Popup at Savorez: Food, Bourbon, and… Pickles
The places are set, diners seated Euro-style, tip-toeing into conversations with fellow foodies, new friends, connected by the love of food, and a passion for the experience.
This Sunday evening, Savorez’ sous chef steps into the spotlight. A small batch bourbon purveyor slides into a supporting role. Expectation hangs in the small restaurant, an aura of sexy generated by the ruby walls and the close, intimate space.
The beauty of the Savorez popup is in surrendering the course of the evening to the chef: on this night, Aldo Garcia. There will be no flurried mental sorting of cocktails. No muddling through a multi-page menu. No effort to balance appetizer with entree, or viande with dessert.
And with that, there is an anticipation of discovery. Chef Garcia opened the evening with an enthusiastic narrative, promising to unveil a culinary story, interwoven with traditional flavors, expected and yet unexpected combinations, and melded with the mellow tones of bourbon. The evening would allude to a pickleback, he promised, a shot of whiskey and pickle brine that made its way into popular bar culture via Brooklyn’s hipster scene.
Chef Garcia delivered. I will get to the pickle component, in a winding way, which is exactly how Chef intended the evening to unfold. This dinner surprised my palate, and sent me on a web-research culinary expedition of my own. (Follow some of the links below.)
With lowball glasses raised to Jefferson’s, a very small batch bourbon, and cheerful acknowledgement of collegial, food-themed exchanges to come, our table of friends and new acquaintances dipped into the evening with a first course of arugula, scallop, and sweet potato dumplings. When you are open to suggestion, a brilliant presentation, we nodded in agreement, with crisp greens and mellow oranges is the perfect visual to whet expectations. “Gnocchi,” exclaimed one of my dining companions, which was a valid observation. Diners don’t need bread and butter when there are sweet potato dumplings with rich brown butter flavored with earthy sage. Punctuated with bourbon spiced pecans, the slightly bitter arugula and single, perfectly seared scallop, was a winner. Go easy, we counseled ourselves and each other, there was much more to come.
Another cocktail, preceded by a finger – or two – of Jefferson’s Reserve, filled the space between courses. Add an ice cube to take away some of the heat, we were encouraged. A bourbon drinker, I demurred. This was a good bourbon, a very good bourbon.
This very good bourbon prepared the palette for a perfectly balanced sweet to sour Muscadine grape barbeque sauce over boar ribs. Meatier than pork ribs, our dark, rich plates were accented with African blue basil and golden, burnt Gouda cheese. Fruit and cheese is an obvious combination, but elevated here in the salty smoked flavor of the cheese in rich contrast to the fruit and game flavors in the sauce.
Another space, another two fingers of bourbon, this time Jefferson’s Ocean Aged at Sea, a limited edition bourbon aged a decade on land and then matured aboard an ocean-faring vessel. Bourbon drinkers, most of us, forgoed the ice, to enjoy this libation neat. We savored the notes of raisins, spice, and citrus.
The next course was ordinary, and in that ordinariness, it was unusual but typically Southern, simple but fascinating. This is what Chef intended, for an evening happily saturated in bourbon, the absolutely brilliant chaser of salty, herb-infused brine flavors. It came in a divine partnership of house pickles nestled against a single perfectly crisp fried chicken thigh. How had I never had these flavors together. Buell, a native North Carolinian, leaned across the table, telling me that fried chicken and pickle juice make a regular tandem appearance on Southern tables.
And a Manhattan. My drink.
Finishing an artistically assembled meal is a feat of a very special kind. You cannot do too sweet, too rich, too complex. The final course has to finish, like punctuation, and satisfy. For this meal, beautifully saturated in bourbon, Chef offered just enough substance, presenting a corn cake on the slightly sweet side, with a flourish of bourbon butter frosting secreting bits of coarse sea salt that sparkled across the palette.
Experience a Savorez popup: prix fixe menu, one seating. Follow Savorez on Facebook to hear about upcoming special events.
Have a whiskey and pickle juice adventure. You can try a pickleback shot, or dribble a little pickle juice on your next piece of fried chicken.