When attending a Cobaya dinner, you never know what you’re in for. One day you may be at a Midtown penthouse practically drinking a Greek salad, and the next in someone’s backyard eating fried chicken. That was the case at the latest dinner, number four. The New Orleans-themed event was casual and laid back, more like going over to a friend’s house than to a formal sit-down dinner.
The food was in the hands of Trump International chefs Kurtis Jantz, Chad Galiano and Michael Marshall, pastry chef Jenny Rissone, who kindly allowed us to invade her home for the event, and Chris DeGweck. The chefs created a menu that mixed the traditional with twists on the classics, and they kept the vibe casual by serving dinner at different stations and assembling many of the dishes before us.
Before we started, the chefs treated us to a Pimm’s Cup, a drink typically made with Pimm’s (a gin-based liquor), 7-UP, lemon and cucumber. Chef Chad made his own cucumber-lemon soda by mixing cucumber water with simple syrup and lots of lemon juice. It was very refreshing, the perfect complement to the spicy kettle corn served with it.
We continued with red beans and rice and fried chicken prepared by chef Mike. Crispy and not greasy, the fried chicken delivered on chef K’s promise that this would be the best fried chicken I’d ever tried.
Crawfish pies ‘a la mode’ served with tasso ice cream were a big hit. Tasso is a Cajun, spicy smoked pork. I loved the crawfish rich filling of the pies and the salty, spicy contrast of the cold tasso ice cream.
Then came the yat-ca-mein. I truthfully had never heard of it or tasted it. Chef Mike explained it as an African American twist on a Chinese dish created in the 70s by a woman named Betsy. The dish was originally made up of pork, noodles, soy sauce, egg, green onions, and broth, and it was common to stop by Betsy’s for one at 2 or 3 a.m. after a night of drinking.
As with the other dishes, the chefs put their own twist on this. Served cold instead of hot, they used soba noodles, beef shortrib, beef tendon, eggs cooked at 66 degrees, soy beef broth, green onions and crispy, dehydrated jamon Iberico. I’m probably forgetting something but you get the point. Keeping with the casual vibe, we ate it with chopsticks out of a Mardi Gras cup.
The next dish was the chefs’ version of crawfish bread. Crawfish tails, quail confit, provolone, mozzarella, Cajun sausage, and Boscoli olive salad were sandwiched in between crispy, toasted bread. It’s low fat, baby, it’s low fat, chef K joked. Far from it, but the sandwich was quite delicious when dipped into the gumbo consomme that accompanied it, emulating a French dip.
Before moving to dessert, we had some BBQ, super smoky oysters topped with a sweetish pepper jelly, and fried shrimp with a green Tabasco gel. Then Chef Jenny, who previously worked at the Trump and now has her own business called Pastry is Art, brought us her desserts. A bread pudding with white chocolate, dark chocolate, coffee and a little bit of Grand Marnier was probably my favorite, though the king cake ice cream was unique. She also prepared pecan pralines but I had little room for anything more than a small bite.
Open-mindedness and an appreciation for good food is what characterizes the many diners that I’ve met at these events. While by now I can call several of them my friends, there is always someone new to meet and talk to. Because at this event the chefs moved around, diners did too. That created the type of festive, convivial atmosphere you could have with old friends. And for that, this was one of my favorite Cobaya dinners. Happy Mardi Gras.