Friday, April 3, 2009

Last Week's Taste Test

As you're all well aware by now, D and I spent all of last week wedding planning in Hilton Head. When we got back, we honestly felt like we needed a spring break from our spring break. Most mornings, we were up at 8 and at our first wedding vendor meet-up by around 9 or 10 at the latest. Some days we didn't even stop with our meet-ups until around 9pm. Crazy, right?

But I didn't quite share the details of our week just yet (shame on me! I KNOW!) so today, since it's my day off from school, I'm going to try and recap bit by bit what we did last week without summarizing. What better or tastier place to begin than with our taste test?

Back in February my mom and dad came to visit and mom came bearing gifts of Wedding Reception Menu options! What a task that was! Between reading, writing and studying for comps, we whipped out the bulk of menus and began sorting our options. It was important to us to incorporate Indian food into our menu options since many of my dad's relatives are going to be attending the wedding which means many of them really need to have vegetarian options to suit their religious convictions, but the menu lacked things like "saag paneer" and "samosas." Yes, there were plenty of mouth-watering dish descriptions, but we needed Indian! So we interspersed some options we hoped they might recreate, despite the fact that they weren't on the menu, and chose options from their menu that the rest of our guests would be familiar with. We needed to choose about 8 pass-around Cocktail food options, one sit-down appetizer and salad, three or four dinner selection options and cake flavors! Once Mom, D and I had a rough draft of what we wanted to taste, we presented it to the Westin's "Wedding Coordinator" we've been working with (Anissia Shalton) and she rushed off to the chef's to see what they could whip up. Luckily for us, they have a Indian chef intern at this very moment in time who was familiar with our Indian options and was happy to recreate them for our tasting.

Skip to Thursday afternoon, last week:
We entered the hotel and were guided to their restaurant, The Carolina Cafe, where Linda introduced herself and told us she'd be serving us and if there was anything at all that we needed or wanted throughout our testing we should feel free to let her know. Anissia, my mom, Dustin and I sat around a small four-person table (complete with our journals on our laps) and were presented with a menu of the items we would be tasting. We couldn't taste all of our options since-seriously, who needs to try 8 hand-passed hors 'deouvres? -but I was anxious to taste anything since I hadn't eaten and was starting to feel a bit hangry (hungry/angry-I just learned this from a food blog I follow!). 

Our first course? Indian samosas! 
Samosas are a mixture of potatoes and peas that are then covered in a dough or stuffed into some dough, then fried. The small ones on the left were the hotel's experiment. They added some corn in there, which I thought was really tasty, and the giant ones on the right are what samosas almost always look like. They were more traditional and came from an Indian restaurant in Savannah. We tasted them all and couldn't believe how amazing they were (of course, I could've just been starving), but decided that the small ones were more practical for pass-arounds since the bigger ones needed to be sliced in half and shared. 

Verdict: keepers!

Next, they brought out bhajis or pakoras, another Indian dish.
These guys are essentially vegetables dipped in chickpea flour then fried, as well (lots of fried food in India). The potato bhajis are on the left and the onion, pepper and spinach bhajis are on the right. The potatoes were awesome, but the others were a bit off. We forgot to mention that the bhajis with spinach and pepper in them should be mashed into a sort of ball before going into the chickpea flour and being fried.

Verdict: potatoes are a go, others-back to the drawing board.

Next up was our sit-down appetizer. We chose an Americanized slightly Indian dish for this and hoped that the "curry" flavor would either taste authentic or not be so strong that it bothered anyone who would know real curry when they tasted it. Without further adieu, I present the puff pastry stuffed with chicken curry and porcini mushrooms in a red wine reduction sauce:
Now, I should mention that ordinarily this beautiful rich sauce would sit beneath the puff pastry, but because this girl right here is allergic to wine (I know!), they kindly thought to put it on the side so I could indulge in this oh-so-tasty dish, as well. And let me tell you, I could've eaten about ten of these suckers alone. They were a-maz-ing! Really. Of course, trying to be lady-like and all, we each split one with each other so I ended up craving more, but eating half. Sigh...those are the breaks.

Verdict: definite keeper! Possible favorite!

On to the salad!

Bibb Salad with Endives and...other stuff I can't remember the name of right now...
Can you see why we chose this over the spinach or caesar or any other salad? Yes, I suppose this is a bit hazy of a photo, but, I'm not going to lie. I was starving, still, and nearly forgot to snap a picture of this at all. If it weren't for Linda reminding me of my photo-documenting, I would've dug in and not bothered to photograph it at a special shout out thanks to Linda for stopping my fork and reminding me of my camera! We chose this salad because, well, because it had hearts of palm in it. But that's not all! It also had corn, tomatoes, olives, avocados, red onion, peppers and lettuce topped off with a roasted sundried tomato dressing. Oh, wow, right? Unfortunately, my allergy to wine extends to balsamic, as well, and since the original dressing had some balsamic in it, I had to make due with my go-to dressing: lemons and olive oil. As a side note-you have NO IDEA how many dressings have balsamic vinegar in their ingredient list! Ugh! Needless to say, this baby was tast-y! And we all enjoyed it.

Verdict: another keeper, but with the dressing on the side, of course!

Finally, we moved onto the main courses.
Above is our fish course. We couldn't get married on an island and not have a fish course, right? Fi immediately latched onto this one when we looked at the menu. It's a citrus encrusted mahi-mahi resting in a lemon sauce. I had high hopes for this, since I love fish, but when I dug into it, the mahi-mahi was a bit on the tough side and the "encrustment" came right off and only had a hint of citrus to it. The sauce was nearly flavorless. I expressed my concerns to Anissia who jotted everything down and said we'd try it again later down the line with more flavor. I don't know about you, but when I hear "citrus, lemon and fish" I immediately think like, fresh and spritz. I know that last adjective is totally strange in that context...but "spritz" is clean and refreshing and light, right? And that's what I thought this fish dish would be. Hmmm.

Verdict: back to the drawing board.

Next up was the roasted quail.
As you can see, the quail is in tact. I love poultry, friends. I think it's really lovely as a dish usually, but this poultry looked as though it had just been hunted down and plucked for our tasting pleasure. Unfortunately, do you see that pretty plum colored sauce it's resting in? That's wine...none for me! But Connie and Fi weren't fans. The quail wasn't supposed to have bones and it wasn't supposed to be too dry.

Verdict: this quail has seen it's final hours. For real. Time to pick a new poultry dish!

Lastly, the Indian fare!

The top picture is a vegetable biryani: rice with lots of veggies and some almonds! The picture just above is vegetable korma and raita. The korma is a mixture of veggies in a coconut/tomato sauce sprinkled with cilantro. The raita is an Indian salad. In other words: cool and refreshing (spritz!) cucumbers in yogurt with some paprika sprinkled over top. These dishes were IN-effing-CREDILE! I wanted to empty the entire bowl into my plate and eat it all and not share with anyone. Of course, I didn't...but I easily could have. 

Verdict: I know what I'm eating the night of the wedding!

We're also having a prime rib dish which we opted not to taste. It didn't seem necessary considering prime rib is sort of standard, right?

By the time we got through all of these courses, I felt like I was a judge on Iron Chef and we were running low on time since we had to dash off to meet the Lutheran pastor who we asked to do a reading at our wedding. Linda brought out the two mini-test cakes, let me take a picture, then promptly packed them for us in to-go containers.

Aren't they cute? We chose a cake design from a magazine, brought it to Anissia earlier in the week and these little guys are knock-offs, but without the intricate detail. They just thought they'd give us an 'idea.' Nonetheless, we loved them and wanted to eat them up at that very moment, but we refrained and let Linda box 'em. More on the taste-testing of the cakes later.

In short, we had an awesome experience. The Indian intern came out and talked to us for a while and was super sweet and accommodating. Everyone was, really. We all felt so warm and cuddly by the end of it (and accomplished) that I had everyone get together for a love-in aka-photo. Below you will see the result...
From left to right: Anissia, chef, Linda, Fi and Mama.

Thanks to all the wonderful help from the Westin and these fabulous members of what we lovingly call our "wedding team," we are now at least ten steps closer to perfecting our wedding menu!

Next post: Cake Taste me, you don't want to miss it!


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