Monday, May 20, 2013

Fire in the Triad: Battle Ostrich

My eyes were popping out of my head when I learned that the secret ingredient for battle Spring House vs. Noble’s Grille was ostrich. My hopeful speculation that strawberries would be the featured component of the evening could not have been more wrong. I wasn’t really thrilled until the third course, but now I’ve had ostrich prepared more ways than I could have imagined, including alongside a Devil’s Food Cupcake.

Attending Competition Dining's Fire in the Triad is a hugely fun way to spend your evening. Jimmy Crippen is once again the engaging emcee, and the event begins with a “cocktail hour” reception. After being seated, the lights are dimmed and we get a clue as to what the secret ingredient will be. My first bite of ostrich in my 25 years was from Spring House’s Chef Grandinetti: a salad featuring Ostrich Roulade, Asparagus, Beets, Radish, and a Blueberry Gastrique. Roulade is essentially meat wrapped around a filling – in this case, ostrich stuffing. I had trouble with the fact that it was cold, and I didn’t see a lot of continuity with the dish. The beets were the star here, though they could have been a bit more al dente.

Chef Bobby from Noble’s Grille produced a better dish with his Ostrich Tartare (which is RAW, mind you), Fried Egg, Pickled Red Onion, Shaved Fennel, Arugula, Radish and Black Garlic Aioli. This is a classic French preparation, and the richness of the egg yolk enhanced the tartare very well. Again, since the ostrich was cold, I wasn’t entirely satisfied with either of these plates.

As soon as I saw the description for course #3, my eyes were pleased, and I knew my stomach finally would be. In a “gumbo”-like dish, Spring House presented Charred Ostrich atop a Lobster Hash, with Andouille Sausgae, Mushrooms and Bell Pepper Gravy. It was pleasantly spicy, but the ostrich would have been better in chunks, among the rest of the dish. Instead, it seemed like a bit of an afterthought, being placed on top of the stew.

Noble’s clearly won this round. Peppercorn Crusted Ostrich Filet is paired with Toasted Farro, Ostrich Sausage, Charred Patty Pan Salad, Parsnip Chips and Pomegranate Seeds. This Farro was much like a creamy risotto, and the ostrich sausage boasted wonderful notes of sage. The Parsnip Chips were a nice salty crunch, and the tart pops of pomegranate seeds were excellent surprises. The ostrich was cooked a perfect medium rare.

Course #5 didn’t disappoint, featuring a Pan Roasted Ostrich Filet with Curried NC Sweet Potato and Carrot Puree, Slab Bacon, Crispy Potato Strings and Red Wine Reduction. My tablemates and I searched for (and couldn’t find) any bacon, but instead found two dollops of Bleu Cheese. The Potato Strings were a nice crunch, and the puree would be perfect for autumn, though the curry notes were notably missing.

At this point, I was getting tired of such gamey dishes. I was truly hoping Chef Bobby would attempt a dessert, but I wanted it to be GOOD. He must have read my mind, as I was presented with a Devil’s Food Cake topped with a Milk Chocolate Chantilly, with Cast Iron Cocoa Ostrich Carpaccio alongside thin Strawberry slices. A Strawberry Consommé was a nice base, and it was difficult to distinguish between the strawberries and the ostrich, since they have such similar textures. The mint did a nice job disguising the gamey flavor. Not being a chocolate person, this was the best Devil’s Food Cake I’ve ever had, moister than any I can remember, and the Chantilly Cream was a nice replacement to a heavy frosting.

It was pretty clear Noble’s had it in the bag when it was announced who completed each dish. Fire in the Triad runs through June 26, and I’m game (ha) for anyone who wants to go try it out. Tickets are $59, but you definitely get your money’s worth. Fellow adventurous eaters – here’s your chance to play Iron Chef.

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