The latest 13th Step dinner combined two of my favorite things: a good old fashioned zombie story and fine dining. Tasting Tampa has once again found us a hidden gem of a restaurant aptly named Pearl in the Grove.
Trekking out to Dade City on a windy and downright spooky evening, I could think of no better setting for this Post-Zombie-Apocalypse themed dinner set just a week before Halloween. The decor was cozy and elegantly country, studded with candlelight. I felt as if I were truly at a dinner party in someone’s home. The team at Pearl could not have been more inviting (perhaps they sensed my zombie slaying skills). I was welcomed with a drink: the Pearl Old Fashioned with housemade pickled cherries that were not too tart but just right. In fact, everything they serve is made from scratch, including bread, pasta and desserts.
We were left to mingle, anxiously awaiting the courses to come. Upon each place setting was a special menu for the evening explaining the theme and providing details on all of our locally sourced proteins, cheese and produce. Chef/owner Curtis Beebe cleverly tied in the nose-to-tail trend with our dinner theme. To paraphrase from our menus, when the inevitable Zombie Apocalypse occurs we are living off of the land and nothing can go to waste.
Our first wine was brought out, a 2011 Abbazia di Novacella Kerner from the Alto Adige region of Italy. As explained by our fabulous sommelier, Amy Cairns, from Stacole Fine Wines, the goal of the evening’s pairings was to provide acidity to balance out the heavier qualities of a nose-to-tail dinner and that goal was definitely achieved.
Rabbit Liver Mousse topped with Quail Offal:
The creamy mousse was served on crostini. A delicately fried quail heart placed on top was a bit lost amongst the mousse but I tried one on its own allowing me to enjoy the pleasantly chewy texture.
House Cured Lardo on Focaccia:
The lardo was a tasty start to our 13th Step adventure.
Quail Egg Baked in Radish Cream paired with a 2010 Paul Blanck Gewurztraminer, Alsace, France:
I loved this dish. There were minced bits of radish hidden amongst the cream providing an unexpected contrast in texture. The cream seemed mild at first but the wine (possibly my favorite of the night) really brought out some of the pungent, peppery flavor I was craving.
Andouille, Chicken and Oyster Gumbo paired with a 2010 Domaine la Garrigue Cuvee de L’hostellerie (Grenache / Syrah), Vacqueyras, Spain:
I was immediately drawn to the luscious roux of this gumbo. It was exquisitely dark and perfectly spiced with plump little Apalachicola Oysters planted on top. A small bed of white rice was nestled in the bottom of the bowl providing a nice foil to the heat of the gumbo. I normally have white wine such as a slightly sweet Reisling with spicy food so I was pleasantly surprised by this pairing of a Grenache and Syrah blend. It held up without overpowering the food.
Smoked Lamb’s Liver on marinated red onions, tomato with blue cheese and balsamic paired with a 2010 Napa Valley Elyse Petite Sirah:
The liver was laid atop thick slices of ripe tomato, with diced onions and crumbles of blue cheese. I fully admit to not being a liver connoisseur and I had some trouble cutting through my portion. That said, the lightly smoked liver played nicely with the veggies providing intriguing contrasts in texture and flavor. The wine was once again spot on taming the red onions while enhancing their sweetness.
Rabbit Lasagnette paired with a 2009 Creta Roble, Ribera del Duero, Spain:
Quite possibly the lightest pasta dish I’ve ever had as well as one of the tastiest. This course almost worked as a palate cleanser. A large sheet of al dente pasta with braised rabbit tucked inside swimming in a delicate brodo. I ate half of my table mate’s it was so good. And no surprise, the wine was a home run working with the lightness of the dish.
Braised Oxtail on blue cheese grits, smoked quail, okra, green beans and golden beets with a 2007 Tuscan Tolaini Valdisanti:
Everything on this plate was like a big bear hug. The lovingly braised oxtail, the perfectly smoked quail, the creamy, cheesy unctuous grits and the sweet golden beets made me feel happy and safe, which is an excellent feeling to have after a zombie apocalypse. I especially enjoyed the bits of rabbit belly bacon. The rich, full-bodied blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese and Cabernet Franc served as a great companion.
Twinkies paired with a Broadbent 10 year old Malmsey Madeira from Portugal:
Childlike glee is the only way to describe how I felt when the most delicious Twinkie of all time was placed in front of me. The tasty little cellophane wrapped treat was a nod to Woody Harrelson’s character’s intense quest for a Twinkie in the movie “Zombieland” (one of my favorite zombie films). It had three fillings, vanilla cream, strawberry and chocolate and it was divine. I’m sad and yet thankful that real Twinkies don’t taste like this. I’d be an addict as well for those spongy, yellow, delicious bastards. A ten year old Madeira may seem like an odd pairing for a cheeky snack cake but it was warm and buttery caramel with a deep raisin flavor and a nice kick.
Chef/owner Curtis Beebe, Sous Chef Patrice Murphy and the entire team at Pearl in the Grove along with Amy from Stacole Fine Wines presented us with an extremely thoughtful and well-balanced dining experience. There is a lot of love put into this restaurant and it permeates through the food, service and atmosphere.
Big thanks to the Pearl in the Grove, Chef/owner Curtis Beebe, Sous Chef Patrice Murphy, and Tasting Tampa for another fantastic dinner. It’s a lengthy but well worth it journey out to Dade City. You’ll know where to find me when the dead have risen…