Friday, August 28, 2009

A Symphony of Heirloom Tomatoes at Sent Sovi

Ripe, fresh tomatoes are an unquestionable delight of California summers, and our markets are overflowing with varieties both sweet and savory--cherry and grape (unfortunate names, these--appropriately suggesting the shape, but not the flavor of those other prized fruits); beefsteak; Early Girl on the vine; and a cornucopia of heirloom varieties.

I've spent much of the summer buying, cooking and enjoying all these, in their endless adaptations. A highlight: Last weekend, returning from a trip to Paso Robles, I stopped at the excellent fish market Pier 46 on Vineyard Road in Templeton and seized on 1 1/2 pounds of beautiful white sea bass, line caught off Santa Barbara, its skinless flesh delicately marbled with rosy streaks. Packed in ice and an insulated lunch box, it rode with me on the 2-hour trip back to San Jose, then was sliced into 6-oz portions, and pan roasted in a cast iron with olive oil and a half tablespoon of butter - seared on both sides for 3 minutes each, then into a 425 degree oven for 5-8 minutes of roasting. Removing the fish from the pan to a warm plate, I deglazed with Sicilian white wine, reduced it slightly, then tossed in chopped rinsed artichoke hearts, rinsed capers, chopped fresh herbs, sea salt and pepper, a squeeze of lemon juice, a handful of sliced Kalamata olives, and a cup of cherry tomatoes - their flavor intensified by halving them and slow roasting them in the oven at 300 for 45 minutes. Spooned over the fish and onto crusty bread, it was magnificent.

But a dish like that is best viewed like an old, sappy love song on the radio, compared to the symphony of tomatoes that chef Josiah Sloane is conducting this week at Sent Sovi Restaurant in Saratoga. I had the memorable pleasure last night of Sent Sovi's second Heirloom Tomato Dinner and its five-course menu showcasing Sloane's typically creative use of a remarkably diverse ingredient. As guests gathered, green zebra basil Champagne cocktails were poured - think Bellini, made with reduced intensified strained pulp of the green zebra tomato, a low-acid model. Just a hint of tomato-basil flavor remained, pairing comfortably with the sparking wine. Sloane had also set out five or six varieties of tomatoes simply chopped and dressed with olive oil, salt, and aged balsamic - a great idea for a Labor Day grill party.

The main menu opened with a triple gazpacho preparation including the classic soup in a shot glass, a cold salad of Early Girl and cucumber, and slow-roasted tomatoes on grilled bread - intense, savory, and rich. Sloane followed with his riff on components of the BLT, featuring slab bacon confit, house mayonnaise, more tomatoes and grilled lettuce. Next up: a salad of frozen Marvel Stripe tomatoes in a chilled martini glass wiped with basil paint. Who knew iced tomatoes could work so well in a salad? Sloane's "main" was grilled sliced filet with beefsteak tomatoes and a wine reduction, a perfect pairing for the lowly beefsteak, so often served unripe on hamburgers. The supporting cast for this dish included the remarkable Old Vine Petit Syrah (Lodi) 2005 from Trinitas Winery (90 points, Wine Spectator)-- a gutsy and inspired choice for Sloane, as Petit Syrah is so rarely served, or even considered as a prime wine list selection by the typical diner. After savoring the spice, weight, balance and chunkiness of the Trinitas, I do hope it becomes a regular on Sloane's list.

The evening ended with a play on lemon meringue pie, with Lemonboy tomatoes standing in for Meyers, a sweet and creamy finish to a terrific meal.

To see, hear and taste this symphony yourself, run, don't walk to Sent Sovi, as this menu is available only until September 13.

1 comment:

  1. This has been updated to note that Sent Sovi extended the event to September 13.