the second course you’ve already eaten like a whole regular meal.”

Nonsense. Still, if you’re trying to take down seven courses, your appetite had best have an extra gear. The third course carried on the Italian theme with threads of Asian and French influence: tuna tartare, prepared Caprese style with olive oil, garlic, tomatoes and firm, house-made mozzarella. This was paired with a pinot noir, the 2005 Hartford Court Land’s Edge. Such daring! Pairing a fish course with a red wine! But come on… everybody’s doing it. And pinot noirs in particular are versatile enough that they can be paired with anything. But a shiraz with shellfish? Positively shocking! Seriously, though, the taboo relationship between reds and seafood was lifted years ago. I promise. And that 2006 Yangarra Estate, from the McLaren Vale, melded beautifully with arazor-clam risotto redolent of parmesan and black truffles. By thefifth course, seven-course adventurists might start to feel flushedwith rich food and supple wine. By now you’ve been at it for an hour ormore, and you might feel like you’ve had enough. Trust me: You haven’t.Courses one through four showcase the light and fanciful dishes in thechef’s repertoire. By the sixth course, he’s getting down to seriousbusiness. For the fifth and sixth courses, Jones unveils themost cherished of fruits from the Pacific Northwest: wild salmon. Oneexample posits troll-caught king salmon, poached with saffron and mint,served atop a stew of local sweet potatoes and cinnamon, with essencesof honey and lavender. With this came one of Kendall- Jackson’s mostsurprising wines: a 2004 Arceno Prima Voce, a super Tuscan nurturedfrom grape to bottle by Jackson Estates. The next selection, apiece of roasted Coho salmon, showed simply under a buerre rouge and aquadrangle of Manila clams, which were tiny, succulent and powerful inflavor. Paired with a nice, big red — a 2004 Stonestreet Legacy,straight from the slopes of Alexander Mountain — the piscine flavors ofthe clams and fish were tamed into submission. And then there’sdessert. And you eat it because, at this point, what’s the damndifference. And you could use a little something sweet to finish offyour palate. This night’s final course was a superior flan, firm andwith a caramel sauce thick enough to maintain a significant layer overthe custard. Walnut sprinkles provided flavor and texture, and thewine, a 2006 late-harvest chardonnay, proved a nectar that could putthe flavors in context. At this point in the seven-courseexperience, you can count yourself fully sated. You have tasted newthings and learned something about food. You have likely met a few nicefolks — my companion and I were favored with the company of a youngdentist, his even-younger wife and a couple who work with dogs — andthere’s nothing left to do but applaud the chef, wash your hands andmove slowly towards the door. ‘To comment on this story e-mail Brian Clarey at

223 South Elm 223 S. Elm St. Greensboro 336.272.3331