Saturday night my friend, Bryana, and I got together and went to the Special Projects Social Pop-Up Dinner at Aquarius Boutique. It’s been so long since I went out and had a fun girls night! Now I remember why…it takes me SO long to recover now!! But enough about hangovers and recoveries and such…on to the food!!
When we arrived, we received an artisan cocktail of roasted cumin, candied serrano, Y Vodka, agave, soda and lime. Bryana enjoyed it but I wasn’t all that fond of it. The white wine I got later was much better. I’m not a fan of peppers floating in my vodka.
At the beautiful tables crafted by Peter Zubiate (made of trees taken from the Tropicana Hotel on the River Walk during a recent expansion project) were plates of farinata flatbread, various cheeses, Wild Guajillo Honey, roasted pecans, dried fruits, citrus gelee, and cured meats.
Next, we got a fantastic salad of Lacinato kale with shaved parmigiano reggiano and a light dressing of lemon juice and olive oil. I have to be honest here…before this dinner, I had NO earthly idea what on earth Lacinato kale was. I had a vague idea about kale…sorta like mustard greens or collards but Lacinato? Nope, no clue…had to look it up. According to Wikipedia, “Lacinato kale has dark blue-green leaves, with an “embossed texture”; its taste is described as “slightly sweeter and more delicate… than curly kale.” Because of its taste, “slightly bitter and earthy”, it has been called “the darling of the culinary world”. I LOVED it. The dressing was bright and just barely there. Not sure if I could get my family on board with eating a big bowl of it every night as our Chef Tim McDiarmid of Tim the Girl Catering told us she does.
Up next was another salad, which I thought was a little odd to get two salads. Am I missing something? Is it normal to have two salads at a fancy dinner? This salad was a julinenne of root vegetables, raddiccio and radishes with fresh herbs, baby turnip greens, beet stained eggs and warm bacon vinaigrette. The julienned root veggies were turnips and they had such a great flavor. I loved hitting one in a bite. There were also little chunks of perfectly cooked bacon throughout. Those added a perfect salty crunch to the salad. The only thing this salad really needed was a brighter vinaigrette maybe just a touch more acid.
Along came the first veg course, a winter vegetable stew over cous cous. When I first read the menu & saw that Tim was serving a stew I assumed that this would be a heavy, soup-like dish. Nope, couldn’t have been more wrong. The veggies in this stew were AMAZE-BALLS. I have a serious love for cruciferous vegetables and this dish was loaded with them. I’d love to be able to get the recipe for this. I found cauliflower, sweet potatoes, azuki beans, and greens (not sure what kind). The cous cous under the veggies were, unfortunately, underseasoned, but with veggies like that, I ate around the cous cous.
The main course was a dish called Stracotto over creamy polenta. As soon as it was served (and the requisite photos were taken) the room became silent and all you could hear were the clinking of forks and the occasional “yummy” sound. Y’all this stuff was good. To compare it to roast beef doesn’t even begin to do it justice but that’s the most similar comparison I can make. Chef Tim said it took her 48 hours to make, setting her iPhone alarm to get up every 30 minutes to stir. SO WORTH IT. The polenta under the Stracotto was so creamy and perfectly seasoned. It’s making me hungry just thinking about it now!
The ultimate compliment I can give a dish is, “If it was socially acceptable, I would’ve licked the plate.” I TOTALLY would’ve licked my oh-so-chic 70s yearbook photo-like (the plates are actually from amazing chalk drawings that former Artpace resident Katie Pell did- not photos) silk screened plate that we got to take home as an awesome souvenir. Some of the photos were absolutely hilariously HIDEOUS! I loved them.
Just when I thought I couldn’t eat anymore, this little jewel came out. A dessert cocktail made with Y Vodka, cardamom rose syrup, blood orange juice, and rose sugar. It wasn’t overly sweet or overly tart. The only way I can describe it is fragrant. It tasted the way I would imagine a rose scented perfume would taste (if perfumes tasted good instead of nasty as we all know they actually do). After this dinner, I’m definitely going to have to hunt down some Y Vodka. I know it’s locally made, here in San Antonio. The cocktails served at the dinner didn’t have that telltale “cheap vodka taste” unlike some of the other local/Texas made vodkas I’ve tried lately (ahem, Enchanted Rock Vodka, I’m looking squarely at you).
Finally, a little sweet to end the evening. Guava cream cake (the light one at the top of the plate) and banana pineapple cake with dulce le leche frosting (the darker one at the bottom of the plate). My favorite was MOST definitely the banana pineapple cake. It was spicy (not spicy hot but spicy as in, had spices in it), and the dulce le leche frosting was the perfect foil. The cakes were made by Guest Pastry Chef Ayon Wen-Waldron.
We had a wonderful time and met some really neat people at our table including Tracy Rios of Formo Magazine, who is writing a review of the dinner, Andy, a fellow Aggie (we’re everywhere) and Chad, an Air Force pilot who flies the C-5 Galaxy. Talk about some fascinating dinner conversation! Chef Tim and the Special Projects Social will be hosting the next Pop-Up Dinner in March in conjunction with Contemporary Arts Month. Can’t wait!