Sunday, October 30, 2011

Ototo and Olive Oil

Chefs at Ototo in Denver                    Photo by Adam Larkey
I haven't attended a whole lot of blogger events. Either I have something else to do, or the product doesn't appeal. See, the thing is that once you attend an event, you're sort of expected to blog about it. Since I write honestly about my experiences, there's no way I want to be obligated to write about something I don't like.

As much as I might get my snark out of its box in other situations, I see no reason to cranky-post about products I don't like. Because really, if I hate your favorite brand of barbecue sauce, who cares? It's a matter of personal taste.

If I don't like something, I prefer to not write about it at all. So, no, you won't see a lot of negative posts here. Because I'd much rather write about things that I like.

I mean, if I have an appliance that falls apart upon first use, then that's something I might point out. Because it's factual. But "eeewwwww, I would never use THAT brand of mayonnaise" isn't something I'd be likely to post. I might tell you which one I like best*, but I'm not going to hate on the ones I don't care for. Or at least not by brand name.

But I digress... this is about dinner, right?

So, when Barb from Creative Culinary invited me to a dinner sponsored by an olive oil company, it was a slam dunk. I go through olive oil like it grows on trees. And I like trying different brands. And although I've had some I've liked better than others for specific purposes, I don't think I've ever run across an olive oil that I flat-out didn't like.

With no other plans in my schedule and a pretty sure bet that I'd like the product, I accepted the invite.

The venue, Ototo in Denver, was new to me. I don't go into Denver very often. Not that I have anything against Denver - it's just that I'm more likely to hang around closer to home. But this seemed like a good reason to spend some quality time in my car, singing off-key along with the radio on the way to a dinner with friends I'd never met. You see, Barb and I had emailed and tweeted so often, I felt like I knew her. But this was the first time I met her in person.

So off I went, to uncharted territory in Denver. As I drove, I couldn't help but think that cities of a certain size all seem to have similarities. It's like the same people laid down plans for the streets and the highways and the houses and the neighborhoods all over the country. One curve of highway reminded me of another in a different city, and one block of stores reminded me of yet another city.

And finally I was there.

The layout of the restaurant reminded me of Salt, in Boulder. It was deja vu all night long.

Dinner started with bread and dipping oils - one with rosemary and one with basil. Yup, since the event was sponsored by STAR Fine Foods, makers of STAR olive oil (and other products) every course had olive oil incorporated.

We also got a copy of the menu. And a wine was paired with each course of the dinner. It was looking really good, right from the beginning

Photo by Adam Larkey
The first course was a grilled zucchini with tomato jam, anchovies, capers, and olive oil.

Photo by Adam Larkey
 The interesting thing about the zucchini wrapped around chevre (besides the fact that it was really pretty on the plate) was that for some reason I expected it to be a cold dish. Instead, it was warm and sort of comforting which was particularly nice since there was snow outside. The tomato jam packed a whole lot of flavor into tiny bites.

Second was ahi tuna cured in olive oil. It was served on tagliatelle pasta and had segments of orange and an olive oil confit of tomatoes.

Photo by Adam Larkey
The colors are really pretty, aren't they? The flavors of the tuna and oranges complimented each other well, and the pasta was darned good, too. I could go for a bowl of that stuff right now. 

Third was an Alaskan halibut poached in extra virgin olive oil, with pretty yellow-orange fennel that took on its color from being poached in saffron. It came with a fennel puree and fennel olive oil.

Photo by Adam Larkey
That sounds like a lot of fennel on one plate, but it wasn't overwhelming. The saffron-poached fennel was amazing for its color alone, and it made the stark-white halibut really pop. And the halibut was amazingly moist and tender. I've never poached fish in olive oil, but I think I need to try it. Soon.

Next came the dish that had everyone at our table oohing and aahing. It was a Colorado lamb chop with an olive pistachio crust.

Photo by Adam Larkey
Here's the tricky thing about that crust. The lamb chop wasn't crusted and then cooked. Oh, no. Instead, the crust was made separately as sort of a disk, and that was put on top of the cooked lamb chop and then briefly broiled to melt the crust onto the chop.

Okay, there's another technique I'm going to play around with. It has all sorts of possibilities. And (bonus!) the chef gave us the recipe.

All good things must come to and end, and for us that meant an olive oil and salted caramel ice cream with a hazelnut souffle and a honey olive oil tuille.

You might notice that the quality of this last photo isn't quite the same as the previous ones. That's because a professional photographer with a mighty fine camera took the rest of them for us to use. And of course he positioned himself for the best light possible. The dessert photo is from my little point-and-shoot camera, taken right at the table.

It gets the point across, though. The ice cream was amazing, the tuille was crisp and crunchy, and the souffle was soft and warm. This was paired with a sweet dessert wine - Strev Moscato D'Asti from Italy. Ahhhhh.... so good. I like dessert wines.

So there we had it, an entire meal focused around olive oils.

But seriously, I use a lot of olive oil in cooking without really thinking about it. For cooking, on salads, brushed on bread before toasting in the oven, for making croutons, in bread, drizzled, splashed, and dashed just about everywhere.

But with this meal, I think we were more conscious of the oil as a star ingredient in each dish. Or as an ingredient by STAR. Did I taste it everywhere it was mentioned? Honestly, no. But that's fine. It's not always about taste. I'm sure that each course would have been much different without the oil. It played its role, and did it well.

As far as the actual taste of the oils STAR produces... well, stay tuned for that. We each left the venue with a goodie bag with olive oil and some olives. I need to pick up a few more things and I'll be having my own little olive oil tasting at home so I can tell you about the differences between the different types of olive oil. Probably not all of them because they make quite a few varieties. But there will be a few.

For now, just gaze in awe at these ginormous olives for a while:

Disclaimer: I was fed for free and received samples of the products after the event; I was not required to post about it and was not paid to post. The opinions expressed here are all mine, or as forced upon me by the voices in my head. Does anyone really read disclaimers? Just checking.

*Hellmann's (or Best Foods, depending on geography).


Sherri M said...

Some of us do read disclaimers. I like to know if anyone is being paid for writing or reviewing. Not that it makes a ton of difference, but it just seems to me that if someone pays, the reviews might be skewed in favor of the payer. I didn't use to read them, but over the years, I've seen too many people giving reviews or publishing things without giving the proper credit and its made me slightly wary of this sort of thing. I really appreciate the disclaimers.

Donna Currie said...

Sheri, thanks for the comment. I think disclaimers are a good idea, but it's kind of like wearing plastic gloves when you handle food. It doesn't protect you from everything - you still have to be careful. Even with a disclaimer, you're supposed to give honest opinions, and I think that's where some bloggers go astray. They put in a disclaimer and then think they're free to say that everything is the best ever. I hope you didn't mind the humor in the disclaimer. I thought it might make it slightly more interesting to read.

Boulder Locavore said...

Sounds like it was a lovely time Donna! Sorry I missed all of you and the fabulous food.

Donna Currie said...

We missed you too! But at least I finally met Barb after all this time.

Anonymous said...

Hi Donna,
Wow! That event was darn sure worth your time, effort and miles. Heck yes... Sort of in reverse order, Yes, I DO read the disclaimers and yours are spot-on. I think they're important and too often garingly missing. I too use a lot of OO and prefer it for most things. The pantry is reporting FOUR at the moment. I was intrigued by the Halibut poached in OO, but cautioned myself about the volume of oil necessary. Even mid-shelf OOs are a bit spendy, no? (Note to Self: you've never considered food a a budget line-item, so get over it and use some oil!) A great post. To repeat, the disclaimers and disclosures ARE important, just as honest expression of opinion is important. Sponsored events are designed to increase awareness, not to buy low-cost advertising. Cookistry obviously understands that and your approach gets tremendous respect from this reader. Thanks. -Craig

Anonymous said...

Hi Donna,
It was nice meeting you at the Ototo dinner. The food was excellent at the dinner and I especially enjoyed tasting the new California olive oil.
I am looking forward to going back to the restaurant to try the food on a regular night and see if it is as outstanding as it was for the olive oil dinner.
My only complaint about the evening was I had hoped the representative from Star would have talked more about olive oil, the health benefits, the differences between how the olives are grown and harvested, etc. I'll be writing about olive oil production in an upcoming posting on my site. Having just returned from Spain, the #1 olive oil producer in the world, I think I've go some stories to share!
Thank you for the great posting and I am excited to follow your blog!

Barbara | Creative Culinary said...

This event requires a different kind of disclaimer. A red blinking light that says...It's all true, promise! This dinner was just outstanding and I'm glad to report I've been's why I chose it for this event. I was happy when it wasn't a special event and I'm even more pleased that they did such an amazing job. They are my new favorite place I love them so much1

Glad you could make it, glad we finally met and now...glad we did the berries together too. From feast to famine huh?

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