I wrote about the actual restaurant, "Kouzzina by Cat Cora" over on Whoa Momma, but for my friends, I wanted to tell you about the experience of meeting her yesterday.
First off, you know how much I love food. Eating it, making it, watching it, talking about it. So when I got the invitation for this about a month ago, there was absolutely no way I was going to miss it. No. Way.
But I had absolutely no idea what to expect. The restaurant soft-opened in August, but this was a special Grand Opening event. All the invitation gave was a date and time and that a special "tasting menu" would be served. In my head, I set the bar for "tasting" to mean either supermarket samples in paper cups or if I really reached, waiters walking around with small portions of miscellaneous food to serve the perhaps thousands in attendence.
Oh no, my friends. Oh no.
There were 8 tables of 8, with one of those reserved for Cora and her immediate family. So by my twisted math, I figured I was one of Cat's 64 best friends. And please don't correct me because it's better if you leave me to my delusions.
There was assigned seating, and the tables were set beautifully with 3 glasses of wine, a shot of ouzo and Pellegrino in front of every chair. There were about 3 waitstaff per diner, and the same for chefs in the kitchen.
We sat down and were greeted by the President of Disney--ah hello--who introduced Cat Cora who might be the only adult woman under the age of 109 shorter than me. (She stood on a box to address us.) There are cameras set up along the entire perimeter, and I just know I'm going to be re-living this moment on a Food Network special soon. She gave her very nice opening remarks, juggling her son on her hip like every other mother I know, then instructed the guests to share a shot of ouzo with her, as she likes to do. It is also her custom to do this after an Iron Chef battle, so then my delusion builds, and I think this must make me an honorary Iron Chef. Or not.
And then they start bringing out the food. Either Cat,(cause BFF's call each other by their first names) her head chef, or her mother, each introduce a dish and give the history behind it. And they are not miniscule portions in sample cups. Nope, 12 courses of the most delicious and full, Mediterranean-inspired plates of flavor you've ever seen, paired with wines from her own winery label, "Coronation."
Cat starts making the rounds and personally speaks to every single person in the restaurant. Graciously posing for pictures, answering questions, smiling...and then her mother comes around and does the same. When Cat comes to me, I think I just sputtered out some unintelligible garlic-scented drivel since I had just tried the Chilled Salt-roasted Beets with Skordalia which I think translates to "big pillow o' yummy garlic." I am a little star-struck. I admit this freely. I kick myself for not asking for a photo.
So we proceed like this for a couple of hours, dish after dish, until our limbs have petrifield into bubbling souflee cups. But I seriously don't want to leave. I feel like I should help with the dishes or something.
Because it really was that intimate. It shouldn't have been--who am I to be treated to something the exectuive chef of Bon Appetit is preparing? (Did I mention I have every single issue of that magazine since 1994? Seriously, ask Lisa.)
But I was, and that's how it felt--being treated like I was a guest in her home--a great big, well-staffed home--but a home nonetheless. And as I looked around the room, I realize I'm glad that I am star-struck. I am glad that I eat everything placed in front of me--not that anything is a stretch except for the Brussel Sprouts because I really, really, really hate Brussel Sprouts--and allow myself to enjoy the gift I was given as my hostess intended. I am glad that I can be appreciative of every single bite whether it was something I was familiar with or not.
On the way out, I get up the nerve to say "Thank you," to her as she's cutting up dessert for one of her four sons. She smiles, I know she's got hours of interviews ahead of her, and thanks ME for coming which I almost have to laugh out loud at the lop-sided absurdity of it.
But I don't.
Instead, we pose for a picture together and I try to absorb all of the sights, sounds, tastes and scents of a memorable afternoon.
Even the Brussel Sprouts.
We start with Greek salad but it's made with arugula--a much better choice for a Mediterrean salad than wet iceberg lettuce if you ask me. It had a lovely oregano vinegarette, and tomatoes that are actually grown on property.
Spanakopita. Deliriously good Spanakopita.
Pastitsio, a Greek lasagna, but this one has this cinnamon-stewed meat sauce, Bucatini pasta and a Bechamel. I am still full.
these are the salt-roasted beets. I didn't even know I liked beets, but hello? Seriously good stuff, and so pretty...
Traditional Gigantes beans--Cat's mom taught us how to pronounce it, but I can't remember.
Here's the Fisherman's Stew--scallops, red snapper, mussels, fennel, sea goodness.
This is the oak-grilled Lamb burger. If there was anything on the menu that I couldn't finish, it was unfortuantely this because it was just too spicy for me. Which made me really sad, because I love lamb, and the homemade roll and tsizki sauce were lucious.
And finally, dessert. Or should I say, desserts? Chocolate Budino cake (molten), Baklava, and Greek-style yogurt sorbet with fresh berries in that little jar in simple syrup. We were also served a Frappe that was a deleicious ending.