Monday, April 9, 2012

Cooking Class: Zink American Kitchen


I’m really fortunate to have an incredible boss who gives awesome birthday presents. For my last birthday, I was treated to a gift card to Harper’s Restaurant Group, to either redeem at one of their four Charlotte restaurants, or at some of their cooking classes. She knows me so well. I attended a cooking class last fall at Mimosa Grill (pre-blog) and had a spectacular time, met new friends and learned how to whip up a ridiculous Sweet Potato Risotto. Upon searching for my next cooking class, I stumbled upon Zink American Kitchen’s “Cuisine of New York.” Since NYC is one of the food capitals of the world, I immediately signed up. Even though I found some courses too complex for me to duplicate in my own kitchen, I left the class with new culinary skills and a completely satisfied stomach.

Momz & me in NYC
When I think of classic NYC cuisine, pizza, street hot dogs and pretzels come to mind, but I doubted any of these would make the menu - and I was right. We began with Manhattan Clam Chowder - the red one. Zink puts a spin on their version of the chowder with tomato water, a flavorful broth as opposed to a thick, stewy base. The tomato water had delicious depth, but requires draining through a cheesecloth for days to make properly – ie, too much work for me. I enjoyed the taste, but found the chunks of carrots and tomatoes an odd addition.

Did I mention that each course is served with a glass of wine? And that the class starts at 10am? 4 courses + 4 glasses of wine = top morning. The Chowder was paired with a 2010 Don David Finca La Primavera, a blend of Argentinian whites. I’m usually not a fan of whites, but it brought out the light acidic notes in the broth.

When you think NYC, you think Katz’s Deli and their mile high sandwiches. So naturally, the second course was a Reuben. I’m not a sandwich person (I KNOW, I’M WEIRD) but I do love a good melt. This was actually the first time I’ve sampled a Reuben, but I knew I was in good hands. Traditionally, Corned Beef, Sauerkraut, Swiss Cheese and Thousand Island Dressing are piled high on Rye Bread. To my approval, Zink used a hot mustard spread in place of the often too-sweet Thousand Island. This deliciously spicy sauce gave the dish a delightful umami sensation (the fifth sense of taste, an overwhelmingly wonderful savory flavor.) My only complaint was the use of toasted caraway seeds, which have a strong anise/liquorish flavor. It was a bit overpowering, as the anise flavor is echoed in the Rye Bread, but the saltiness of the Corned Beef and gooey melted cheese was very comforting.

Though I would have preferred a Hummin’Bird or a Stella with this sandwich, a 2010 Old Vine Lodi Zinfandel was a surprisingly great match. I’m a huge Red Zin fan – not to be confused with White Zin (nast!)

The third course was by far my favorite: Roasted Duck with Manhattan Reduction Sauce and Apple Bread Pudding - easily found in a 5-star NYC restaurant. Tender, melt-in-your-mouth duck under perfectly seasoned skin reminded me of Christmas dinner. The Manhattan Reduction Sauce was quite similar to the cocktail – vermouth and bourbon-based, with duck pan drippings, butter and garlic. If it were served in a martini glass, I would have downed it. In the words of my companion, “Apple Bread Pudding will be my contribution to next year’s Thanksgiving dinner.” Simple to make, sweet and savory, with chunks of apple and a smidgen of cheese on top – this was an outstanding complement to the roasted duck. Without a doubt, this was the most outstanding dish of the day. I could kick myself for not taking photos of each dish, though the presentation wasn’t the highlight. This course was served alongside a Toscolo from Tuscany – dry, similar to a Cabernet. Not my favorite, but the entrée made up for it.

What dessert is more New York than cheesecake? We rounded out our class with Cappuccino Cheesecake with Dulce de Leche and Sea Salt Caramel. This is a coffee lovers’ dream. I love cheesecake and I love coffee, but ironically I don’t always love coffee-flavored desserts. The Oreo crust and Sea Salt Caramel made this dish for me – I would have been totally satisfied with just that. Unfortunately, they didn’t teach us how to make the Caramel, which I would have enjoyed adding to my repertoire since each time I attempt it on my own, the sugar ends up crystallizing! Not that it needed a wine pairing, but Jorge Ordonez Cava Champagne was a nice palate cleanser to the coffee.
  
If you’re a foodie, check out the Harper’s Restaurant Group cooking class schedule. Zink, Mimosa Grill and Upstream each offer one class once a month. It’s definitely worth the money, and you start your Saturday the right way. I look forward to the Cinco de Mayo class, where we’ll sample Spanish wines and create Spanish tapas!

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