I put on my "going-out-to-dinner duds," a dark suit, a white shirt and a respectable tie, and went to two soirees for serious eaters.
The first was last Wednesday's Great Chefs Dinner at Linwood's restaurant in Owings Mills. It featured the team of New York's Larry Forgione, acclaimed as one of the best chefs in America, and Linwood Dame, one of the best chefs in the Baltimore area. The dinner was a benefit for the Child Abuse Center of Maryland.
I pulled the same suit out Saturday night when I went to ArtaFare a combination dinner and art auction held at the Maryland Institute, College of Art in Baltimore to benefit the school.
At Linwood's the evening started off with cocktails and a drawing for door prizes. Alan Hirsch, co-owner of Donna's restaurants, won the drawing and got to pick his prize. His choice was either a dinner for two at Bouley, one of the most highly regarded restaurants in New York, or a cruise on the Chesapeake Bay with a boxed lunch from his restaurant.
Mr. Hirsch picked Bouley.
During dinner I sat with George and Betsy Sherman, Roger and Irene Zuckerman, Sue Ann Crowley and Fran Brady. It was a table full of big talk and bigger appetites.
The hot topic of dinner table conversation was whether or not the secret to a happy life was eating low-fat food and pumping iron.
I argued that happiness could be found by moving in exactly the opposite direction, eating heavy food and doing only light lifting. Mr. Zuckerman, a Washington attorney whose idea of a good time seems to be holding several hundred pounds of iron over his head, argued for the heavy-lifting lifestyle.
The first course was seared wild Maine sea scallops. Eating it, I was forced to contradict myself and do a little heavy lifting. These wild scallops were gigantic. They were about four times bigger than the scallops you find in stores, scallops that no doubt are on low-fat diets. These big scallops were perfectly cooked, crisp on the outside, juicy in the middle. Lifting them off the plate was work, but it was worth the effort.
Next came a roasted corn soup, with a serving of foie gras. Chef Forgione, who runs An American Place restaurant and the Beekman 1766 Tavern in New York, believes in using American ingredients in his dishes. The goose-liver pate in this soup came, I was told, from Hudson Valley geese.
The flavorful soup inspired me to do several "reps," which is what weight lifters call repetitive motions. My reps consisted of repeatedly lifting my soup spoon to my mouth. I continued this silverware-to-mouth movement during the following courses of chili-glazed sea bass and pan-roasted venison with nuts and cherries.
By the time we got to dessert, a chocolate torte with espresso cream, I was thinking about conceding the debate. I was willing to tell my well-muscled opponent that his lifestyle was superior to mine, if he would give me his dessert. I never even got a nibble of his dessert.
Chef Forgione talked about the dessert later when I gave him a ride to his Baltimore hotel. He said the chocolate for the dessert came from Hawaiian plants and is the only native-grown chocolate in the United States. I told him it was a dessert than made me proud to be an American.
My suit seemed a little tighter when I wore it to the shindig at the Maryland Institute. I went to this event not as a patron of the arts, but rather as guy who wanted to sit in a speakeasy. One room in the institute was decorated as a speakeasy, a bow to the days of Prohibition when the neighborhood near the school was known as the Gin Belt.
I toured the seven other rooms where dinners were served. There was a floral fantasy room, a Mardi Gras room, a masterpiece dining room, a Latin flavors room, a Shakespearean feast, a room of 19th-century elegance, and a room celebrating the egg. They were cleverly done.
But I felt at home in the Gin Belt. I liked drinking booze out of teacups. I liked looking at women dressed up as flappers. The food, pieces of snapper that caterer Charles Levine had flavored with herbs and wrapped in a phyllo dough, was probably classier than anything served in any old "speak."
I even liked the party favors, packages of "cigarettes" that were filled with chocolate, not tobacco. Tobacco, as we all know is "sin." And as they said back in the days of Prohibition, sin must be stamped out.