There's a verse in the Babylonian Talmud that goes something like this: When friends take leave of each other, it's best that they teach each other something, so that when they see each other next time, they remember what they've learned, and when they remember what they've learned, they will think of each other. Take a moment to let that run-on sentence sink in.
That's how we felt Sunday night after the third installment of the Saffron Supper Club. Our hosts, UrbanDaddy Miami editor Sara Liss and South Florida Foodies' Maude Eaton, welcomed guests into Chef Michael Jacob's Hidden Kitchen for their version of the Middle East in Miami through a Night in Jerusalem, an evening full of new culinary experiences and cultural lessons. We were taking our leave knowing we'd gained something to remember. Keep reading about the night we won't forget.
Previously, their dinners have been held at the Miami Beach Botanical Gardens and Josh's Deli in Surfside, both with a Persian theme. Eaton, who was married to a Persian man and whose children are half-Persian, said she feels "a strong affinity toward the culture and cuisine."
Liss, on the other hand, has a special connection with the city of Jerusalem. She told her guests about how she'd studied there before starting university, and even found her husband and got married there. Chef Jacobs, who is now private chef to the Miami Heat, also worked at the King David Jerusalem Hotel, a luxury five-star hotel where world leaders like President Obama stay when they visit Israel. The stage was set for a night of authentic cuisine in the company of people who genuinely know and care about Middle Eastern culture.
In partnership with Grey Goose Vodka, a cocktail hour began the evening, featuring drinks with Middle Eastern influences, like the pomegranate sparkler.
Meanwhile, canapés (special one-bite hors d'oeuvres) were passed around, like fresh watermelon kabobs with feta cheese from local cheesemaker Hani Khouri. Chef Jacobs also prepared Turkish flatbreads with lamb and goat cheese-filled phyllo drizzled with pomegranate molasses.
In the Middle Eastern tradition, mezze is a selection of small dishes. Chef Jacobs' appetizer included lemony hummus, zucchini bites filled with an Israeli couscous salad that packed some subtle sweetness, and an eggplant salad that tasted like a tomatoey baba ghanoush, which was the crowd favorite.
Liss provided an interlude with a work by Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai, reading first in Hebrew (because she can). With the enunciation of each Hebrew sound, she transported her dinner guests to the Land of Milk and Honey. The English translation then helped paint a clearer mental picture of the city of Jerusalem. Liss reminisced about the scent of rosemary in the ancient city, just a colorful detail that she hasn't forgotten. "You can smell it in the street and pluck rosemary from a tree."
Restaurant quality would be a poor description for the food served Sunday night. Dishes prepared by Eaton and Liss went beyond what you'd expect from an upscale restaurant. They were authentic, home-made, comforting, and a labor of love. The seafood stew was overflowing with mussels, clams, and hearty jumbo shrimp (not to mention preserved lemons), and this first course was only the start of what was to come.
An aroma of zesty lemons filled the room as bowls of Persian beef stew were brought to the table and served family-style. It's a dish that takes hours to prepare, and it tasted like it.
Basmati rice with Tadig (a browned crispy crust) came out with fiery sparklers like someone in the group had ordered bottle service. Shirazi salad -- which has diced tomato, cucumber, and red onion like an Israeli salad -- and cucumber with yogurt and crushed mint were refreshing accompaniments. The yogurt dip was especially impressive, with layers of delicate flavors that acted as a complement to any of the meal's Middle Eastern components, from the rice to the pita bread.
Dessert was a joint effort by Liss and Eaton: an olive oil cake with a scoop of basil ice cream and pine nut almond saffron brittle, plus slices of fresh fig. To someone who's never had the chance to try a fig that wasn't dried, the honeyed flavor of the fruit was a treat. Date honey from Israel was also drizzled on the plate. And Liss said that she made batch after batch of the basil ice cream to make sure it was "basily enough." It was attention to detail like this that stood out the entire evening.
One person in attendance observed that, unlike most dinner club events she'd been to in the past, most guests at Saffron Supper Club did not come alone. Of the more than 40 attendees Sunday night (the largest group so far in the Hidden Kitchen, according to Chef Jacobs), many knew each other beforehand. While this may seem intimidating to a dinner guest attending solo, the company was inviting and full of fascinating food-lovers. At the end of the night, Liss thanked individuals who'd dined at previous Saffron Supper Club meals for making their return, and it became clear that this repeat group has already gone from fan club to family.
To find out about upcoming Middle Eastern journeys, keep up with the Saffron Supper Club on Facebook. We can't wait to see where these ladies will take us next.
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