We were invited out to Opus Restaurant in Littleton (www.opusdine.com)for a wine pairing dinner. What made it different was this was a dinner focused on one ingredient and of all things a premium organic canned tomato. Yeah, canned tomato’s being used as a centerpiece for a high end meal with wine pairings. The whole idea seemed a bit odd but we were definately intrigued.
So, we geared up and headed out to Littleton not really knowing what to expect. We were greeted at the bar with Bloody Mary's made out of one the brands of tomatoes called Meridian Ruby. And,to go along with it crostini and cheese with Muir Glen Tomatoes. Now I have to be honest here I am not a huge Bloody Mary fan so my opinion here should be taken with a large grain of salt but these tasted pretty good and you could defiantly taste the tomato in it.
Next, we made it out to the table when Chef Michael Long came out and talked a bit about the meal, and why he was participating in the Muir Glen Tomato Event. What I really came away with was that as far as canned vegetables (yes I know tomatoes are a fruit but they do get treated like veggie a lot) the only one he would use in the kitchen would be a tomato as long as it was a very good one. His family has a farm that raises tomatos back east so he is fairly knowledgeable about them. He also had a chance to actually harvest some of the tomatoes that Muir Glen uses and said they had a better taste and were much juicier than most commercially grown tomatoes and of course Muir Glen are all organically grown.
After Chef Long spoke a bit, the Muir Glen represenitive chatted with us a bit and passed out some information. I actually found it interesting so I will go ahead and pass it along to you.
Just as many Napa Valley wineries bottle both their house wine and a special Reserve line that gets a bit more attention, Muir Glen also harvests and cans a very limited run of Reserve Tomatoes each year. Muir Glen started producing the annual Reserve Tomatoes in 2008 and is excited about this new tradition they’ve begun.
Grown exclusively for Muir Glen in Yolo County, Calif., under certified organic practices, the 2010 Reserve Tomatoes are hand-harvested at the peak of ripeness to guarantee exceptional quality and taste, going from vine to can in eight hours. The unique Meridian Ruby™ variety was chosen as the 2010 Muir Glen Reserve Tomato for its deep red color and delectable tomato flavor. Meridian Ruby is offered in two varieties: Meridian Ruby Diced Tomatoes and Meridian Ruby Fire Roasted Diced Tomatoes. The fire roasted tomatoes are grilled and smoked over a proprietary blend of hardwoods to add the smoky depth that foodies and home cooks alike have come to expect from Muir Glen Fire Roasted Tomatoes.
Now came the food which was mostly prepared by Chef Shaun who is now the Head Chef at Opus.
Course 1: Fire Roasted Tomato Shrimp Bisque with Fresh basil and Mozzarella Crouton. Pared with a 2006 Gunderloch (Gewurztraminer) wine.
He says: By far my favorite dish of the night - this was just killer. From the incredible taste of the bisque which was not really heavy and creamy like you would expect to the wonderful Crouton and shrimp MAJOR YUM. The wine also was a hit and enhanced the Bisque which for me to be honest doesn’t happen all that often with wine pairings.
I am pretty glad this was my favorite because it is one of the recipes that comes with the box of the Muir Glen Tomato’s so I got a copy of it and can't wait to try it at home. The whole recipe looks pretty easy, even for me.
She says: The Shrimp Bisque was a wonderful start to the evening and is also my favorite of the night. It was smooth and warm (on a cold November night) and the flavor combinations combined into a sweet bite when getting a little shrimp, the bisque and the mozzarella crouton. I also liked the wine (which if you've read our blog before know that I am very picky when it comes to wine - so that's a high compliment coming from me).
Second Course was An “Italian Tamale”. Handmade Italian Sausage and Fennel stuffing roasted in a Corn Husk over Soft Polenta and Meridian Ruby Tomato Sauce and Sheep’s Milk Ricotta Cheese from Fruition Farms. This was paired with a 2007 “Langhe” Nebbiolo.
He Says: I liked this ok but it was not a stand out. It really had a good solid taste and I enjoyed the over all flavors but not something that really shines. The wine also was ok but I am not a big red wine fan so I would say just ok.
She says: I agree with Jonathan's assessment. This was ok, but not one for the memory books. The sausage was good, but wasn't memorable. The polenta though was very good and I would have liked more of it. The wine was ok, again, I'm not a wine fan, and definately prefer white over red.
The Dessert was an Olive Oil Cake with Basil Crema and Muir Glen Tomato Sorbet. Paired with “Nivole” Michele Chiarlo.
He Says: Yep, you read that right: Tomato Sorbet! I read this and kind of shuddered. I mean come on, a tomato freaking ice cream - that’s just wrong. I do give tons of props to the kitchen for sticking with the tasting theme and doing a tomato based dessert. That being said this was a hard one to pull off and to some extent it worked. If you got just a little bit of sorbet along with the cake and Basil Creama it was very tasty and had a nice fresh taste with a hint of the tomatoes sweetness. However, if you got even a bit too much sorbet it was like a slap to your mouth as it was inundated with tomato so much so it tasted like biting into a whole semi frozen tomato, which can be good some times but not in a desert.
She says: Intriguing. Tomato Sorbet was not what I was expecting and had no idea what an Olive Oil cake would taste like. Again, I have to agree with Jonathan. If you got the right proportions, this was an ok dish, but get more than the other and it was sweet cold tomato time. And, I'm not a eat a tomato slice kind of girl. The Olive Oil cake was nice, but needed the kick of something other than tomato.
After the dinner we were giving a box that contained 1 can Muir Glen Fire Roasted Meridan Ruby Tomatos, 1 can of the diced, one can of tomato paste and one can of dices fire roasted with chipolte peppers to take home. I am looking forward to making a batch of Chili soon with these. If you want to give them a try for yourself they only sell the handpicked premium ones a few months each year starting today. The cost for the 4 pack (including a recipe book with that killer Bisque in it among others) costs $8.00 with free shipping and you can get them at http://www.muirglen.com/ seems like a pretty darn good deal for tomatoes of this quality.
After the dinner we asked Chef Long a few quick questions about the event
1. Why did you choose to participate in the Muir Glen event?
To be perfectly honest Muir Glen choose myself...I had a recipe published in Cooking Light Magazine where I specified the use of Muir Glen organic tomatoes and they noticed it....because I and the other chefs are not paid there is a certain legitimacy to our sponsorship.
2. A lot of restaurants are preaching farm to table, why choose to use a canned tomato?
Two reasons: One, it is a way to great tomato flavors in the winter! I would not use them say in a caprese salad, but I personally have no problem capturing the harvest and using them in soup, toppings, sauces, stews etc. Second, tradition: while not a venerated ingredient like say truffles, honey, verjus, etc...there is a tradition of using canned tomatoes for fine cuisine since canning was invented....you can say the same about canned peas or beets for example.
3. The Tomato Sorbet was a really daring dessert choice why did you decide to go with a tomato dessert for the meal instead of sticking with more traditional tomato based meal items?
I must say that is an example of my personal commitment to exploring cuisine...the try and let people experience the different and unexpected.
4. Can you tell us a bit about your new restaurant you will be opening soon in Cherry Creek?
The restaurant will be called Aria and will feature fun and creative dishes in a slighly less formal setting than Opus. We hope to open before the New Year.
Thanks for stopping by our Colorado based Restaurant and Food Review and Blog. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave a comment here or email us at jonathan or barb @milehigheater.com