April 22nd, 2009 – Earth Day. Although I try to honor Earth everyday, it’s not often I get an opportunity to truly celebrate Mother Earth and show appreciation for the bounty and beauty that’s provided to me everyday. The Farm at South Mountain gave me the perfect way to do so.
Gathering in front of Quiessence at 6:30, we enjoyed a “meet and greet” with our fellow celebrators. I enjoyed meeting Lauren, a Chowhound friend of my dining companion Christina, and Chris a professor of nutrition at Arizona State. Drinking fresh Strawberry Lemonade, servers made their rounds with some tasty morsels from the garden to satisfy our hungry tummies. Plates were never empty and glasses were always full. Ty Largo of Rivers and Leaves Marketing asked everyone to gather around to learn a little bit more about the farm and its history. We were honored by hearing from owner A. Wayne Smith about how the farm began and how he created the current concept. You could feel that Mr. Smith had a great affinity for the property and a true respect for what it has become. He eloquently spoke of the native American history, the movement away from agrarian life to urban sprawl and, of course, of the time during his ownership and the transformation of the property to what it is today. My favorite tidbit was when he shared that his grandchildren had been born in the home that currently houses Quiessence.
Our next speaker was the gardener of the property and we took a short tour of the plants and flowers in front of Quiessence. This woman loves plants and her energy was contagious! It really made me want to try to lose this black thumb and aspire to a green one!
Our next treat was meeting Maya Dailey, queen of Maya’s Farm. This woman definitely shares a special kind of energy with her farm; the love she has for the dirt and the plants is ultimately reaped by those of us who get to dine on the fruits of her labor! The honor she displays for those who have gone before is truly inspiring. OK, I really MUST start buying my foods at the farmer’s market – there’s just no excuse! I have to believe that food raised with such respect and love MUST be healthier and also taste better. An Earth Day inspiration!
Now onto our fabulous dinner. OK, it was a vegetarian dinner. When I saw the menu, I’ll be honest, I was a little deflated – no homemade salumi? I worked past it and found the pot of gold on the other side. This was no disappointment at all. Again, it worked to inspire me to include more vegetables into my diet. Although I was very full at the end of the meal, I wasn’t miserable. And I was also inspired to be more creative with my vegetables because this entire meal was created “out of the box”!
Oh, and did I mentioned, no wine at this event. Instead we enjoyed artfully infused “mini” cocktails (which also utilized the bounty from the farm) paired with each course.
Our first course was a Sugar Snap Pea Soup with Creme Fraiche paired with a Fresh Mint and Organic Vodka Spritzer. The cocktail reminded me of a mojito, a natural mojito (with vodka, not rum). The soup was nice and smooth and the Creme Fraiche really rounded it out.
Course two consisted of a Marinated Spring Vegetable Salad, with Sugar Snap Peas, Baby Carrots, Fava Beans, Radishes, Asparagus and Housemade Ricotta. It was fantastic! The fava beans were a great addition and the radishes at the farm are like none I’ve ever tasted anywhere else. If you eat at Quiessence and have a chance to eat the radishes . . . don’t miss the opportunity! I was a little concerned about the cocktail served with this course . . . a Tomato Water Martini. I’m not a fan of tomato juice in anything (except a good HOT tomato soup) . . . I know, I’ve heard it before, I’m really missing out. I keep trying and it just doesn’t work for me. Well, back to the cocktail . . . this was REALLY good! It was very unique. I know it won’t sound good, but it tasted like I was drinking a pizza. The cocktail was clear, with a slight tinge of red, and looked like a shot of vodka . . . a martini. The smell was pure tomato. The basil flavor combined with it all to create one of the most unique things I’ve ever had and it brought me to a happy place . . . I mean, doesn’t pizza make everyone happy! Well, this was a pleasant surprise!
Our next course was probably my favorite of the evening . . . Rainbow Valley Farmer’s Cheese Gnocchi with Maya’s Baby Beets, Pistachios, Marjoram and Brown Butter paired with a Spiced Beet Bubbly. OK, another thing you should never pass up at Quiessence is the gnocchi. Chef de Cuisine Anthony Andiario makes incredible gnocchi and last night was no exception. The fresh beets and pistachios were a great compliment to the already great gnocchi . . . I didn’t see an empty plate in the house! The cocktail was incredible!!!! At first we were a little confused when they poured this thick red puree into our glasses but we were instructed that the champagne was following. The combination of the champagne and the beet puree was delicious! It wasn’t sweet, perfectly dry and tasty. We were all pleasantly surprised and discussed how the color would make it the perfect holiday cocktail!
Our next course was the Carrot and Spring Leek “Risotto” with a Carrot-Apple Gin Fizz. When they served the “risotto” I was a little confused . . . where’s the rice? Ahhhhh, then my dining partner explained that the carrots were cooked risotto style. Again, Chef LaPrad, surprised me and created a dish that was way beyond my expectation. I honestly didn’t know that cooked carrots could taste so good and the cocktail brought a sweetness in the fresh carrots that complimented the food very nicely.
OK, by this point, we didn’t have any room left . . . how is it possible that no matter how full you are, there is always at least a little bit of your tummy that finds a spot to fit in dessert! The Vanilla Cinnamon Irish Coffee was the perfect pick-me-up following this full meal. And the Vanilla Lavender Sorbet with Fennel Seed Pizzelle finished off the meal perfectly. The Sorbet was light and sweet with a nice lavendar flavor. The Fennel Seed Pizzelle looked like an onion ring (it didn’t taste like an onion ring!) and the flavor matched perfectly with the sorbet.
Just when you thought they couldn’t give you anything else . . . they had parting gifts for everyone . . . little plants. Mine was an eggplant (I asked them, which one am I least likely to kill). Ty, Adam, Chef Greg, Chef Anthony, Maya, our wonderful service team, and everyone else who took part in making this a great affaire, please accept my heartfelt “thank you!”. It was amazing. Most of all, it really made me realize that I need to make it a priority to celebrate and appreciate the earth every single day, to count my blessings and do what I can so that those that follow can enjoy the same.