Hye Thyme Cafe: The Never Ending Birthday - An Evening at NOLA's

Welcome to the Hy
e Thyme Cafe. Although not all of my recipes are Armenian, the name is a little nod to my Armenian grandmother who is no longer with us. The Hye refers to all things related to her homeland, and she represents all things food-related to me, so the two just seemed to go together. I can't even claim that my Armenian recipes are truly Armenian, since Greece, Turkey, Armenia, Lebanon, Syria, and even Egypt share so many foods that they've all sort of morphed into one over thousands of years.

Whether you like to cook, bake, have never done either, or just like to play with your food...come on in and join me! :)

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Never Ending Birthday - An Evening at NOLA's

When I was a kid, I used to always joke that I didn't care to celebrate my birthday because I spent half of them in the hospital - having my tonsils removed; rupturing a blood vessel in my nose and having to get it packed and cauterized; spiral fracturing all the bones in my right leg; having knee surgery; having a second knee surgery ... I'm finally old enough where I can't say that anymore. I still don't really care about my birthday, but this one seems to be going on forever. My actual birthday was last Friday, but the celebrations continue. 

Last night, my sister (she of the clown cupcakes) and brother-in-law took me to a wine tasting dinner with an organic theme. To back up a little, imagine my surprise when I ran away from New Orleans, Louisiana ("NOLA") after Hurricane Katrina, land of Emeril and his NOLA Restaurant, only to move to Central New York and find Nola's Restaurant in the next town over! I almost got whiplash doing a triple-take when I saw that. No, it's not another Emeril restaurant, but it is a very nice restaurant and where the wine tasting was. 

Apparently, you can't really make an "organic" wine because of naturally-occurring sulfur-dioxide given off in the fermenting process. To be considered organic, the wine would have to contain only 10 parts per million, but the grapes naturally give off 6-40 ppm. Additionally, sulfides are intentionally added to most wines as a preservative. If you were to make a truly-organic wine, it would have to be very weak and have an extremely short shelf-life. If you are conscious of consuming more organics, what you are truly looking for in a wine is one made from organically-grown grapes.

Nola's provided the food for the evening, but the wines were brought in from an outside source. The gentleman presenting the wines was a lot of fun to listen to, not only because he was so enthusiastic about the topic but because he strangely resembled - in looks, voice, AND mannerisms - Al Franken!  

I have mentioned before that I have very poor retention, so I don't remember where the cows and chickens came into the equation, but I had to chuckle at the image he put forth when describing an organic vineyard. Because they can't use pesticides to control the grubs that are attracted to the grapes, and the grubs attract gophers, they build owl and hawk perches to attract the birds to scare off the gophers. Then they have sheep to "mow the lawn," etc. I don't know about you, but when I think of a vineyard, I imagine rolling hills and grape vines, maybe people with baskets harvesting the grapes ... I don't pictures chickens, cows, sheep, and gophers running around. 😊

I was very surprised to find that my favorite wine of the evening was a chardonnay (Paul Dolan). I'm not typically into whites, especially chardonnay, but this was was very good. Whites tend to have a sour taste to me and feel flat somehow.

There were a handful of "firsts" for me in what turned out to be a 7 1/2 course meal (I'm including my b-day cake as a half course):

  • Mustard Greens
  • Pork Belly
  • Duck
  • Harissa 

The first course was a salad of heirloom brandywine tomatoes over mustard greens, lightly dressed with orange blossom honey and cracked black pepper, served alongside a brusschetta based on their grilled corn and edamame succotash risotto. The salad was fantastic, and I'll be on the lookout for mustard greens from now on! The bruschetta was a mixture of grilled corn with edamame, zucchini, cream cheese, fresh-water mozzarella, and Parmesan. I'm not sure if they bake their own breads, but even that was great. I ended up with a heel, so I expected to struggle a bit to bite through it, but that was not the case at all. I think this was my favorite course. 
WINE:  Verdicchio Classico, Bucci

Next up was a scallop served over pepper-dusted cantaloupe and topped with a sliver of brie. Aside from the fact that I don't eat seafood, and my sister and I may or may not be allergic to scallops anyhow, had neither of those things been an issue, I still would not have eaten the scallop. We could smell them coming before they got anywhere near us, and we just looked at each other. To us, that fishy smell was not a good sign! My brother-in-law took a tiny taste but didn't eat his either.
WINE:  Chardonnay, Paul Dolan

That course was followed by another first for me - pork belly.  We were really looking forward to trying that, hearing so much talk on the cooking shows about it, but in this particular application, it was pretty much like a bacon crouton. It was a salad of butter lettuce with avocado, gorgonzola, and crispy pork belly with a buttermilk-chive dressing. I run screaming from any of the more pungent cheeses, so I was glad I could separate the gorgonzola from the rest. I'm reserving my judgment on pork belly until I have a chance to try it braised. I enjoyed it, but I won't feel like I can really say I've tried it until I've had it braised as well and get a better feel for it. I really enjoyed the Proscecco. It was like having a glass of champagne without the headache.
WINE:  Proscecco, Mionetto

Next was a pasta course, a chevre and ricotta ravioli with a lovely tomato-basil-white wine sauce and grilled zucchini. Although the flavor was delightful, we all agreed that the ravioli was under-done.
WINE:  Sauvignon Blanc Reserva, Nativa Terra

The next course involved not one, but two "firsts" for me - duck and harissa. I believe they said the duck was a leg. I was expecting to be horrified by the duck and, by all accounts, to find it greasy, but that wasn't the case at all. I did not object to the taste, and it definitely wasn't greasy. I obviously can't compare it to another, but I'm guessing it was a little dry. It had a texture reminiscent of pulled pork, and from what I understand, it should be succulent. Flavor-wise, that was another good thing for me - I won't turn my nose up at taking a taste of someone's duck the next time it's offered. This particular dish came in the form of a duck, beet, and fingerling potato hash, topped with a poached egg (now that I'm thinking about it, the egg was overcooked as well - didn't run at all) and paired with harissa (a chile paste). I was very excited a few years back when I started seeing/hearing harissa popping up here and there. Then I figured out what it was! Being Armenian, I grew up with Harissa, which is a sort of "chicken porridge." It's actually the national dish of Armenia. Although I like them both, you never want to confuse the two. LOL
WINE:  Merlot, Snoqualmie

Next up was an almond milk braised pork tenderloin with honey and lemon roasted peaches, roasted baby bok choy, and green onion. I can't really pinpoint why (maybe we were just full by then), but my table sort of steered around the tenderloin. We couldn't get enough of the bok choy and peaches though. That made for a beautiful pairing.  I'm really struggling to recall what put us off about the pork, but I'm coming up empty.
WINE:  Ripasso, Speri

The final item was something I definitely need to try at home SOON!!! It was an absolutely phenomenal (but sadly tiny) coconut Creme Brulee. It was said to be topped with some sort of strawberry something or other, but we all thought it was a frozen and thawed piece of watermelon?!? They can keep that part but maaaaann, can't wait to get a torch so I can make that creme brulee!! We were all taking little kitten licks at our spoons so we could savor it.

I thought that was the end, when they suddenly came out with a birthday surprise for me and everyone started singing. I jokingly asked if everyone had a spoon. When we realized there was no way the three of us could eat it on our own, we really did contemplate circulating it, but everyone's tables had been cleared, so there were no plates or flatware. The leftovers are calling out to me from the freezer as we speak. I don't even know how to describe this. I checked their menu online, but they don't have desserts listed. All I remember was chocolate, ice cream, and peanutty-gooeyness.  YUMMMM!!!

I intentionally (I swear) took a lousy picture of the inside so as not to be mean and tease you with it.  ;)

To wrap up, in terms of the wines, the event was very educational and interesting. I just wish I could remember more! I was trying to jot down notes, but I'm terrible at writing and listening at the same time. The food was a little hit or miss. Every dish (except the scallop) had at least one delicious component, so I really can't complain. My sister and her hubby have eaten there before and really enjoyed themselves, so this did nothing to dissuade us from going back. We will definitely be keeping an eye out for future such events.

If you're ever in Clinton, NY, check out Nola's right in the Square. I can't wait to stop in for dinner so I can try the Risotto or their Chicken Bahn Mi, or for lunch to try their Fall Harvest Salad (sans bleu cheese of course), or their Thai Chicken Salad (coconut ginger vinaigrette immediately piqued my curiosity).

Now if I can just figure out where to get mustard greens ...


  1. Looks like you had a delicious Birthday meal!

  2. I did. I snuck another piece of that dessert last night. It was kinda like a Snickers Torte. Yummm!

  3. Wow, what a delicious experience. You sure did have a nice birthday week. I have always been afraid to try mustard greens, are they at all bitter?

  4. We didn't find them to be bitter at all. It was slightly peppery with a mustard taste. I thought the taste was coming from the dressing at first, then I realized it was the greens. I was very surprised. :)


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