The Millennium Meal By Mail
Like everyone else this year, my wife, Vicky, and I have been casting about for the proper way to bring in the millennium. "You want festive and elegant? Why don't we eat at Daniel?" I offered, referring to chef Daniel Boulud's gastronomic temple on Manhattan's Upper East Side. Daniel's six-course New Year's Eve dinner includes caviar and champagne. But at $1,250 a head? Forget about it. Around a hundred bucks a head? That'd be more like it. In a trice I was off to the Net to plan a posh party for my wife and four friends. We served it about six weeks early, of course. But it was as festive as if Y2K was the night's main event.
I gave myself 10 days to put together the feast, figuring there would be a snafu or two along the way. I ordered everything by phone, although many of the purveyors have Web sites to make planning easier (table, page 152E4). All the food arrived intact and on schedule, although the quality of cooking instructions tended to vary. When I had questions, however, a call to the supplier was all I needed to get me back on the right path. Once on the table, dinner was a wild success. When I do it over, for the actual millennium, I'll add champagne and red wine and still save money.
CAVIAR AND SALMON. What should the ultimate millennial mail-order meal consist of? I wanted it to be a combination of the familiar and the luxurious. So I imbued our dinner with chef Boulud's spirit by ordering some of his golden Osetra caviar. I prepared toast points, chopped egg, and onion myself, though I laughed when I thought about Boulud's serving suggestion. "Just eat it with a big spoon," he once told me with an impish grin. Along with the roe, I served pecan-wood smoked salmon from Durham's Tracklements in Ann Arbor, Mich. T.R. Durham's salmon has a satiny texture and a just-smoky-enough flavor. To convince my wife that the meal was sufficiently elegant, I ordered D'Artagnan's armagnac-soaked prunes stuffed with foie gras. The rich foie gras is a foil for the sweet prunes and armagnac.
I decided to serve two different appetizers and two main courses. Two years ago, loyal customers of Patty Leblanc's restaurant in Presque Isle, Me., persuaded her to start shipping her lobster stew for home consumption. It's filled with big chunks of tender lobster in a buttery broth. I just wish there was slightly less claw meat. The other appetizer was Tom Perini's Buffalo Gap Ranch smoked and peppered beef tenderloin. It comes medium rare, ready to be sliced and served with a dollop of horseradish cream.
For main courses, I ordered a crown lamb roast from the well-known New York food retailer Balducci's. From Cajun Specialty Meats in Pensacola, Fla. (850 479-8383) came turducken--a Cajun specialty composed of a boned turkey stuffed with a boned duck and a boned chicken. Each of the 16 chops that formed the crown of the lamb roast came with its own gold foil bootie to keep the bone tips from burning. Most of mine slipped down in the oven. No matter. The lamb was mild-tasting and flavorful; all I had to do was season it with a fine coating of French sea salt. While the turducken was a great conversation piece, it didn't add up to much. If I had to do it again, I'd order bone-in ribeye steaks from Lobel's, the ultra-upscale butcher on Manhattan's Madison Avenue. Its succulent prime beef is dry-aged from four to six weeks.
Although I'm a steadfast New Yorker, I have a deep and abiding passion for Southern-style biscuits. Joanna Karlinsky and her chef-partner, John Bryant Snell, at the Meetinghouse restaurant in San Francisco ship ready-to-bake biscuits anywhere in the country. Although the baking instructions could have been more precise, the two dozen I ordered somehow came out of the oven flaky, moist, and irresistible.
A millennium meal just wouldn't be complete without cheese. Handcrafted American cheeses can be mentioned in the same breath with French and Italian counterparts. Cheesemonger Rob Kaufelt of Murray's Cheese Shop in Greenwich Village offers a choice of five American cheeses that would make a fine course. He suggested a grouping of a Capriole Banon goat cheese from Indiana, a Grafton Classic Reserve Cheddar from Vermont, a Trade Lakes Cedar sheep cheese from Wisconsin, a chunk of Vella Dry Jack from California, and a Great Hill Blue from Massachusetts.
TRENDY CAKE. After my multi-course meal, what could be better than a multi-course dessert? David Glass bakes a truly extraordinary pumpkin cheesecake, creamy, not at all gushy, and just sweet enough. The hot restaurant dessert of the moment, however, is warm chocolate cake with a pudding-like center. Williams-Sonoma found a San Francisco pastry company, Citizen Cake, that ships frozen batter that you can bake whole or, like most restaurants, individually in muffin tins.
For the finale, I ordered a chocolate creation basket from Black Hound in New York. It's a basket woven out of bittersweet chocolate and filled with white, milk, and dark chocolate truffles. It had the crowd oohing and aahing as they ate every last truffle--even as they claimed they were too full. For my more virtuous guests, I offered navel oranges from Cushman Fruit, a family-run Florida mail-order concern that has been shipping terrific citrus since 1945. Their navel oranges are bursting with flavor, though they can't compare with Cushman's HoneyBells, a hybrid of Dancy tangerines and Duncan grapefruit that are so juicy they come with bibs to protect clothing. Pity they're only in season in January.
Now it's time to plan my real millennium party. With the exception of the turducken, I'd be happy to do it again. But just to vary the menu, maybe I'll slip in a few pounds of brisket from Louie Mueller Barbeque in Taylor, Tex., (www.texasbbq.com; 800 580-6687) and ring in the next century with a rebel yell.