The Distinguished Gourmand: Vespertine @ Home

April 27, 2020
  • The Distinguished Gourmand: Vespertine @ Home 2

Saturday was my birthday. It’s a weird time to be celebrating, what with our complete inability to plan a social gathering in which to revel with friends and loved ones. My “party” this year consisted of about 6 people on a Zoom meeting, chatting and drinking, and playing a couple of video games together via the apps shared-screen function. The fact is, that’s the most we could have hoped for given what’s going on in the world right now. It was still fun, and several friends promised that — once this ends — we’ll throw a proper shindig where all those whose birthdays were curtailed during the pandemic can celebrate together.

Just as we were finishing breakfast this gift from mom arrived on our doorstep. Thankfully we were disciplined enough not to eat the entire crack pie (not pictured) before dinner. Thanks for the sweet treats, mom!

Before the Zoom meeting started, I was treated to a special birthday dinner by my quarantine partner. She’s become remarkably adept at picking birthday dinners for me in years past. Last year we dined at Trois Mec [review], and in 2018 she treated me to a singular experience at Vespertine [review]. This year she kept my dinner plans a surprise until the very last minute. I knew her plans required venturing out to retrieve the meal, so it likely wasn’t from a restaurant we could have Postmates’d o Caviar’d (which nixed places like Tsujita or Dave’s Hot Chicken). Upon her return, I was handed an envelope and asked if I could figure it out:

As you can probably imagine, I started joyously freaking out while reading the note from the chef. Mom would probably kill me if I called her “semi-retired,” but I don’t know how else to describe the amount of time she spends living in Savannah, Georgia now. Although I’ve only visited a few times since moving to Los Angeles, meals at places like Vic’s, Pearl’s, Clary’s, The Grey [review], and others have opened my eyes to the wonders of southern cooking. I was more excited about reading “…in a tiny sliver stretching from Savannah to Charleston” than figuring out what “-JK” stood for, but it didn’t take long for me to guess the name. The initials are those of chef Jordan Kahn, from Vespertine.

Our meal began with a “Smash.” This DIY cocktail kit came with a small bottle of Bulleit Bourbon, demerara sugar, lemon, and mint. The restaurant even included a mason jar filled with ice in which to build the cocktail. I have to admit, the cocktail was way stronger than I expected. It was delicious…it just led to my getting drunk way quicker than I expected once we switched over to opening beers from the cellar. We’ve saved both the mason jars and the mini bourbon bottles for future use.

 

First Course: Boiled Peanuts, Pimento Cheese, Benne Wafers, Bread & Butter Pickles. How fucking cool is this?! I love the way that each course included a note from the chef describing how each item was prepared, why it was included, and instructions (if necessary) for how best to enjoy each item. The boiled peanuts as a starter were eerily reminiscent of Chef Mashama Bailey’s at The Grey in Savannah. The pickles were on point and the pimento cheese (“We used Hook’s aged cheddar, Japanese mayo, grilled pimentos and burnt the onions over charcoal…”) was out-of-this-world tasty. A perfect pairing with the bennes and leftovers from the garden box.

 

Second Course: Garden Box. This included black-eyed peas, okra, tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, et cetera. There was a tiny bag of seasoning and a small cup of dressing included with this box. The seasoning was a bit on the salty side but the dressing was delicious and really elevated the veggies. They were fresh and flavorful enough on their own, but those additions really elevated the box.

 

Third/Fourth Course: Awendaw Spoonbread and Collard Greens. We both loved these two dishes, and I especially enjoyed the collards. The big chunks of bacon added a delightful contrast to the greens, and I could have easily eaten the entire container if I wanted. The spoonbread was probably the GFs favorite bite of the meal, which makes perfect sense knowing her palate.

 

 

Fifth Course: Sweet Potato Pone. This one was incredibly simple and yet so delicious. As soon as we took our first bite I think we both looked over to the bowl of sweet potatoes in our kitchen and started talking about how we could recreate this dish on our own. Think of the very best sweet potato pie you’ve ever had, minus marshmallow, plus those caramelized shallots. It’s not much to look at in that plastic serving tray, but man was it a perfectly sweet bite after the collard greens and spoonbread.

 

Sixth Course: Antebellum White Grits With Smoked Tomato And Onion Gravy. You can’t have real southern cooking without grits. And while these certainly aren’t as decadent as the foie gras and grits course at The Grey (remember foie is currently “illegal” here), we scraped the bowl clean so they were definitely up to our lofty standards. The hits of green onion were a perfect way to off-set the creaminess of the grits and the smoke and sweetness of the gravy.

 

Our final savory course was a full lowcountry boil. The ingredients were sealed in a plastic bag, and we were instructed to “stew” it in a pot of boiling water for about 3-4 minutes before eating. Vespertine also included some homemade hot sauce and brown butter infused with lemony herbs and wild bay leaves for dipping. They suggested (and we followed) warming the brown butter until liquified, and mixing in the hot sauce with the butter.

 

Main Course: Lowcountry Boil, AKA “Frogmore Stew”. I was pretty amazed at how this turned out. The stew included yellow sweet corn, waxy marble potatoes, cippolini onions, fennel, spring onions, Gulf Coast shrimp, Edwards smokehouse sausage (one of the oldest and only true producers of country ham left in the US), concentrated liquor made from the brawn shells with beer, and Lowcountry spices and aromatics. I had two servings. I think the GF had one and picked out mostly the sausage and potatoes and onions to eat while leaving behind the shrimp. There are several photos of me happily munching and dipping shrimp that will not be posted here because I look like too much of a goofball. No one wants to see me in quarantine pajamas shoving shrimp in my face, trust me.

 

Dessert Course: Pecan Pralines, Buttermilk Pudding Cake. I think I audibly gasped when I read that these pecan pralines were flown in directly from River Street Sweets in Savannah. This past Thanksgiving we went to Savannah to join my mother, aunt and uncle, and cousins for the holiday. The trip included some touristy stops for the GF to get an introduction to the city. I ate more pralines along River Street on that trip more than on any other visit. I normally hate sweets, but every once in a while I’ll make an exception. I immediately snapped a photo of the pralines and sent them to mom…even though she was asleep for the night (and wouldn’t understand the context of what I was sending her anyway). What a perfect way to end a wonderful and unique birthday dinner.

 

After dinner drinks included The Bruery’s Bois (New American Oak Aged) and Kane’s A Night To End All Dawns (2015). The former was bottled in 2013 (April 23rd, so perfect timing) and exhibited notes of big dark fruits, raisins, prunes, and dates. The taste was heavy on the spiritous side with hints of cherry and tons of oak. For a seven-year-old beer, this one still had plenty of life left in it. I’ve got a few other variants from the Bois series of old ales that I am now looking forward to enjoying. A Night To End All Dawns is a big imperial stout aged in bourbon barrels, originally bottled in 2015. Five years in, it was tasting mighty fine. It was dark and roasty, very coffee-like, with some bourbon presence and very light bitterness to it. It finished on the dry side, which kept us returning to our glasses for more. Perhaps choosing beers weighing in at 15% and 12.4% ABV respectively wasn’t the wisest idea. Halfway through our Zoom meeting, the GF was unconscious on the couch. I’m not complaining about getting to finish that imperial stout on my own…but Sunday morning would have been a little kinder to me if I had another mouth (and liver) helping me finish the bottle.

All in all, it was a very memorable birthday. Thank you, chef Kahn and everyone at Vespertine, for making my celebration so much more than just another meal at home during this pandemic.

Stay healthy and stay safe, everyone.

Stockholm Monsters – Happy Ever After [MP3]

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