Not only does late March mark the start to our desperately needed spring in Connecticut, but it also includes my favorite event of the year.
Flavors of Connecticut, a fundraiser for the American Liver Foundation, is the paragon of all food and wine benefits in the state, and I go to my fair share of these. Although it was a rainy evening, the fabulous food, ambiance and generous support made this past Tuesday’s event a wholly unforgettable experience. For the second year, I was honored to be a guest of The Willows Restaurant who (also for the second year) won an award in the table decor competition for their elegant, dramatic tablescape (“Most Elegant, 2015!”).
The setup for Flavors is completely unlike your typical food-based benefit with tables doling out samples stationed around the venue. The event opened with an impressive cocktail hour and silent auction that spanned the entire ballroom with donated items ranging from private dinner parties hosted by renowned local chefs to entire vacation packages. A standout newcomer was Sticks & Stones at Mohegan Sun – their inventive molecular mixology bar has me itching for a casino visit in the near future.
On to the dinner. Each participating restaurant hosted a small group for an exquisite five course tasting menu with drink pairings. And, at The Willows’ table, this meant bubbly. A magnificent selection of champagne and sparkling wine pairings alongside dishes incorporating these effervescent libations. The table décor complemented the meal gloriously, with fresh flowers, glass bulbs and even a bubble machine for that extra oomph.
With Chef Peter Johnson (formerly of Bin228 in Hartford) at the helm, we started with table smoked salmon emince paired beautifully with lemongrass pickled red onion and key lime creme fraiche and accompanied by a flute of Lamberti Rose. We continued with a perfect plate of lump crab and herbed tomato napoleon with lobster demi glaze, accented by sparkling cider poached apple shavings. Heading into heartier territory, we were served my favorite dish of the night, Maple Leaf Farm duck confit. While duck confit is all too often masked with other heavy, rich flavors, this was complemented by a light butter lettuce and asparagus salad with caramelized butternut squash, champagne mustard vinaigrette,and pecorino shavings. Paired with a crisp Pol Roger champagne. Perfection.
The savory courses concluded with a decadent hand cut tenderloin accompanied by fava bean and porcini risotto and topped with prosecco crema. As the table décor winners were being announced, the delectable meal ended with Tahitian vanilla bean and salted caramel apple bars with sparkling pear cider sorbet. This sorbet. Oh my god. Light, fresh, crisp – a metaphor for spring perhaps? In any case, this was the meal to usher in a season of freshness and warmth – and every year, Flavors of CT is the event to kick it all off.
Thank you to The Willows at the Hilton Doubletree in Bristol for such a fantastic meal, especially Amy, Katie, Althea, Cesar and Chef Peter – and, of course, thank you to the American Liver Foundation for all of the amazing work that they do!
For more information about The Willows, click here.
To donate to the American Liver Foundation, click here.