Monday, May 10, 2010

Sophia's Restaurant- Culinary Tour

Fairview Inn's Culinary Tour puts unique cuisine on the map
Sherry Lucas • slucas@clarionledger.com • May 9, 2010
Transporting. Without all that bother of actual transportation. Such as packing. Security lines, airports, funny money, foreign tongues and forsaking home ... forget all that.
Boil it down to a single, savory essence: food.
Pepper that with this pleasing notion: nearby.
A once-monthly Culinary Tour at Fairview Inn's Sophia's Restaurant feeds the wanderlust, baggage-free.
One weekend a month, a five-course set menu inspired by a different country or region can take diners' taste buds on a trip without leaving the table.
A passport flags what to expect from the remaining seven cuisines through November. Get at least six of them stamped to become eligible to win a real trip for two to Europe.
In the meantime, it's just fun to pretend. And partake.
An initial tour "stop" countered Mississippi mugginess with the red-checkered cheer of Italy. Accordion music from Janusz Szlubowski added spirited ambiance.
Tempting either-or choices streamlined menu selection at the top of the evening and courses progressed like a stroll through an Old World neighborhood. There's a good soak in the surroundings, and a teasing curiosity of what's next around the corner.
When a bowl of clams and mussels arrived - shells open like wide-eyed smiles in the wine butter bath - it presented a whole other take on a happy meal. Fried calamari danced rings around a roasted tomato sauce as the other antipasti choice.
For the pasta course, it was a choice of lobster ravioli, creamy with a light Alfredo, or fettuccine with green beans, roasted tomatoes and walnut pesto. Selection got a rest with the salad (a party of field greens, sliced cukes, Kalamata olives, capers and more), only to gear up again for the next course - meat or fish. Specifically, a grilled veal chop in a red wine mushroom sauce or snapper made even snappier with an assertive puttanesca sauce.
Dessert wrapped up supper with a lip smack, whether tiramisu or a gelato trio that balanced lemon and mango refreshment with hazelnut indulgence, nestled in a cookie with berries on top.
Chuck and Francine Reynolds made the first tour stop and hope to follow through on the rest. "We do have a few ethnic restaurants in Jackson, but how often do you actually get to do something like that?" he said.
It's fun to look at the lineup ahead and wonder. "Like, Germany. ... It's going to be interesting to see what they actually fix, outside of schnitzel. ... France is on there, that'll be fun," Chuck said.
"It was really fun because when we travel, we love to go to different restaurants," Francine said. "We were sitting there, going, 'Well, what's Spain going to be?' and then he was like, 'ooh, I can't wait for Greece.' "
Next up: Spain.
"I think everybody enjoys a dining experience throughout the area, but once in a while, they like to try something different and unusual," said Peter Sharp, innkeeper at the Fairview.
"That's why I wanted to start this Culinary Tour, to give people the opportunity to experience a different country's food without having to go to a different city to try it."
Diners have a choice to do the dinners with or without accompanying wines.
"We do a regular prix fixe menu every night in the restaurant, so it's just expanding on that idea," Sharp said. "It gives people a taste of different countries. Also, to try the wines from that particular country. I'm not sure we'll find wines from India, but we'll find the right thing to go with Indian food," he promised with a chuckle.
The biggest aim is to stay as authentic as you can to the cuisine at hand, chef Gary Hawkins said.
"It'll be good to expose people to different things," he said, branching beyond the traditional Mediterranean favorites. Germany and New Zealand are on the tour, too, as is Argentina - a cuisine where an Argentinian co-worker can lend a hand. "It'll be a great influence from her to do the empanadas the way her mother did them.
"Some of it is good for me, too, because there's a lot that I don't really know about New Zealand's cuisine, so you can look that up and do some research yourself as a chef," he said. "Just try and find something ... authentic that you can do that's not the same old, same old."
Remaining Culinary Tour dates are: Spain, May 21-22; France, June 18-19; Greece, July 30-31; India, Aug. 20-21; Argentina, Sept. 17-18; Germany, Oct. 29-30; and New Zealand, Nov. 12-13.
A tapas plate, paella, grouper Basque style and orange flan are selections on the horizon for Spain. Other upcoming menus? He's still coming up with ideas.
Said Hawkins, "Sometimes you come up with your best inspiration when you're down to a deadline."

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