Event - Chef's Table with 24 Carrots and Chef Ashley Santo Domingo

It seems that more and more events have been filling up the Chuck Jones Center for Creativity at SOCO with people thirsty for cultural pursuits such as art, design, and food. These occasions are only befitting of such an artistic place which has emblazoned its walls with laudable pieces of {nostalgia-inducing) artwork. The themes of the multitude of events that drift in and out of the space are varied but for the night to which I and others were invited, citrus stood out. An intimate setting of about 20 members of local media was beautifully and carefully arranged in the center of the Center, coordinated by 24 carrots Catering & Events via invitations by Kitchen Table PR (thanks gals!). The purpose of the gathering was to meet 24 carrots' newest culinary addition to their team: Executive Chef Ashley Domingo, a young star of a chef with an admirable rap sheet that includes competing on Season 9 of Bravo’s Top Chef and being nominated for the James Beard’s Rising Star Chef in the Pacific Northwest in 2008.

We were treated to a seven course meal at the Chef's Table which included paired libations with the courses and explanations from Chef Ashley herself. At the beginning of the evening, she explained how citrus was the inspiration and theme for the menu considering the time of the year and its flavorful brightness. I loved how that translated over into the decor and floral arrangements including the use of citrus fruits in the vases alongside flowers. Well done to Inviting Occasion and Found Rentals for their creative and well-thought-out design for the night! Our "tray-passed" appetizer for the evening as we sipped on bubbly was a morsel of Pork Belly with a bite of preserved kumquat. Once everyone did settle down into his/her seat, our courses began. The first course was Chef Ashley's Kumquat Shooter, a toast-worthy drink of sweet kumquat rimmed by some spiced sugar. It was a great palate opener. Course number two was unconventional but therefore deserving of some applause - Oxtail and Truffle Cappuccino (oxtail consomme, braised beef, whipped truffle butter, and mini truffle biscotti). It took me a slight while to translate to my mind that I was drinking a foamy and savory cappuccino made from meat instead of dairy but after that, I heartily enjoyed the savory start. The scent of truffle sealed the deal on this "drink" though the biscotti could have done without the truffle pieces.

The third course was presented on a curved plate almost akin to a spoon rest but with more allure and style. The Pan-Seared Sea Scallops and Radish Carpaccio (shaved radishes lightly pickled, cauliflower puree, blood orange, and citrus emulsion) gleamed femininely, topped with deep pink watermelon radish slices and surrounded by a moat of pale pink puree. My scallops were a hefty mouthful and worked well with the cauliflower puree though the lightly pickled radish paired with citrus could come off as confusing. Luckily, a saving part of this course was the accompanying drink, a dangerous glass of 24 carrots' Bourbon Blood Orange Cocktail with fresh ginger. I say dangerous of any drink where the alcoholic content is too subtle to detect save for the "heat" and the contents are too easy to drink (in this case, I'm a sucker for blood orange juice).

The next course out made some guests wiggle in their seats in delight. There is something to be loved about the opportunity for an interactive meal, and this "Hot Rocks" Yuzu-Chimichurri Kobe Beef (hot ishiyaki stones on a bed of sea salt and cooked tableside) was that. Petite slices of beautiful, marinated beef came on a slate weighed down on one end by impressively hot rocks (500°F in fact) and balanced on the other by salt and a sauce. We cooked our own meat to our preferred doneness and savored the tenderness. I had to snap quick shots before my Kobe cooked beyond my desired medium rare and luckily made it in time. This course was paired with Tozai "Living Jewel" Junmai sake.

 “Joining the team at 24 carrots will allow me to push the creative needle and continue to deliver the unbelievably delicious food that has built 24 carrots into a household name,” said Chef Ashley Santo Domingo. “I want to take the 24 carrots’ menus to the next level and expand our client relationships through our remarkable menu offerings that you won’t be able to find anywhere else in Southern California.”
I have to admit that every time that Chef Ashley came out to explain her dishes, I could not help but admire her effervescent personality and passion for her food. It was infectious and if it's apropos to say, she was just darn adorable. The next course - Braised Lamb Gnocchi (roasted butternut squash and sauteed Tuscan kale with red wine braised lamb, spinach gnocchi, and goat cheese) - looked like a plate mothers might tell their children must be eaten because "it's good for you." Captured by all of the vegetables, the lamb was a tad difficult to find so I focused more, instead, on the spinach gnocchi which was easier to find and larger. These were nicely soft and pillowy with the hint of that spinach in taste and most certainly dyed in its color. This course was paired with glasses of 2009 Qupe Roussanne, Bien Nacido Vineyards, Santa Maria Valley. Shortly afterward, everyone then received a domed plate on their place setting. What were these?

Glass smoking domes! These gave an innovative touch to the evening as they housed our next course beneath them: Meyer Lemon-Cherry Salmon (smoked king salmon, fricassee of baby vegetables, and aji amarillo citrus sauce). I could see the outline and color blocks of my own through the thick, fogged up glass but before the dome was lifted, I was unaware of what beauty lied underneath. The purpose was to smoke the salmon that was already wrapped in shaved cedar plank. While the presentation and resulting rising smoke upon synchronized dome removal were impressive, I wish there was more flavor in the salmon itself but the smoke did not carry through into the flesh. Redemption came with the Crispy Duck Breast (citrus-infused demi glaze, sauteed wild hedgehog mushrooms, and dauphinoise potatoes) course and pairing of a 2010 Merryvale Pinot Noir, Napa Valley, for the most part. I adored the way the potatoes were prepared and how flaky but yielding the many slices were. Mushrooms are also always appreciated so the vegetables were a welcome roast. As for the duck, mine was unfortunately tough but I heard that others had remarkably tender slices; regardless, I did enjoy the flavors and the crisp on the exterior of each piece.

The last part of the evening was a treat from Robert LeSage who put together a dessert even I, the sweet-toothless one, could enjoy. Not only was it a gorgeous presentation but the White Chocolate Citrus Cake (lemon cream, blood orange mousse, pistachio crumble, raspberry sorbet, and candied pistachios) was also lick-your-plate-clean worthy. Tart and creamy with elements of crunchiness, this cake finished off the night lightly and nicely. Paired with a 2009 Chateau Suduiraut of Sauternes, France, a treat in itself, the dessert round rounded out the Chef's Table experience well. After such indulgences, we applauded all those involved through the introductions made by 24 carrots Co-Owner Jon Brown and left for the evening.

My thanks go out to those for allowing me to be a part of this unique experience. After speaking with 24 carrots about the approximate cost for an event similar to this (which people might want to throw for intimate celebrations), I learned that it came out to be about $300 per person with the multiple courses and alcohol pairings. This price includes staff and chefs but seeing as it was a special tasting event, the numbers will easily change depending on the event. 24 carrots typically books catered events from $75 to $500+ per head. Good to know if you're hoping to throw a soiree together with them!

Photography by Minerva Thai. More photos available on Facebook here.

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