Wednesday, July 28, 2010

FoodTrek: Cuba Sunday Supper with Ventana

It seems like no one eats at the table, family-style anymore! Well, not nobody, but when you go out to eat, you're given your own private table, you have your private experience, and  if you have the most wonderful meal imagined, it's like it only stays within your own personal bubble. Half the enjoyment of food is sharing it with others and being able to exchange thoughts, comments and even personal memories that flavors often stir up. Belltown neighborhood restaurant Ventana is stirring things up on their own with their Sunday Supper events, serving a large family-style meal to a dozen or so guests. Recently, they created a Cuban themed dinner that got the whole table talking -- and eating!

Cuban themed Sunday Dinner at Ventana - Photo by Wasabi Prime

Ventana's one of those great neighborhood restaurants that feels like a local hidden gem -- it's in a prime spot and not overrun with tourists, the menu is always changing with the seasons so you know everything's fresh, and it's seriously got one of the most stunning views of the Sound, especially as the sun sets and the light literally changes every few minutes. Throughout the course of a summer dinner, the light changes from  bright afternoon sun, to that "golden hour" glow when the light puts a patina on everything, and then a dusky shade that's a mixture of the fading sun and the glow of candles on the table finally being able to cast their light. Hint, hint to Mr. Wasabi -- aren't we overdue for a proper Date Night?

Sunday Dinner meals introduced by Chef Conrad - Photos by Wasabi Prime

Executive Chef Joseph Conrad presented the three course dinner, personally introducing the menu items and describing the inspiration behind the meal. For the Cuban themed dinner, the purpose was authenticity. No squeeze bottle flourishes, spun sugar-caged presentations -- this family style dinner was meant to represent just that, a meal that a family in Cuba would be enjoying after a long, busy day. These were comfort foods, the same way we tuck into a plate of meat loaf and mashed potatoes on a Sunday dinner with family. It was a dinner meant to evoke feelings of home, loved ones and happy memories.

I  should have worn my elastic waistband pants - so much food! - Photos by Wasabi Prime

The first course included wonderfully savory curls of chicharrones -- beautiful crackle-surfaced, fried strips of fatty pork. It went well with the bright-flavored pineapple and creamy avocado salad, a very simple collection of cool tossed greens to balance out the crunch of the chicharrones. I wished I hadn't indulged so much with the addictive chicharrones, as the second course was, in a word, epic. Roasted corn on the cob with lime and parmesan, with a pimente espellete; massive Cuban sandwich with butter-soft braised pork, peppers, ham, melted cheese, compressed between a soft baguette; a heaping platter of escabeche, a traditional fish stew, this one using large chunks of swordfish in a spiced, flavored oil and tossed with pickled vegetables. So. Much. Food. For reals. And it was so wonderfully flavorful and hearty. I wished I could somehow extend my stomach to take in more of it, especially the escabeche, with the fantastic mixture of spice and briny notes of the pickled vegetables. I enjoyed being able to switch from using utensils to just handling the food, with the sandwich and the corn; everything was tactile and unfussy.

There's always room for dessert. Always. - Photos by Wasabi Prime

But Wasabi, get to the good stuff -- what about dessert?! My only regret was not having enough room for seconds. A pristine pyramid of sugar-dusted Cuban cinnamon sugar cookies came out, along with slices of sugar-glazed Cuban rum cake. The cookies reminded me of Christmas, when my mother would make shortbread covered in powdered sugar -- both decorative and a keen way of knowing if anyone snuck a cookie or two before dinner, as powdered sugar tells no lies. The cake was lovely -- sweet, buttery cornmeal batter, baked to a perfectly tender texture. The top was soaked in a sugary rum syrup that set into a slight crust, so it had a nice chew to every bite. Friends at the table made the best call ever -- they ordered tall glasses of ice-cold milk to go with their dessert. Brilliant, and again, food's ability to evoke childhood memories comes out. At this point the sun had nearly set, so the light was hitting the cake, making the glazed fruit glow like stained glass window panes. I need to say that we had no less than three photographers at the table, myself included, so the cameras were snapping like mad.

Back to the main point of having dinner family-style. You get to talk to people and you definitely get to meet new folks over tasty food, and that is fun times because everyone's happy and enjoying themselves. I was lucky to share a table with several friendly new faces who were very understanding of the snapping of food pictures. I was also very lucky to sit next to the amazing Valentina Vitols, who is both an exuberant soul and an incredibly talented photographer. Originally from Caracas, she explained how the cuisine in Cuba has similar flavors and usage of ingredients, and the meal was like a lovely whisper from home. This is what makes family style dinners so satisfying, as you interact with the people as much as the food.

If you missed Ventana's July Sunday Supper, don't fret, the next one is set for August 22nd, 6pm, with a Northern Italy theme, which I know will be as flavorful and boisterous as this last dinner event. If you're looking for a delicious way to spend a Sunday night, get your reservations set and prepare your appetites!

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  1. Wow. This looks like an incredible meal. You are so lucky to have such great restaurants where you live!

  2. It was wonderful to share this meal with you, D! The photos are stunning!

  3. (Psst: you're amazing, lovely and a great dining companion! So fortunate to know you!)

  4. Oh what a gorgeous meal, every thing looks absolutely amazing!

  5. I definitely a fan of pork rinds. The shortbread looks good too, but the rum cake is stunning. So much food. Too little room in the belly huh? what a great meal. :)


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