Whatever expectations I had for last night’s “Living Gluten Free” dinner by Next Door were exceeded. From start to finish, I felt special. The event took place in the Test Kitchen, a private dining space and when we arrived for the reception, Alex and I were each given a glass of prosecco. While sipping on prosecco, we noticed that Danny and Stenzy Wegman were amongst the guests. It certainly upped the “special” factor but also was a great example of how involved Wegmans is in the community it serves. For the amuse-bouche, we were served a butternut squash soup shooter which set the standard for the deliciousness that was ahead of us, then we were ushered to the tables.
The 18 guests were seated at two long tables, dressed elegantly and lit with candles, creating a warm and intimate ambiance. Executive Chef, Chris Brandt opened the dinner by talking about how easy it actually is to accommodate gluten free diners, since there are so many foods that are naturally gluten free, and that Next Door regularly caters to dietary restrictions. I was generally aware of this, as a frequent Next Door diner, but it was reassuring to hear from the Chef, himself. Then, the food service began with Wegmans own freshly baked gluten free multigrain and white breads. Out of the eight people at our table, only three were celiac/gluten-intolerant, but every was quite happy with the flavor and moist texture of the bread. Interestingly, only Alex and I were Rochester residents, one guest came all the way from Auburn to take part in this special evening.
The first course was the Raw Winter Vegetable Salad. Shaved cauliflower, beets, radish, and winter truffle were tossed with microgreens and dressed with a truffle-yuzu dressing. For added crunch, the chef prepared a chia seed cracker, which was my favorite surprise gluten free treat. This was Alex’s favorite dish because of its uniqueness. I could smell the second course of scallops being prepared in the test kitchen, which was just feet away from us, and when it arrived, my taste buds were ready! The scallops were served with a vanilla-fennel-pear sauce and cranberries. This was my favorite dish because the scallops were cooked perfectly and I loved the vanilla-cranberry flavor combination with a savory dish.
Waiting for our main course of colorado lamb, we were once again teased with delicious smells that wafted from the kitchen. The lamb was prepared as roasted chops and a braised foreshank, seasoned with rosemary. It was served with baby carrots, goat cheese potato puree, and a zucchini-mint sauce. Both cuts of meat were incredibly flavorful, but slightly fatty. Nevertheless, I enjoyed this dish thoroughly. The portion size of the dishes was relatively generous, so after our main course, we were all feeling quite satisfied.
However, any feeling of fullness was ignored as the waiters presented us with dessert: molten chocolate cake with house-made cherry-vanilla ice cream, cherry sauce, and a chocolate wafer. The cake was in one word, decadent. The cake-y outside gave way to a ganache on the inside. The ice cream helped tone down the chocolate and the cherry sauce was so good I could have licked it off my plate. Chef Brandt shared with us that he used Cup4Cup as a replacement for wheat flour in the cake and recommended it generally as a good all-purpose GF flour.
When we’d finished our last course, there were murmurs of delight and approval in reflection of the experience we had all just shared. No one missed the gluten.
As we left the Test Kitchen, I stopped to thank the Chef and saw a plate of leftover chia seed crackers. After I mentioned how much I enjoyed the crunch and flavor of the crackers, Chef Brandt offered them to me to take home. See? Special from start to finish.