Dinner in the Dark is an organization created by chefs Brian Okin, Ellis Cooley of AMP 150, asnd Jeff Jarrett of Palate Cleveland. Each month, Dinner in the Dark gathers six local chefs to create a six-course dinner. The chefs and the menu are not revealed to the diners until that evening, hence dining in the dark. In fact, our menus simply had a picture of the animal or vegetable highlighting each course.
Proceeds from Dinner in the Dark benefit a local charity. This month, the proceeds from Dinner in the Dark benefitted The Rose-Mary Center. The Rose-Mary Center serves children and adults with autism and other intellectual disabilities. The Rose-Mary Center serves 40 children at its facility in Euclid, as well as operating seven community group homes housing fifty-one adults.
CLEguy and I had the pleasure of dining with Tom Salopek and his wife. Tom works for Blue Ribbon Meats and supplies to many of the chefs and restaurants not only at Dinner in the Dark, but across CLE. A CLE native and true fan of the city, Tom regaled us with stories of his favorite restaurants and also told us he just bought his season tickets for the Indians. Tom and his wife also have a very special connection to this month’s Dinner in the Dark, as one of their sons is a resident at a Rose-Mary Center group home. People like the Salopeks are a great answer to “Why Cleveland?”
Moving on to the food, our precursor to the six-course dinner featured an amuse bouche created by Adam Bostwick, co-executive chef at Melange. We were served a Buffal0-wing style frog leg. To compliment this course was a cocktail called Trouble with Truffles. The cocktail and wines for the evening were selected by Joseph DeLuca, owner of Beverage Resources and an all-around entertaining wine guy.
The frog leg was perfectly breaded – light and crispy. The Buffalo and bleu cheese sauces were the perfect compliment and made you think you were eating a chicken wing. The cocktail was more challenging to the palate. It was a mix of white truffle-infused vodka, beet juice, and carrot juice. Served in a champagne flute and rimmed with coarse salt, I initially expected a fruity, raspberry-like drink. While the cocktail was not my favorite, CLEguy drained his glass.
Our first course came from Melange’s other co-executive chef, Matt Creighton. This dish was a hot and sour soup with a pacu rib, bamboo mushrooms, and crispy rice noodles. It was paired with a Balletto Pinot Gris from Sonoma.
Pacu is a wild fish, farm-raised in Brazil and is a relative of the pihranna. It’s ribs are meaty and look like pork ribs. The consistency of the fish reminded me of swordfish. The hot and sour soup was fantastic. As the broth was poured in our bowls, the rice noodles snapped, crackled, and popped as they melted. Each spoonful of soup brought different flavors – from earthy to spicy. The Pinot Gris was the perfect compliment to cut the spicy flavor of the soup.
Our next course was prepared by Brian Doyle of World’s Fare Culinary catering. Chef Doyle confited rabbit in duck fat and created a delicious pate served with carrot and ginger emulsions. As the Chef pointed out, this course is a rabbit in a garden. The carrot and ginger emulsions were the perfect compliment to the rabbit and the pate’s texture was spot on. This course was paired with a P.B. Hein Syrah, which was our second favorite wine of the evening.
Our third course was courtesy of Eric Wells of Skye Larae’s Culinary Services. Skye Larae’s specializes in dinners for two cooked in your home, so I hope CLEguy kept one of their business cards! This course featured a mixed greens salad over a sourdough crouton, with miso vinaigrette dressing and citrus fruit. The salad was fresh, with a bright taste thanks to the vinaigrette and fruit. This course was paired with a Los Loros Torrontes.
Our fourth course came from Chris Hodgson of Dim and Den Sum. This course was an individual-sized lobster pot pie, with micro thyme greens on the side. It was paired with a Willowbrook Pinot Noir, which was by far our favorite wine of the evening – smooth and bold.
The lobster pot pie was delicious, with large pieces of lobster, potatoes, vegetables, and a light cream sauce, topped with a fluffy puff pastry dough. The micro thyme greens added the perfect freshness to the dish.
Our fifth course came from Ben Bebenroth of Spice of Life Catering. Chef Bebenroth prepared a hardwood grilled pork chop, served over a sweet potato puree with poblano pepper sauce and topped with beans. This course was paired with a Blue Nose Zinfandel, a delicious wine that matched the course perfectly.
The pork chop was perfectly done – tender and juicy. The sweet potato puree was smooth and had just the right amount of spice from the sauce. This was CLEguy’s favorite course of the evening (and it would have be mine, too, but I waited to vote until the end).
Our final course came from Katie Pickens of Lola. Dessert consisted of a meyer lemon tart and sorbet, served with salted caramel sauce and grilled grapefruit. This course was paired with a Cloudy Cape Sauvignon Blanc.
The dessert was perfection – a great blend of tart and sweet. The tart filling was smooth and creamy, the crust was flaky and buttery, and the salted caramel and grilled grapefruit provided a great balance to the dish. Chef Pickens told me she was nervous about preparing dessert, since she usually prepares savory food. But she absolutely knocked this dish out of the park and this was my favorite course of the evening.
So, “Why Cleveland? Why Dinner in the Dark?” Great food, from talented local chefs, who not only care about their craft but about their community…what better answer could there be?!