This Tuesday night's quarter-final of our local chef challenge, Fire on the Rock, pitted Chef Nicole Palazzo of Bistro Sorrento in Banner Elk against Chef Josh Phillips of Josh's on Union Square in Hickory.
We had heard good things about Bistro Sorrento so DH and I planned a date night there a few years ago. It was ski season, and the restaurant was full of families in their ski clothes eating pizza. Not that I have anything against casual family dining, but it was not the upscale "bistro" atmosphere that we had imagined. We have not been back, but I am thinking that in this window between ski season and the wild flowers, we should give it another try.
I was not familiar with Josh or Josh's on Union Square -- Hickory is about an hour south of here in the foothills. When we first moved here, I shopped there fairly often (it has the closest Target), but not so much anymore. We drive past Hickory regularly on our way to the lake. Chef Josh spent some time at good restaurants in New Orleans. His restaurant serves a Sunday brunch that we'll definitely find time to do some time soon.
Last week's battle had cheese as the secret ingredient. Mmmmmm. The secret ingredient on Tuesday night was... cabbage. Hmmmm. Not so much, but a great challenge for the chefs!
The first course was Kimchee with Asian Pork & Cabbage Beggar's Purses by Chef Josh Phillips. It scored 2,480 points. The beggar's purse was a little pork won ton, and I love won tons! I think the kimchee would have worked better if the cabbage had been sliced thinly, but this was definitely my favorite of the first two courses.
The second course was Pickled Chow Chow with Tempura Shrimp by Chef Nicole. The dish scored a total of 2,320 points. I am currently intrigued with the idea of quick pickling so enjoyed the chow chow but didn't find the dish balanced overall.
The third course was also Chef Nicole's. I am not a big fan of cabbage rolls (true confession: they scare me) but I enjoyed the Stuffed Cabbage with Steamed Rice, Ground Beef & Pork, Sweet Tomato Gravy and Crispy Bacon Croutons. I like my sweet firmly balanced with some spice and some salt. The crispy bacon was a great element to top the roll, but I thought the tomato gravy could use a little bite. Overall, the dish scored 2,123 points.
Chef Josh's next course was my favorite of the evening. This Southern Slider with Cabbage Fries, Crispy Country Ham with Guinness Stout Braised Cabbage & Cracked Mustard Sauce rocked -- even though our plates did not include the mustard sauce. A slider on cornbread? Fried cabbage? Loved it. This dish earned a total of 2,426 points.
Chef Josh also served up the fifth course, and this is where he lost the competition. Dessert is not a requirement at this point in the evening, but after four savory dishes I was ready for something sweet. There were some good components in his Roasted Pork Loin with Red Wine Cabbage Puree and Ratatouille. My pork was cooked beautifully and I thought the green beans in the ratatouille added a really nice fresh element. But the magenta cabbage sauce did not work for me visually and the flavor clashed with that of the ratatouille. It was his lowest rated dish of the night at 2,388 points.
Kudos to Chef Nicole for figuring out how to incorporate cabbage into both components of her dessert! Our final course was her Cabbage, Berry & Goat Cheese Won Ton with Honey-Cabbage Ice Cream. I loved the combination of berries and goat cheese (in a won ton no less!) and the ice cream was delish. The dish earned her highest score, and the highest score of the night, 2,915 points.
Good luck to Chef Nicole as she advances to the semi-finals which will be held the weekend of April 16-17 in connection with the Blue Ridge Wine & Food Festival.