I get myself in trouble every time I whine on Twitter. This time I whined about terra's 5-course bourbon dinner held on December 15 not having vegetarian options, when I know from reading terra's blog that their chef, Eric Paraskevas (Slate, Lolita), boasts of including veg options on the menu and keeping tempeh stocked in the kitchen.
An almost instant reply back on Twitter from terra (small "t") said they'd look into the matter, and the very next day a veg option for the bourbon dinner became a reality. How could I not reserve a seat after my little Twitter bitchin'? Plus, I've heard good things about the somewhat newly opened warm, cozy, subterranean restaurant and bar nestled below Tavern on Camac on the quaint Camac St. ally.
Different bourbons from the Jim Beam family were an ingredient in each of the five courses that evening, and each course was paired with a bourbon drink by a duo of personable representatives from alcohol distributors Southern Wine and Spirits who also circled the room answering any questions about the bourbon being served. The reps also raffled off a bottle of Knob Creek. (Our table didn't win.)Steak Tartar (tofu in my case) with Baker's Bourbon Caviar was the amouse bouche. With not much flavor to the bourbon Caviar nor the tofu, diced onion was the main flavor.Baker's Bourbon served neat started the evening off. Sweet, smooth, and as a dinner partner noted, toasty, this 7-year aged bourbon is a nice sipper.A warm and light onion roll arrived to the table, which was so good, I ate all of it, and I normally don't eat bread brought to the table unless it's worthy.Arugula salad with Humbolt Fog cheese, Jim Beam soaked cranberries, roasted parsnips, house bacon (omitted in my case), and ginger bourbon vinaigrette was an outstanding salad and my favorite course of the evening. One could taste the bourbon in the cranberries, but the tart sweetness of the berries tempered the bourbon. All the other components of the salad came together to create a perfect salad.
Jim Beam Black, cranberry Juice and Dekuyper Peach Schnapps was a fruity drink that did pair well with the second course, but everyone at our table poured a little Baker's Bourbon from our first round of drinks into the cocktail to knock the fruitiness down a little.Smoked Pork Belly (seitan in my case), chestnut blini, pickled beets and maple Knob Creek Bourbon foam was the second course. Happy to see that the foam was dense and more like a sweet maple bourbon whipped cream, it paired well with the mini chestnut blini. Sad to see that the seitan was just straight-up seitan without any special sauce or marinade, the seitan paired well with the perfectly pickled and peppered beets. A bite of all four together, though, muddied the components.A Manhattan made with Knob Creek, sweet vermouth, dry vermouth, bitters, and fresh lemon with a cherry garnish was paired with the second course. At our table we had a lover and a hater of this drink. You either like vermouth and bitters, or you don't. Or you're impartial, like me.
Unlike the lamb on the right, the seitan on the left could not stand up to the heavy bourbon flavor of the grits.
Pan seared lamb chops (seitan in my case) with Booker's Bourbon grits and Szechwan peppercorn jus was the third course. Again, I was sad to see straight up seitan without any special sauce or marinade. The jus on the vegetarian dish seemed to be a light vegetable broth, and with the unsauced seitan, the two could not stand up to the creamy polenta-like grits heavily flavored with bourbon. The meat eater at our table did not have any problem with the flavor of the bourbon grits as they had the heavy flavors of lamb and sauce to counter balance.Booker's Bourbon served neat was paired with the third course. With a much higher alcohol content (121-127 proof) than the Baker's Bourbon (107 proof) that started off the evening, this uncut, unfiltered, straight-from-the-barrel bourbon burned and warmed. And left the inside of my lips numb. Glad I held onto the Baker's Bourbon to taste the two side by side. I'd prefer to sip on the sweeter and mellower Baker's Bourbon than the Booker's Bourbon. Ordering a cup of ice like the gentleman sitting next to us and slipping a cube or two into the Booker's might be a good idea.
Black Forrest Gateaux and Jim Beam Red Stag creme anglaise with coffee granita was the final course. Unfortunately the coffee granita was mostly a puddle of coffee when it reached our table. The firm disks of chocolate cake topped with bourbon-soaked cherries and cream sitting in a pool of vanilla sauce was respectable if not a little sloppily assembled, but did not wow, as so many desserts never do.
Jim Beam Red Stag, hot chocolate, and whipped cream with a cherry garnish was paired with the dessert course. Being that it's the holiday season and I have a chocolate tooth and a sweet tooth, this mixed drink was my favorite of the evening. (I did enjoy drinking the two straight bourbons side by side for comparison's sake the best.) Jim Beam Red Stag is a black cherry-infused bourbon, which I've sample straight, and do not care for it's cough syrup reminiscence. In a dessert drink, the Red Stag worked. Would probably work well in Coke, too.
I think the meat eaters had a different and better experience at terra's bourbon dinner. A dish that is conceived of as a meat dish, does not always stand up to the mild flavors of meat substitutes like tofu and seitan. It's not enough to simply substitute tofu for beef, or seitan for pork and lamb. Had any of these naturally bland meat substitutes been sauced and punched with stronger flavors, the dishes would have probably been as compelling as the dishes in their original and intended meaty form. With more time to think out the vegetarian dishes, I think the chef would have nailed it.It's true that hospitality plays a huge part in a dining experience, and it most certainly did at terra. From terra's speedy response to a whiny Twitter blurb, the chef's flexibility and willingness to accommodating a vegetarian, and the friendliness of the restaurant owner (also owner of Tavern on Camac upstairs), I most certainly will be back to dine at terra.
The real judge of terra will be when I sample from the dishes as they were intended from the normal menu. I spied hoe cake (so excited to see this Southern specialty) and rigatoni with tempeh bolognese that have my name all over it. Also, I'm madly in love with terra's intimate, warm, and manly (but not too manly) space boasting a 200-bottle wine cellar.
243 S. Camac St., Philadelphia, PA, 19107