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Taste Buds: Tapas Tasting

October 5, 2012

It's the most wonderful time of the year!

The air is crisp, the leaves are changing, the hearty mums are in bloom ... and a new season of tapas tasting has begun!

The Buds were more than happy to be on hand for the opening night of the second season of Oglebay Institute's culinary series "Tapas: The Art of Elegant Small Plate Dining." And we VERY HIGHLY recommend that our dear readers take advantage of this unique dining experience if at all possible.

Tapas are small plates of food including appetizers, snacks or finger food. They originated in Spain, but these small-plate entrees are served in towns around the world and are a very popular culinary trend right now.

"Tapas are meant for sharing," said Kate Crosbie, Oglebay Institute director of performing arts, "however it's not only the sharing of the food that makes these events so enjoyable but also the sharing of great conversation."

The Buds concur!

Last week's opening event featured Chef Charlie Schlegel of Ye Olde Alpha, whose original dishes had all the winning combinations to make one's taste buds swoon with delight. Schlegel noted that pork was a key element in each course, and yes - that included dessert. Glancing over the evening's menu, it was obvious that the combination of salty and sweet would be a recurring theme and the Buds couldn't wait to get started.

The first course was a delicious chorizo with crab and tomato soup. Large chunks of spicy chorizo were mellowed out by the smooth flavor of the tomato broth. Filled with plenty of shredded crab meat, this fresh soup started off the evening on a great note.

Next, guests were served thick cut bacon with sauteed baby spinach and maple syrup. The Buds have always enjoyed the bacon-maple syrup combination, and this was well done by Schlegel, with the delicious addition of baby spinach. This dish had a very nice slightly salty and slightly sweet flavor. The Buds would see this theme continue later in the evening.

On the lighter side, the salad entree of the evening featured grilled cantaloupe with prosciutto over baby bib lettuce with tequila lime vinaigrette. Schlegel and his crew actually popped the prosciutto in oven for just a few minutes to give it a nice, crisp texture. With the sweet cantaloupe and tangy dressing, the salad was a hit.

The main course was a delicious pork tenderloin stuffed with cranberries and feta, and mashed sweet potatoes on the side. The lean pork was tender and perfectly cooked and the salty feta and sweet berries complimented it perfectly. The sides of grilled polenta and mashed sweet potatoes rounded out what was the perfect fall meal.

Finally, it was time for the much anticipated dessert: chocolate covered bacon with peanut butter ice cream.

Wow. Where do we even go with this one? At first the Buds were skeptical of the chocolate covered bacon. Why? How? But after trying it, the Buds were pleasantly surprised. The bacon didn't taste too 'bacony', but simply added the right amount of saltiness to contrast the sweet dark chocolate. And the peanut butter ice cream was divine! If your curiosity is piqued, the dish is called Moose Cream and is on the dessert menu at the Alpha.

Future dates for the tapas tasting series are Jan. 11 with Chef Mark Glass of Bethesda Market and Catering; Feb. 22 with Chef Sarah Lydick of Sandscrest Conference and Retreat Center; and April 12 with Chef Jackie Crider of Parkhurst Dining Services. Pre-register by calling 304-242-7700.

You don't want to miss it!



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