SideDish Supper Club at Samar by Stephan Pyles: A Recap

Oh what a feeling!
Oh, what a feeling!

Our photographer, the incomparable Matthew Shelley, is putting the finishing touches on the pictures from last night’s SideDish Supper Club at Samar at Stephan Pyles, but Mr. Andrew Chalk has already written a recap of last night’s festivities.

I would like to thank Stephan Pyles, managing partner George Majdalani, and the versatile staff at Samar for putting on more than just a fabulous dinner—the evening was magical. The belly dancers swinging from the swanky chandeliers and the fire pit blazing in the foggy mist outside created an incredible party atmosphere around the exotic cuisine. (BTW, I thought belly dancers were supposed to have bellies.)

Ask for the Samar Car.
Ask for the Audi Samar Car.

Thanks again to Audi for my new white car (did you see it last night?), Ketel One for the free vodka (who doesn’t love that!), and the cultured folks at Cultured Cup for the exquisite tea. (I’m joking about the free car.)

I don’t get sappy too often, but I am so honored by how many of you who attended last night have been to all four of our SupperClub celebrations this year. I think we’ve started something really special . This club was developed as an outlet to share fine food with friends and I think we have exceeded any expectation I ever imagined. Thank you all from the bottom of my jiggling belly. Where next? The moon? Who knows? Thanks again. Here’s Andrew’s report. Let us hear from you!

There was not a spare seat at Samar last night as the SideDish Supper Club moved in. The group had the restaurant to themselves, as Sunday is a night when the restaurant is usually closed. Guests spilled from the main dining room into seats at the bar and tables set up in the bar area. There were belly dancers, a traditional Afghan tea ceremony, and Nancy Nichols dressed to make Leigh Bowery seem prosaic. The meal was supposed to be five courses but each course actually encompassed several tapas. As a result, if you counted individual dishes, there were seventeen menu items. I resolve not to eat until Wednesday.

Jump for the whole report.

I can’t cover every course in detail below (the full menu is here) and keep this report to a reasonable length so I will take a ‘greatest hits’ approach and let Dishers comment on the things I omit.

Even before the official start time for meal service at 7:00 p.m., the noise level had risen as guests were treated to the restaurant’s signature cocktail, the Samartini. The meal began with a selection of international appetizers. The Blistered Green Spanish Chiles with Hickory Smoked Sea Salt stood out as a model of economy. The dish seemed to be just chilies and salt but the smoked sea salt drew the flavor out of chilies, making them seem like exaggerated versions of themselves. Simple, yet effective.

appsA second dish worth mentioning in this course is Three Spreads with Naan. The first spread in particular was memorable. A Baba Ghanoush that had just an oh-so-subtle smoky flavor (from the roasted eggplant?) that was addictive. Despite knowing, and having acknowledged, that this was the first course in a long evening we nonetheless ate every single bit, mopping it up with naan.

After appetizers, the next three courses were Spanish, Eastern Mediterranean, and Indian cuisines. The dessert course was truly international and paired with a fabulous Afghan tea service created by the representatives from Cultured Cup.

tresThe Spanish course included Tres Vasos (three glasses). Tumblers filled with three strikingly different flavors. Foie Gras Brulée with Pedro Ximenez Figs and Crispy Jamon Serrano is an orgy of umami richness of pate leavened with the tart fruit of the figs. The Serrano ham pieces sprinkled on top add mainly a texture component although you can taste the saltiness. The Ruby Red Grapefruit with Feta Foam and Lemongrass-Ginger Gelee has ripe sweet grapefruit layered with creamy foam from the feta cheese. After a few minutes in the glass the foam naturally subsided, making the whole a cream and fruit mixture. It may sound utterly odd but it worked.

Finally in the trio, the Spiced Shrimp with Pumpkin Flan and Orange contrasted of sweet fruit (the pumpkin) with tartness (the orange). I have tasted the Tres Vasos many times but held my tongue while someone in our party, who had not previously been to Samar, tasted it. He was he said blown away, which I think is what I think of this dish as well.

Despite several previous visits, I had never had the Mussels Escabeche with Pears, Sherry and Cream. The waitress poured what appeared to be a cream sauce around a mound of mussels in the center of a soup bowl. Not an uncommon service technique, however this sauce turned out to be ordinary cream sauce. It tasted like lobster bisque but with a piquant note that the chef revealed was jalapeno. The whole effect was subtle and complex and this dish now goes near the top of my Samar favorites.

This course also had my favorite wine of the evening. The 2007 Martina Pietro Verdejo from Rueda, Spain. The first notes are grassy and herbal, like a Sauvignon Blanc. However, after a few seconds more perfume-y aromas emerge that are like, dare I say it, Viognier. I haven’t had this wine before but it is worth searching for. Verdejos’ are rarely expensive and this will substitute for Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, and probably dry Gewürztraminer when served with food.

The next course took us to the Eastern Mediterranean. The star here was the Endive-Orange Salad with Fennel, Pecan Labne and Sumac. Endive was used in its traditional role as a scoop for most of the other ingredients. The Pecan Labne was the second spread of the three in the appetizer course, but with the pecan added. It was creamy like a cream cheese dip punctuated with the texture of pecans and their distinctive flavor. Ladled with the endive juxtaposed the sensory impressions of bitter and creamy. The orange, however, was another story. It was sliced very thin (maybe barely a sixteenth of an inch) and then ‘candied’ (somehow). The result was a very thin layer of sweetness encasing a tart orange slice. The sweetness was so intense it was a heavenly flavor but odd in this dish. Quite frankly, I could put a slice of this on top of ice cream to create a special dessert in no time.

Next was the Indian course. Since executive chef Vijay Sadhu hails from India and has a track record devising innovative menus, I had high expectations here. In the past, he has most impressed me with his ability to get the flavors out of the ingredients he uses. Top billing goes to the South Indian Coconut Fish Curry for the clarity of the fish flavors and the sweetness of the coconut milk.

Then came dessert. Or, rather, five of them. Top marks go to the trio of ice creams: Pistachio, Rose and Gum Mastic Ice Cream, which were served in three cones fitted in a holder. It is a tough thing to make such flavors as rose water stand out in heavy butterfat but Samar did it commendably.

Kyle Stewart from Cultured Cup demonstrates the Afghan tea ceremony assisted by Fatima White.
Kyle Stewart from Cultured Cup demonstrates the Afghan tea ceremony assisted by Fatima White.

The dessert beverage was Afghan tea provided by The Cultured Cup. Owner, Kyle Stewart, demonstrated the traditional method of preparation. He may not be as easy on the eyes as the ubiquitous belly dancers, and he had to contend with highly elated audience, but his tea was good and the ceremony didn’t involve strapping any munitions to your body.