This past weekend, Alex and I had the pleasure of attending our third chefs’ dinner from a group of talented Athens chefs. Once known as The Four Coursemen, this group of Classic City chefs split off to work on several creative projects. Next, a few of them continued the tradition under the name Shotgun Dinners, named particularly for the shotgun house on Pulaski Street where they formerly hosted events. Now, a couple of these people have rebranded under the name Coterie & Tie and have continued the tradition of a five course tasting menu with wine pairings.
Here’s the deal: you get on their e-mail list and they let you know the week of the event that they’re hosting a dinner. The seats are limited to around 20, so respond with your reservation quickly to ensure that you and your party have seats. The dinner is not at a restaurant; rather, it’s in a lovely unit in Whitehall Lofts alongside the North Oconee River. Because it’s not at a restaurant, many typical restaurant rules and routines are suspended: you can ask the chefs questions as you watch them cook, you can walk up to the cooking area and snoop around, and you get impeccable table service with wine pairings by a skilled sommelier. Because it’s not a restaurant, they give a suggested donation amount that you pay per person at the end. For this dinner, we had five tasting courses with wine pairings with each and the total was $75/person. While this is certainly a splurge, it is well worth it–the personal attention from the chefs, the detailed explanation of the food sourcing and preparation, and the creativity and passion put into the evening made this well worth the expense. Plus, if you purchased all of these items a la carte at a restaurant, I think the total would be over the suggested amount.
So let me set the scene for you: Alex and I, along with our Athens friends Scott and Sarah, met at the Whitehall Lofts unit as described to us in the e-mail from Coterie & Tie. We entered the room and saw this lovely table set for 14:
You can see the chefs prepping the courses on the left side of the photo, and also here:
When we arrived, Nancy the sommelier had for us a cocktail: some sort of reduced grape syrup infused with rosemary mixed with some chilly vinho verde white wine. From 7 to 7:30 we mingled with the other guests and chefs, then sat down at the large table to check out the evening’s menu:
Oh yeah, that’s some weird stuff. Some weird and awesome stuff. We started off with the cool and creamy melon sorbet with candied Canadian bacon. The simple sweetness of the cantaloupe against the sweet and salty Canadian bacon was a great pairing, similar to prosciutto-wrapped cantaloupe on an antipasto plate:
The next course was my favorite of the night: the octopus terrine with porchetta di testa, saffron aioli, fried capers, radish, and watercress. The octopus was chilled, creamy, and sliced razor thin. The porchetta di testa was a wild card ingredient for me: basically, it’s the face of a pig that is cured. The pork and the octopus were a perfect pairing: the saltiness and earthy aroma of the pork was a great contrast to the clean, yet full bodied taste of the octopus. The saffron aioli was out of this world (but how could it not be?), and the fried capers were the perfect pop of crispness to round out this dish. The wine pairing here was a crisp Italian white called Barbi Orvieto, which is a blend of Chardonnay and a few other whites from the region.
I’ll have to admit that this was a tough act to follow, but the folks at Coterie & Tie kept the momentum going with the next three dishes. Next on the menu was chicken hearts, charred okra and tomato puree, burratta cheese, heirloom tomato, and spicy globe basil:
I have to admit that I can’t recall ever having chicken hearts, but they were quite good. Very gamey, they set up nicely with the smooth burratta cheese and the structure of the charred okra. The tomato puree included some Indian spices like cardamom and turmeric, and those flavors always taste great with okra. This dish was served with an Italian sangiovese, and it was a lovely choice.
Next was the quail salad, roasted breast and confit, fig puree, ichiban eggplant, pistachio, and honey sherry gastrique:
The tiny bit of quail was just enough during this fourth course. The savory flavors from the quail breast and confit along with the roasted eggplant were a great contrast to the almost dessert-level sweetness of the fig puree. The crunch from the pistachio was a nice middleman for the bottom and top of the plate. This dish was served with a red Italian blend, Casa Contini Brindisi Reserva.
Lastly was dessert: the chocolate espresso souffle cake, tomato jam, marcona almond, cocoa nib, and candied tomato peel:
Now y’all, I’m not usually a dessert person. However, this was the perfect dessert for me for a couple of reasons: first, there were several savory elements with the sunburst tomato jam, the marcona almonds, and the candied tomato peel, and second, the cake was light and not overbearing as it was made mostly with egg whites and included little flour. Chocolate and tomatoes, while a seemingly mismatched pair, actually work shockingly well together. The candied tomato peel was a scene stealer from the cake; no one could stop talking about the complexity of the flavor from the dehydrated peel etched with turbinado sugar.
The dessert was paired with cardamaro, a wine-based digestif from Italy with the flavor of artichoke. Yes, artichoke! It was sweet and sippable, and while I hadn’t heard of it before, I know that it won’t be my last tango with this strange and wonderful libation.
After dinner, the guests had the opportunity to toast the chefs and speak casually about the dinner. I asked chefs Matt Palmerlee (also Head Chef at Athens’ The Branded Butcher) and Eddie Russell (also of the Cooking Channel’s Belly Up!) about the restaurant business, they bowed with shock and awe when I said that I’m a high school teacher (why are people always so surprised?), and we commiserated over the beauty and wonder of food adventures.
Basically, we went to an awesome dinner at a friend’s house who wasn’t our friend at the beginning of the night, but ended up being by the end. I highly recommend that you check out Coterie & Tie–what a novel experience just a couple of hours up the road. While we were blessed to stay with friends in Athens, this would also be a perfect weekend trip–you could definitely make a whole weekend out of eating in Athens, but that might just have to be saved for another blog post.