There are few events as creative and expertly planned as the annual Flavors of Connecticut benefit for the American Liver Foundation. Last night, I was honored to attend the fundraiser, show support for the organization, and, oh yes – eat. And by eat I’m referring to a bewilderingly magnificent five-course meal from one of my favorite restaurants, The Willows at the Bristol Doubletree.
To back up a bit: 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 silent auction that spanned the entire ballroom with donated items ranging from private dinner parties hosted by renowned local chefs to flight-included vacations in Italy. No small potatoes. While the auction proceeded (I didn’t win anything I bid on because I am a peasant), chefs and staff from all 30+ participating restaurants passed around plates of their signature hors douvres. From Beausoleil oysters with horseradish gelee (The Willows) to foie gras mousse (Millwrights), the selections were brilliant.
Renee Dinino emceed the event alongside the guest of honor, an incredible, hilariously charismatic ten year old named Christian Mercado who was diagnosed with autoimmune hepatitis (a disease where the body’s immune system attacks liver cells) early on in life. This kid is fantastic and has been involved in several fundraiser events. The night raised a whole bunch of money for the American Liver Foundation and showcased the talents of chefs around the state. What more could I ask for?
On to the food. Each restaurant served a exquisitely crafted multi course meal to a dozen lucky event guests at their dedicated table. With total creative license to embellish their own serving/cooking spaces, each of nearly three dozen restaurants personalized their areas with everything from ornate floral arrangements to ethereal canopies, cryptic skeletons (lookin’ at you, Besito) and cork-filled hurricanes.
The seating arrangement at The Willows strayed from the mold of circular banquet tables and instead placed guests at a long, rustic farm table adorned with gorgeous wildflowers, greenery and an edible gardenscape that made my heart ache for spring. And, not to brag on their behalf, but they won first place in the table décor competition that concluded the event!
Back to the food. Easing us in to what would surely be a culinary adventure, Executive Chef Leo Bushey grabbed our attention with an amuse bouche of pork belly with maple crème and candied pistachios… basically tastebud teasing pork candy. We continued with a salt cured diver sea scallop complemented by radish and honeycomb (an essential to balance the salt) presented on individual blocks of pink sea salt. Fancy! The dish was beautifully paired with a 2011 De Ladoucette Pouilly-Fume Loire Valley, selected by Director of Food & Beverage Aaron O’Connor. Our next course was probably my favorite, if not in the top three – sumptuously rich mushroom ravioli in porcini foam topped with lingonberry, paired with 2010 Louis Jadot Pommard Cote de Beaune.
Moving on to the meatier side of things, the buttermilk poached capon breast was otherworldly with its port gelee, beet crema and, oh yes, foie gras torchon. A 2008 Spanish rioja paired perfectly… And what’s an early spring meal without a spring lamb rack? Especially with horseradish bauphinoise, butter poached pea puree and a 2009 Sette Vigne. So, so tender.
So, that happened. And so did the white chocolate macadamia tarte with banana mouse and a 2007 Californian brut rose. As far as I can tell, there’s no lovelier way to end a meal than with a sweet confection and some bubbly.
So, now that you’re drooling all over yourself, pay a visit to The Willows restaurant one of these days. It’s definitely an experience in the very best sense of the word. The seasonal fare is always a delight and I’ve had the pleasure of working with the staff on a marketing event this past summer and they are just a joy. Thanks to Amy, Aaron, Leo and the team for having me at their table! Truly a remarkable start to April.
Oh and….bread! In flowerpots!