Thursday, March 1, 2012

Söntés (Bacon Fest 2012) – Rochester, MN

Sit back and relax, this is going to be an extremely long post. I’m going to explain in detail, so the people who chose NOT to join me will kick themselves for their lack of commitment to bacon. I will also apologize in advance for the photo quality. The lighting was business romantic in the event room, so some of the photos were a tad blurry.

I got a tip from one of D.Rough’s friends that this fancy place in Rochester was having some sort of Bacon Fest. I did some research and found out it was an upscale dinner with a bunch of courses and wine or beer pairings. Since D.Rough was going to be out of town, I immediately contacted my go-to meat date, M.Giant. It was my birthday weekend, and he and Febrifuge were free to partake in this glorious adventure. We had to reserve tickets for this event weeks in advance, so we had to just think about how amazing this night was going to be for faaaaaaaar too long before it actually happened.

We drove the hour and a half down to Rochester and since I forgot that M.Giant always drives 20% faster than the speed limit (I’m not kidding), we arrived more than an hour early. The hostess told us we could see the sights in Rochester and come back, or grab a seat at the bar. We were sure we could find something to do downtown, so we hit the streets. Not for long though – it was cold and we were pretty excited for bacon after weeks of waiting. We still arrived early and the room wasn’t set up completely, so we grabbed a seat at the bar.

What better way to celebrate bacon than with a nice glass of Glenmorangie scotch? Apparently, they’re not shy about their pours here. It wasn’t a taste, it was a drink. Feeling good, we headed into the bacon room and found our assigned seats. We sat next to a super fun group – Karen, who had actually JUST quit working at Söntés one week prior, and Barb and Paul – all from Rochester. We chatted about how excited we all were. We knew we liked them already since they liked bacon.
Next to our menu for the evening, there was a trio of aperitifs (pre-dinner drinks) waiting for us at our assigned seats. The first was a Bacon Old Fashioned (made with bacon-infused bourbon and homemade orange bitters), a Bacon Zacapa (chocolate rum in a small espresso cup with a garnish of chocolate covered bacon), and a Bacon Avocado Margarita (shot of tequila with avocado foam on top, sprinkled with bacon). Really, an amazing use of bacon in these drinks. My favorite was the Margarita, without question. If I knew how to make avocado foam, I’d be making these for breakfast every day!

The owner of Söntés (Tessa) was dining with us this evening and stood up to say a few words about the dinner we were about to have. She’s very down to earth and extremely nice and warm, so if she’s there when you go there (and you WILL go there), track her down and tell her what an amazing job she’s done with this restaurant and the events they host.

The first course arrived – the starters. It was a small plate with four bite-sized pieces of bacon-y goodness on it. A bacon-wrapped smoked jalapeno popper, a bacon and cabot-cloth-bound cheddar stuffed profiterole (pastry ball/cream puff filled with bacon cheese), house-made chichorones (fried pork rind) with Tabasco aioli, and a hoisin pork belly with plum ginger waffle crouton. The best of these by far, was the hoisin pork belly – stellar – followed by the profiterole. Though, all four were like nothing I’ve ever had.

The waiter asked if people wanted to pair their meals with wine or beer. It was my birthday, so I opted for the wine flight and M.Giant and Febrifuge decided to split the beer pairing, just so they could taste each of the beers Söntés had to offer. They brought out my first glass – Anne Amie Pinot Gris, a nice lightly sweet white. It paired nicely with the next course – the most difficult one for the chefs this evening. A Coddled Egg.
I had heard of these, but had no idea what this would be. It’s an egg partially hard boiled, but so the inside is still runny. The top of the egg had been cut off, so it is served in its shell and the shell is sitting on a small bed of sea salt and aromatic herbs. It sounds corny, but the aroma of everything really did enhance the egg flavor. REALLY well done on this dish, chefs. That was served with bacon wrapped asparagus and skinny (and delicious) breadsticks. M.Giant and I had to fight over who was going to get the last one, since they brought us three of each. Thankfully, he caved, since it was my birthday.

The next glass of wine arrived. A Predator Zinfadel. (We joked about not being able to see it unless it was moving – you know, from the movie Predator? Never mind.) While the company doesn’t promote this, it has faint bacon undertones in it. I didn’t believe Karen sitting next to me when she told me that, but when I tried it, I had to stifle a laugh – she was totally right. That was served with one of the most amazing salads I’ve ever eaten. Yes, I used “amazing” and “salad” in the same sentence – and at a bacon-themed dinner, no less. It was called a GLT&B salad – grilled romaine with warm bacon vinaigrette and tomato granite (like a compote), a piece of pork belly, and a blue cheese crouton. Really, it was quite stellar, especially when you got a piece of each in a bite. Being a crouton connoisseur, this blue cheese crouton ranked up near the top of best croutons ever.

I was filling up with liquid fast, but there was hardly a chance for me to step away, for fear of missing out on something bacon-related. I did find a break in the action, eventually. I mentioned this place was fancy – it’s the kind of fancy that has cloth towels in the restrooms to dry off your hands. Very nice. (Hey, some people care about these things – I just report on them)

Another glass of wine: Embruix de Vall Llach Priorat, from Spain. A deep red wine that went with the next dish extremely well. The next course was bacon-wrapped beef tenderloin. I know bacon-wrapped anything is going to be delicious, but this was a great piece of meat. Very tender and flavorful, cooked a perfect medium, and served with horseradish-milled potatoes and roasted vegetables with house-cured pancetta. I could go on and on how I loved this cut of beef, but there are other bacon things to get to.

Chef Bryce Lamb and Sous Chef Trevor Garrett came out and talked to each of the tables for a short while and were extremely nice. They answered all of our questions and seemed genuinely interested in talking about food – even though they deal with food every hour of every day. Very nice folks with amazing culinary skills and a sense of humor.

Finally, for what I assumed was the finale of the evening, a very smooth glass of Otima 10 year Tawny Port. I’m not a expert, but this was one of the better ports I’ve had. It was accompanied by a very spicy bacon brownie and a maple and house-cured pancetta ice cream sandwich. Brownie first – I’m not sure if the spice was in the brownie itself or the bacon, but it was perfect (for me – which means a few of the native Minnesotans thought it was a tad too spicy). Very soft and moist brownie with a criss-cross of bacon on top. Perfectly salty-sweet-spicy for me. It was the perfect compliment to the ice cream sandwich with circle bacon instead of cake/cookie outside. Really, this was a fantastic finisher to the night. …only it wasn’t.

One of our new friends from Rochester, Barb, was also celebrating a birthday (28, I think), and word got back to Tessa. She had the bartenders make up a little something special for us – a bacon-infused martini. Delicious. And on the house – which was awesome.

THEN, Karen, another awesome new friend, told me I HAD to try the fabulous Coriander Doughnut Holes. And she didn’t even know I’m a donut fiend!!!! So we ordered some of those – which turned out to also be on the house for my birthday!!! I’m sure that made them taste even more delicious!!! They were served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and also with a Wee Highland Brewing Company Imperial Stout. These were really awesome doughnut holes, and even though they weren’t bacon related, they were the best thing in the world for me to leave the restaurant with, tasting that flavor for the rest of the night. I’m not a beer drinker at all, but as you could tell from the list of drinks I had already consumed, it wasn’t going to stop me from drinking my Imperial Stout. …And Febrifuge's Imperial Stout. He wasn’t in the best shape after his beer pairings and bacon combo. (We won’t mention how *I* was doing, aside from saying it was a really good thing M.Giant was driving. I wasn’t even safe to be a passenger at this point.)

Without question, one of the best bacon dining experiences I’ve ever had (and I’ve had a lot). And also way up there on ANY dining experience. These people really make sure you have a good time, from the hostess who had some fun with us, to the bartenders, to the chefs, to the wait staff (thank you Josh), and the owner herself. They like what they do and it shows. I will recommend this place to anyone I know going to Rochester, and I know I find a reason or two to head down there as well from the Twin Cities.

Top 5 things about Söntés Bacon Fest 2012
1. Bacon Brownie with Pancetta Ice cream Sandwich
2. GLT&B (bacon salad)
3. Coddled Egg
4. Bacon Avocado Margarita
5. Hoisin Pork Belly on a plum ginger waffle crouton
(WHY do I have to limit it to five?!?!?!)

Bottom 5 things
Absolutely nothing will go in this spot, although I was crushed to find out the GLT&B salad did NOT stand for Gay, Lesbian, Transgender, and Bacon. Not YET, anyway.


Anonymous said...

It was a pleasure meeting you guys at the Bacon Dinner. Great food, cool drinks, smart conversation, a lots of laughs. Thanks for the shout out, and for the work you do on this blog. Hilarious and insightful. Paul & Barbara

Kristi said...

YUM!! Bacon is one of the best foods ever and it sounds like this was a fantastic way to show it all off. I have never been to Rochester but this restaurant sounds like a good place to go if I ever make my way down there!! The Bacon avocado margarita sounds amazing!!!
- Kristi @ twincitiesrestaurantblog

Chao said...

Paul and BArb - it was an honor meeting you and dining with you. I hope I didn't get too loose -lipped towards the end of the evening:) I try to keep it classy, when I can.

Kristi - Rochester is full of delicious meat places! Newt's. John Hardy BBQ. Roscoe's BBQ. They really do have some quality food in town there and it's a nice day trip. And yes, I'll be figuring out the Bacon Avocado Margarita as soon as possible.

Febrifuge said...

Great company, both the ones that brung me and the ones I got to meet. Which just made the incredible food that much more fun to eat.

Stoopid beer flights. I shoulda just sipped bourbon all genteel-like, at a slow pace, as originally planned.

Anonymous said...

Glad we could make your evening and your birthday a success! If you really want to know the secret to the avocado margarita, feel free to contact Tessa and I will let her know to give you my email address so I can send you the recipe. Come down again sometime for another adventurous dinner sometime soon!


Chao said...

I just wrote Tessa, Josh. Thanks again for making the night awesome!

Blogger said...

If you are looking for a reputable contextual advertising network, I recommend that you take a peek at Chitika.