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Wild boar upstages at Wolfgang Puck event

by Eric Ginsburg

eric@yesweekly.com

@Eric_Ginsburg

Before Wolfgang Puck’s monthly “Cooked, Corked and Poured Dinner” last week, an executive chef for the company told me they aim to create a comfortable atmosphere to showcase their food in a way that is inviting and avoids being stuffy. No white tablecloths, no dress code. Plus, they try and facilitate some connection between patrons.

It sounded like a tall order for an event with a $50 price tag, but it’s difficult not to relax when four courses of food are involved, especially when each plate is paired with a different scotch that can warm you up to pretty much anything.

The setup and presentation went a long way towards the mission — relaxed, personable staff who would squat next to tables and answer questions, the absence of an air of pretention from attendees and a menu devoid of unrecognizable (or foreign) language. But besides the food, my chance booth-mates were what defined my experience.

I wound up at a table with three other men — best friends out on their weekly night together — who were gracious enough to grant me temporary brotherhood status. They traded stories and stopped to fill me in on the characters, offered daps and proffered thoughts on the scotch, laughing that the final one was barreled as I entered kindergarten.

The scotch arrived first, the youngest (and hottest) of the Balvenie scotches from Dufftown, Scotland for the evening, sporting an aroma of sherry and vanilla and a longer finish than its later counterparts. Next, it’s partner, a prosciutto-wrapped squab breast atop a golden beet puree and macrona almond cream. “That’s a tasty little bird,” one of my momentary friends remarked. “I know, I could eat about five of them,” another responded.

Executive Chef Scott Wallen, who designed the menu, said he added the prosciutto for an extra layer of texture and a fuller taste, balancing out the scotch and the gamey taste of the squab.

Round two: a calzone, a term that conjures images of a microwaved dish in a cinderblock college dorm room. Depending on the establishment, pizza may deserve the same reputation, but that’s partially the point of Wolfgang Puck’s Pizza Bar — raising the familiar to a new level. I don’t think I’ll ever look at a calzone the same way again.

I trust the accuracy of the menu, which stated that the calzone came with chanterelle mushrooms, ricotta and candied pearl onions, but all I could focus on was the slow-roasted wild boar inside. Despite the overall high quality of the dinner, this dish was a cut above.

At first blush the calzone looked almost like a cross between a puffy croissant and a biscuit, with a doughnutesque hole in the center. The soft shell maintained the heat of the boar but held the temperature at the right balance so it didn’t burn the mouth.

Wallen said that, like the pizzas on the normal menu, they wanted to showcase the dough, which takes nine days to make and includes two fermentations. And as with Wolfgang Puck’s pizzas, the depth and care of the preparation is obvious to the palate.

I was entranced before the first bite was down, refusing to pick up my pen to take notes and registering my satisfaction in noises rather than words. All I wrote after: “Boar is amazing. Heavier [than the squab]. Well stuffed.”

The remainder of the evening held its own — a roasted lamb loin, cut in four tender pieces and fanned on the plate with an impressive butter-scotch apple butter and the final course, five-year cave-aged gouda plated with flatbread. And then of course, the designer scotches.

Soon after the brotherhood trio at the table longingly examined cigars they planned to smoke afterwards, our hosts unveiled a culminating treat — complimentary cigars from Havana Phil’s. Wallen had tipped me off that they enjoyed throwing in a surprise at the monthly dinners, but the boar, its counterparts and my interim friends had wiped my mind clear of all memories or worries for the moment.

AIDS Care Service presents Dining with Friends in Winston-Salem on Saturday. Individual supporters host parties throughout the day and ask guest to bring monetary donations to AIDS Care Service. Party hosts and guests will converge on the Old Salem Visitor Center for the Grand Dessert Finale at 8 p.m. For more information on hosting a party, visit aidscareservice.org or contact Rivkah Meder at 336.777.0116. !

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