The Hard Rock owns the world’s greatest collection of music memorabilia, which is displayed at its locations around the globe. But did you know that they also possess some of the world’s greatest chefs? At Council Oak Steaks & Seafood, nestled inside the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Tampa, a team of chefs construct a distinct dinner menu every month.
This month’s theme at Council Oak was a Barrel Aged Cocktail Dinner. During the feast last Thursday, this writer witnessed the creative art of cuisine in the kitchen, ultimately a voyeur of how the chefs and diners were in dialogue.
Food was the medium in which the chefs worked in harmony to create the restaurant’s ultimate dining experience to date. The delicate marriage of food and chefs breaking traditional culinary rules was a powerful way to engage patrons and make them think about the dining experience.
The four-course meal began with hors d’oeuvres — Prosecco Compressed Watermelon, Royal Ossetra Caviar and Fig Confit, which showcased duck prosciutto aged for the past month. The watermelon, featuring the texture of tuna, was topped with a 50-year-aged balsamic vinaigrette.
The main courses that followed left me wanting to eat dishes exclusively made by the hands of these talented chefs.
Hudson Valley Foie Gras Au Torchon, the first course, was included pickled carrot, watermelon radish, salsify, sea salt pistachios, kumquat marmalade and blackberry ketchup. It was Paired with an Old Fashioned Root Beer.
The second course, paired alongside a Negroni with Nolet's Silver, offered Chilean sea bass. The dish was topped with lobster ravioli, eggplant caponata and smoked tomato brodo.
Just as I thought it couldn’t get better than the melt-in-your-mouth sea bass, the third course arrived. Jackman Farm’s wagyu filet, prepared in a sous vide at 55 degrees Celsius for four hours, could've been eaten with a spoon it was so tender. Parsnips puree, tomato jam, shaved black truffle and warm port-tarragon vinaigrette complemented the steak, as well as a Manhattan with Crown Royal rye whisky.
Later, the evening was perfectly polished with the fourth course: chef Alon's Sweet Obsession. A chocolate mousse and coconut sponge cake were finished with morello cherry foam and a chocolate garnish. The dish was paired with a S’mores Martini, highlighting Ketel One Vodka.
Each guest received a commemorative two-liter wooden barrel, filled with aging Manhattans, already weeks old, that were created with more Crown Royal. Aging cocktails in wood barrels softens their harsh edges, plus adds layers of flavor.
The process of the chefs, who are equipped with large personalities and share a strong passion for steaming up the kitchen, was well executed from start to finish.
“When we’re plating to order, and to make sure we get the food out as quickly as possible, I try to time it. I’ve been doing this so long that I know to serve 40 or 50 plates takes exactly nine minutes with an eight-man production line,” explained chef Gideon, who celebrated his four-year anniversary with Seminole Hard Rock over the weekend. “In 1995, I worked the Emmys. We had over 2,000 people, had 200 people plating and served everyone in under 26 minutes.”
For the record, the Council Oak team served our courses in under nine minutes.
While everyone worked as a group in a race against the clock, plating dishes in an orderly fashion, chef Mike — along with Pam Martin and Kamran Mir from Coastal Wine & Spirits — brought an educational component to the meal.
Chef Mike, who crafted the menu, said the inspiration for this month’s dinner came from the beverages. The preparations started a month ago.
“Instead of starting with the food, we created the drinks first, and then paired the food to the cocktails. We pulled out all of the stops to pair ragouts and foie gras and caviars,” he said.
The chefs intrinsic dance around the kitchen to bring diners sensational modernist cuisine left guests spoiled, inspired and wanting more. Each dish was a work of art.
Next month's Octoberfest dinner will feature a Sam Adams beer theme. Stay tuned for more details.