Never before has so much drama preceded one of The Rare Hipster's semi-annual dinner parties, at least for Audrey and I: massive scheduling conflicts, events for both girls during the day AND in the evening that required us to arrange chauferring for them, and worst of all, the special guest stars from Vancouver Island couldn't attend because of a terrible and debilitating ailment that afflicted their youngest as she attends her first year of university away from home. To top it all off, I was not only part of the lay worship team leading church service the next day, I was actually delivering the sermon!
So it was not without trepidation that the two of us rolled into this edition of Geekquinox, but after all the maneuvering that had been required, we felt we had earned a night out experiencing Pete's unparalleled hospitality.
The theme this year was "Mm, Canada", with dishes representing all of our nation's provinces. We were encouraged to dress appropriately, and while for most guests this meant red and white apparel or maple leaf accoutrements, Audrey and went in a different direction, representing Canada's youngest and Easternmost province.
The warmth of Harrishal meant my cable-knit sweater would only be a temporary part of my ensemble, but my Goats On The Roof t-shirt underneath assured representation for Canada's other coast, and an homage to our absent friends on the Island.
As usual, Pete was kept exceedingly busy preparing and serving a grand variety of dishes, ably aided by the engaging Ellen. He had planned yet another culinary extravaganza, with 8 courses. One of them was a spirit, simply served, but not only was it one of the strangest highlights of the evening, but a later course included both the surf and complementary turf done to an exquisite standard, so I consider 8 courses to be a bit of an understatement, frankly.
As usual, Pete, his ample kitchen, sous chef Ellen and the Big Green Egg all came together in great form and decadent synergy to comfort and challenge our tastebuds in equal measure.
Chez Pete is not a restaurant and this is not a review, but suffice to say the food was all amazing. However, you've all eaten amazing food before, so let me talk to you about the unconventional and the surprising.
I am no stranger to eating raw meat, but in a fairly limited capacity. I've always been a big fan of sushi, and a couple of years back, Audrey shared a dish of beef carpaccio, which I didn't realize until afterwards was not just rare, but actually uncooked. No less delicious, either.
At past Geekquinoxes Pete has made ceviche, a Latin American dish contain crisp vegetables and raw fish, denatured by citric acid, which I thought was absolutely delightful. This year he upped the ante with not only a delicious steak tartare, a pâté kind of deal with capers and a delightful zip, but also the same recipe made with elk, which I have only ever had, I believe, as a burger in Churchill.
I will say this about the Geekquinox crowd: they are game fish, the lot of 'em. Everyone took a sample of each, and most went back for more. In terms of tasting great while pushing back our culinary boundaries, this was probably the hit of the night, with elk narrowly edging out cow for best in show in this particular preparation.
The second big surprise for me was the potato vodka, from P.E.I. Some spirits I like straight better than others, and vodka is one I would be far more likely to consume in some manner of cocktail, as opposed to, say, whiskey or rum. This vodka was served straight up on a single large ice cube (shaped like a Companion Cube from the game Portal, because: Pete) which gave me a singular opportunity to taste the vodka more than feel it.
Now, I know that vodka was once made almost exclusively from potatoes (not unlike Irish poteen), but that pretty much all the stuff we drink none is made from wheat or neutral grain spirits, and usually distilled multiple times to smooth it out, which can also remove, it turns out, a tremendous amount of character from the beverage.
Not so with the potato vodka; even the nose can tell you that this drink is brought to you by the letter D and that stands for dirt. There is an intrinsic earthiness that pervades the liquid in its entirety, from the first tentative sniffs, to the tip of the tongue and right on through to the aftertaste.
And for a lot of folks, it was a little too much.
For whatever reason (and let's be clear: not dipsomania, reckless abandon or fear of the next day's sermon), I found this terrestrial tipple absolutely intriguing, and said so. Audrey offered me the remainder of hers, and having lived the maxim 'waste not, want not', I dutifully finished the half of hers that she felt unpalatable.
Apparently, many of the womenfolk shared both my wife's antipathy for this pomme de terre potable, as well as my own axiomatic approach to inappropriate disposal of useful liquids, and I soon found myself with 3 more portions to deal with.
Possibly 4; I wasn't paying as close attention as I might have by the time I finished discharging my duties.
Where so many of them had found the soilish characteristics of the potato vodka unbearable, and I myself could not in good faith describe them as particularly pleasant, per se, I was captivated. It helped that the vodka, despite its homeliness and lack of pretension, had a fairly smooth finish, and I wouldn't dream of diluting it in a cocktail. What the heck would complement a potato vodka anyhow, ketchup? Mayonnaise? Blech.
As late as the night went (we tucked into the absolutely incredible steak and lobster with truffle butter and green beans after midnight), it really felt like it was over far too soon. Audrey and I normally stay the night, but the looming sermon, as well as an afternoon concert featuring Cantilon Chamber Choir and Pro Coro at the Winspear, convinced us, regretfully, to return home and sleep in our own beds.
We didn't achieve this goal until after 3:00 am, but time spent with such wonderful company compels one to stay well past last call, and without regret, even standing at a lectern 6 the next day with 4 hours sleep and a bad case of dry mouth and damp palms.
A tip of the sou'wester to Pete and Ellen, and all our Geekquinox companions, for continuing to make these events one of the things I anticipate most, and better even than Christmas, they happen twice a year.