best thing i ate last week: Andrew Zimmern's vitello tonnato at Cobaya SoBeWFF
Last week, for the second year in a row, Cobaya Gourmet Guinea Pigs teamed up with the South Beach Wine and Food Festival to put on a dinner together, this time at Chef Alex Chang's Vagabond restaurant in the hotel of the same name. In a repeat performance, Andrew Zimmern joined us again, and once again stole the show among a group that also included Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo of Animal, Son of a Gun and an ever-expanding roster of other Los Angeles restaurants, and Carlo Mirarchi of Brooklyn's Michelin two-star Blanca, the grown-up sibling of Roberta's Pizza.
(You can see all my pictures from the dinner in this Cobaya SoBeWFF flickr set).
Most folks probably know Zimmern from his James Beard Award winning Travel Channel program, Bizarre Foods. What they may not know is that the guy can also flat out cook. In addition to a silky vichyssoise with a citrus-cured oyster that was served as guests gathered around the Vagabond's poolside bar, he also was responsible for my favorite course of the evening: a riff on an Italian classic, vitello tonnato, done here with thin slices of veal tongue, a tangy anchovy-laden dressing, citrus segments, chile oil spiked fried capers and slivered olives for some punch, and crispy chickpea crackers for scooping.
Whenever we do a Cobaya dinner on our own, people generally know they're going to be in for something a bit different and adventurous. But seats at the SoBeWFF dinner get filled by all sorts of folks, including many who may not quite know what they're in for. So one of the highlights of the evening for me was Zimmern making sure to wait until everyone was about four bites into the dish before giving its description, and letting everyone know that he'd used veal tongue. I'd guess that about a quarter of the diners' jaws dropped. It makes me even more grateful for the support and open-mindedness of the group who come out to our regular dinners.
We had some great dishes from everyone, and I'll post more on our SoBeWFF dinner soon.