I love the sun and the heat of summer but as a lifelong New Englander, I love the change of seasons even more. The end of summer is bittersweet. The days are already getting shorter and we have had our first sub 70 degree day but crunchy local apples and pumpkins are plentiful. The harvest is here and that means the annual Harvest Dinner at The People’s Kitchen (TPK) in Worcester.
Nota bene: For next year’s Harvest dinner book early! I was waitlisted. The event sold out. I felt very lucky and privileged to later snag two seats because this was truly an extraordinary evening! Initially I was expecting this even to be a wine dinner but I was pleasantly surprised to learn that we would be pairing meals prepared with mostly New England ingredients with Massachusetts beers and wines! The night featured the still wines from Westport Rivers and various beer and ales from Newburyport Brewery.
The night began with a self-service table full of assorted charcuterie, bread and cheeses all from local producers. There was a stampede and the table was emptied in what seemed like mere seconds. I headed in the other direction and snagged myself a welcome cocktail. I have found that a welcome cocktail is a must if antsy diners have to wait for their first pour of wine. The cocktail was a sweet blackberry punch made with Berkshire Mountain Greylock Gin, blackberry puree from Tougas Farm, lemon juice, Olio Sacrum and TPK Thyme Syrup. It was delicious and refreshing and it got people talking.
The night had a family banquet type of feel, the way I would imagine a harvest dinner used to be and perhaps still is. People took their seats fairly quickly in anticipation of the lengthy meal that lay ahead. The tables of 6-10 people were assigned which I thought showed great forethought and familiarity. The room is spacious but somewhat loud. However, the crowd was courteously quiet when the presenters from the kitchen, winery, and brewery took to the floor to explain the logic behind the pairings.
The first course was a perfect portion of tomatoes and cheese served three ways. It was an 85 degree evening, so for me the Westport Rivers barrel aged reserve Pinot Blanc was a no brainer. A stuffed heirloom cherry tomato with basil and aged balsamic was served alongside fried green tomatoes with Cremont (cream of Vermont/Vermont Creamery) cheese and Grafton smoked cheddar and heirloom tomato bruschetta. The pour of wine was very generous and complemented the dish very well. The acidic tomato sounds like a daunting pairing with this acidic, full bodied, neutral wine but the fully flavored, palate coating cheeses constructed a broad bridge which enhanced both the wine and the dish.
The second course reminded us that we still had some summer left. 2014 Westport Rivers Chardonnay was just fruit forward and toasty enough to pair beautifully with oven roasted peaches wrapped in local prosciutto with a baby greens salad. One of the things I liked most about the first two courses was that they were perfectly portioned. Not too much and not too scant. I was able to focus equally on the food and the wine. The servings were not so overwhelming or tiresome to the palate. On to the main course!
Our server generously allowed me to sample the Newburyport Plum Island Belgian White Ale and the 2012 Westport Rivers Pinot Noir. I could not decide which would be the better accompaniment for the Pan Roasted Day Boat Halibut with apple butter. At first glance, I was surprised to see a red paired with such a delicate fish but the pork belly lardons and kabocha squash puree sealed the deal for the earthy Pinot Noir. The white ale was the slightly better pairing where the dish enhanced the flavor of the beer and vice versa. I also paired the Pinot Blanc and Chardonnay with the fish and the white ale was still the winner.
I am not a big fan of sweets but the white peach napoleon was so beautiful it was really difficult to resist. Served with a side of toasty, candied macadamia nuts it was expertly paired with Berkshire Finish Bourbon, bitters and orange oil cocktail. As I sipped the cocktail I found myself nibbling away at dessert while chatting with our new friends. I was surprised to see that I had finished off the plate.
The folks at TPK really have the art of the wine dinner down pat. The pairings, presentation, and timing were expertly executed. The staff was friendly, knowledgeable, and very accommodating. Check out their website for upcoming events and be sure to reserve early. Dinners like this are best when they are intimate and they are sure to sell out quickly.