“I always wanted to draw,” Chef Bill Taibe of The Whelk shrugged off, “but I couldn’t.” When he discovered his love of cooking and went to school, he realized something great: “This is my art, this is how I draw.”
This is one of the many interesting things we learned about Chef Taibe’s perspective. Perhaps it’s that perspective, that open-mindedness that makes him such an amazing chef and restaurateur. It’s lead him to branch out from owning leFarm, to then opening The Whelk, and then to opening up Kawa Ni with his brother Jeff–three AMAZING restaurants! And although he recently sold leFarm to Chef Brian Lewis, he’s not done with his evolution and experimentation.
One of his latest experiments he shared with us is a series of intimate themed dinners. We got a sneak peak last Thursday with a themed dinner of Oysters, Sherry, and Pork. Yeeeaaah, in case that’s not convincing enough to get all over these dinners, go ahead and read on for every juicy detail . . .
When we got in, we sat in the back of the restaurant at the big, thick, rustic table and immediately got our drink on. Kristien started with a Veltliner and because we were in the presence of Beverage Manager Craig Ventrice, Dan started with Smoke on the River: a mix of mezcal, Amontillado Sherry, Yellow Chartreuse, lemon, and pineapple. This drink was nice and smoky with this satisfying lemondrop flavor that was oh so refreshing.
The first course in the Oysters, Sherry, and Pork event was . . . well . . . oysters and Sherry (duh). To start, Chef Taibe brought out a giant plate of Mystic Oysters (new from Norm Bloom & Son) and Pemaquids Oysters from Maine. Before we could dig in with the other guests at the table, General Manager Tori Ciambriello came over to talk to us about the two different types of Sherry in front of us: Manzanilla and Barbadillo Fino. Her thinking was that the slightly musty taste from the Sherry would complement the briny oysters well . . . and she was right on. Both oysters were super fresh and clean. The Maine oysters were slightly briny and had a nice, delicate chewiness to them while the Mystic oysters were more meaty, a lot more briny, and even had a slight iron-like/mineral finish.
The next course were these amazing, fresh-out-of-the-oven Porterhouse rolls that were served with an even more amazing butter made from bone marrow fat and heavily reduced dates. It was rich, it was creamy, and it was just about the best butter-based thing that we’ve ever slapped on something. As if that weren’t amazing enough, out came some delicate oysters that were slightly cooked up on a bone (they heat the bone then put the oysters on top) with oh-so-delicious bone marrow. Oh, and you’re wondering where the sherry for this course was, right? Well, here it was: a shot of East India Cream Solera. But, it was no normal shot. Nope. When we finished eating the oysters, Tori had us bring the bone up to our lips and then she created a Sherry Bone Marrow Luge. There’s no real way to describe the Sherry, as it picks up some of the fats and juices from the bone, other than hot fucking damn. Easily the best shot that we’ve ever taken.
From there we had two more types of Sherry and a refreshing salad of apples and grassy, aromatic Bleu cheese. This was a nice, well-balanced, simple but delicious in-between course that helped to prepare us for the finisher: a brined and roasted Fleishers Craft Butchery pig. At first Executive Chef Taibe and Chef de Cuisine Anthony Kostelis brought out the platters of pork, but what they had in store for us was unexpected . . . just like most food from The Whelk is. They poured a stock on top of the tender pork that was made with oysters, shallots, oyster liqueur, herbs, and cream. The end results? A play in contrasts with the delicate, juicy, and unctuous pork, the crispy skin, and the slightly salty, rich, herby broth. Adding even more was a side of greens and beans which helped to freshen things up a bit, so you didn’t get too overwhelmed with the pork . . . well, not like Dan took 6 or so hunks of the good stuff. Amazing.
And, of course it had to finish up with dessert, right? Of course. And, while we were hoping to have oysters in our last dish (no, not really), we were damn excited to see a beautiful Almond Cake come up. It was served with a silky stonefruit cream, and an incredibly rich and decadent condensed milk ice cream. This was paired with Craig’s Sherry Cobbler which was made with two different types of Sherry, 100 proof bourbon, lemon juice, a housemade peach pickling vinegar, and club soda. Damn, was that good. We just can’t get enough of cocktails that feature bourbon, but this one was definitely a touch above, probably from that nice fruity tartness coming from the vinegar.
Some of the things that we liked about this event was the conversation that we had at the table. We were surrounded by Steph from CTbites, Fairfield County Foodie, photog Thomas McGovern, and CT Eats Out. And, we also really dug being able to talk with Tori, Craig, Anthony, and Bill about wine, drinks, cooking, each dish . . . and just life in general. These dinner events, when they happen, will be a nice thing to do with some friends or family, or even with a group of strangers who are destined to become friends after such a great night. We learned so much about Sherry and appreciated all the time that went into all the pairings (some of which we didn’t even mention here). And, while this exact theme might not make its way back to The Whelk (they like to experiment after all), Taibe promises to have lots of great experiences once he gets things going. In the meantime, you’ll just need to visit The Whelk and Kawa Ni and eat the hell out of everything there because they’re ridiculously good.
Oh, and we all may be lucky enough to see something completely new from Chef Taibe, perhaps even entirely different and out of his comfort zone . . . but that’s for another time and another post.
575 Riverside Avenue