What’s better than a beautiful fall evening, a new cultural experience, and delicious food? The correct answer is, not much. This year the AZCentral Food and Wine Experience brought us the Native Harvest dinner, a meal prepared by Chef Steven Folmar of Casino Arizona.
Part of the great thing about Arizona is that we have such a great mix of cultures and it was a pleasure to indulge in ingredients that come straight from our own backyard. Flautist Ken Duncan and hoop dancer RJ Lopez set the mood for our meal and Chef Steven Folman delighted with five full courses to highlight Arizona cuisine, pairing the dishes with beautiful wines that showcase the food’s local, autumnal flavors.
First course was a spicy, pumpkin soup garnished with Crème fraîche and seasoned tortilla strips. Nothing says fall like pumpkin, and the orange gourd makes for a warm and comforting beginning. Soup is like a hug from the inside and the bright flavors of the chile note in the dish contrasted nicely with the Vara Blanco especial lot #013 served alongside it, making the wine taste crisper, lighter, and fruitier.
Our salad course was a poached wheat berry salad with an agave vinaigrette, served the same wine as the soup.
Wheat berries are the full wheat kernel (that includes the bran, germ, and endosperm) and provide the nutty flavor and sort of hearty full feeling you get from eating oatmeal. In a salad, they act as almost the protein, creating a heft to the greens that make it feel more like a meal. The cojita cheese in the mixed greens lent an extra tang to the salad, giving it an overall lighter feel.
Bless the chef because in between courses we were given a palette cleanser. Yes, this is juvenile, but it is like dessert in between dinner one and dinner two as far as I am concerned. As a child, I was fully convinced the sorbet was just a way adults could squeeze in an extra dessert. As an adult, I am not yet convinced otherwise.
This sorbet was blood orange with an hibiscus sauce that wasn’t too sweet and topped with mint. It certainly got our palettes ready for the main entrée of the evening; marinated elk with date sauce.
If you haven’t had elk before, maybe because that doesn’t exactly pop up on menus regularly or because you’re afraid to, try it. Elk is lighter than beef with a flavor that is somewhere between nutty and sweet. This was paired with vara Tinto especial #012, a red wine blend of tempranillo (60%), Garnacha (28%), syrah (7%), and Monastrell (5%) that is full-bodied with hints of berry, smoke, and pepper that brought out the sweetness of the meat. Elk is not gamey, despite what people might think and this dish was prepared thoughtfully, leaving the elk at medium-rare and serving with a tepary bean medley and cheesy squash gratin.
Dessert was a simple trio of chocolate; white chocolate mousse with butternut squash sauce, cocoa neb macarons with an agave chocolate center, and a dark chocolate black root cake with Maracaibo creamux.
The chef saved the best for last. The trio was delectable but not overly sweet. The mousse was a cross between a marshmallow and a set pudding that was sturdy enough to cut into cubes but melted quickly on the tongue. Macarons are usually a favorite but they acted as an accouterment to the black root cake, a dark concoction of chocolate cake and cream.
Overall, it was a beautiful dinner by Chef Stephen Folmar of Casino Arizona that celebrated Arizona’s rich heritage and culinary traditions. The 2016 AZCentral Arizona Food and Wine Experience took place November 4-6 at Talking Stick’s Salt River Fields.