Saturday, December 19, 2009

sampling the sweet-and-savory of top chef's jen carroll

It is an understatement to say I am fond of Top Chef.

As pathetic as it may sound, I look forward to Wednesday evenings most during the ongoing season, and if I am unavailable to watch the current episode that evening, I must go online to spoil my anticipation by peeking to see who was sent home.

There's an appealing flare to Bravo's hit series, but what is more appealing is when Philadelphia-based cheftestants premiere on the nationwide series. It would be almost unfair to not side with a homegrown star, especially if her cuisine easily screams on its own.

Jen Carroll, the Chef de Cuisine of 10 Arts of the Ritz-Carlton, sashayed her way through the competing contestants, proudly standing until the final four. Soon after Tom Colicchio and Padma politely gave the local chef the knife, her work's comforting kitchen decided to promote her exit off the show by offering a three-course tasting menu that embraced not only the best fall flavors, but also showcased the best of her on-air skills.

Off of an appetizer tasting menu boosting with ten selections, I choose the warm goat cheese salad (seen below), paired with cutesy cubes of baby red beets, frisee and orange confit. The creamy cheese, delicately fried into decent-sized rounds, melted so perfectly in my mouth, and was just an energizing entrance to Ms. Carroll's cuisine.

My dining partner, one of my closest friends who also shares my Top Chef obsession, selected the Kabocha squash soup (seen below) to begin her courses. Swirled with spiced pepitas, superb-tasting pureed squash and chunks of honey crisp apples, the soup paired sweet and spicy in the utmost class, and was almost too addicting to just sample a few slurps.

For the second course, I was torn between what protein to pick as my main dish. What I loved about the chef on television was her no-fear attitude toward cooking all forms of meat. (Yes, sometimes they weren't always successes, but I blame that on the stress of competing.) I opted for the her scallops (below), served with the most delicious truffle butter I have ever laid eyes on. The pieces of fish were prepared ideally, and with the sauce, a delicious duo was created.

The meat of the braised short rib (seen below) was light and tender, and the best texture of a beefy dish that I've ever chomped on. Served with a comforting side of baby veggies and mash potatoes, and a red wine sauce, this plate did home-cooking better than any mama could wish to perform. Of course, dessert is always the best part, and at 10 Arts they were sure not to fall short on their third course. The sweet potato cake, an upscale version of the holiday's best cake, was served with a mouth-watering cream cheese mousse and hazelnuts, and scoop of sweet potato sorbet. Gorgeous and light, I even tried to weasel a recipe from Carroll for this one!

The milk chocolate parfait breached borders because of its pairing with caramelized bananas. One of my favorite things in the world is combining chocolate with bananas, and this dessert platter did not fall short on doing just that, quite swimmingly.