Tasting Notes: Mac-and-Cheese at Zest
Comfort Food Delivers Satisfaction
Last night, Pam Taylor and I attended a Dining for Babies benefit dinner for March of Dimes at Zest as sponsors of the event and dining guests. While the featured menu was delicious, we couldn't resist ordering the restaurant's delectable dish of mac-and-cheese.
After arriving at Zest, we slowly made acquaintaces with a few of the fifty or so guests as people milled about and sipped on red or white wine. By the time a mound of fried calamari, battered rings of gold worth more to me than my bank account, appeared on a platter, I was ready to pounce and begin nibbling. The dip, creamy and savory, was a perfect foil for the calamari. Next, a platter of crab cakes arrived. These petite bites were sufficiently full of crab but a little greasy and rich. Still, I gobbled down a half-dozen for good measure followed by a seemingly endless flow of crisp Sauvignon Blanc.
Eventually, Pam and I took a seat at a six-top table with two couples. Chatter about babies, life in Iowa, child-rearing, snow in Colorado, and other topics batted across the table between sips of wine and water. Plates of mixed green salad dressed in basalmic vinaigrette helped to fend off our pesky hunger.
Having once worked in the kitchen at Le Fou Frog for similar catered events where a significant quantity of hot meals needed to be plated and served at once, instead of waves of smaller orders, I knew the chefs and cooks were busting their butt to get meals en route to the servers. Our table, one of the nearest to the kitchen, was one of the last to be served. Bottomless glasses of wine and a few bread rolls were barely enough to quell our growing impatience. The service was excellent and prompt which tempered our mild irritability.
Gradually, the servers brought out one of three options for the main course as ordered by each guests. The beef tenderloin on a bed of garlic mashed potatoes with grilled asparagus and veal demi-glace was a popular choice. We tucked into the entree, making short work of the superbly cooked meat and vegetables as other guests finished eating and concentrated on the March of Dimes presentation.
Earlier in the evening, Pam and I had bragged about the mac-and-cheese at Zest. This popular dish was hearty and tasty. One of our dining companions jokingly suggested that we ought to get an order. Why not? Knowing that others at the table were likely as hungry as I still was, I signaled to owner Joe DiGiovanni who came over, heard my request, and was tickled to oblige. While other guests began noshing on cheesecake, the six of us plowed into small plates of the famed mac-and-cheese. Rich and gooey, the cheese coated the thick noodles, green peas, and chunks of salty ham. The scent and taste of truffle oil drizzled on the dish was a reward in itself. The wait was worthwhile. Second and third helpings were scooped out as compliments were uttered between mouthfuls.
Eventually, we picked our way around the dessert. Our craving for honest comfort food was sated. For our group with origins in Colorado, Iowa, and Missouri, plain old mac-and-cheese, enhanced with ham, peas, and truffle oil, was the hallmark of the night. We left the table full of food and good graces, shaking hands and wishing others well before departing.