Tastes of spring

This week flies by. I have made an offer of a dinner to the Council of 100. I am not really sure how they are going to use it. They choose to use it as a way to bring local government people together Thursday night at my restaurant in Rockton. I want it to be a very special dinner. I decide to make it a dinner of spring seasonal product. I comb the market, the new International Produce Market in Chicago, for fresh items of the season.

We start with a simple salad of heirloom tomatoes in a fresh oregano vinaigrette. I am able to find them at S&M produce. Heirloom tomatoes are tomatoes without genetic engineering. The colors range from dark purple to bright green to yellow. This simple salad is very beautiful in color, but it is the flavors that are truly amazing. The fresh oregano brings it all together.

For the soup I order French Green Lentils from Cornille. I love French Green Lentils. They are so flavorful you can make a soup without stock. Troy makes the basic soup with a large amount of onion and garlic. I thicken it with a small amount of olive oil rue, and then just before serving, I incorporate a bouquet garni (fresh basil, thyme, coriander and Greek oregano). The herbs take it way over the top. I let several people taste the soup before the herbs and then after. The transformation is truly amazing.

The pasta course is handmade potato gnocchi in a sauce made with fresh morel mushrooms. Troy stands pressing each piece of the gnocchi with a fork in the traditional manner. We only serve a small amount because we are serving seven courses, and we don’t want to run them out of room.

For the fish course we serve Columbia River line-caught King salmon. This year’s Columbia River salmon is the best I have ever tasted. Copper River salmon is going to have a hard time being better than Columbia River this year. We cook the salmon in the wood-fired oven with a small amount of whole cream, garlic chives and fresh dill. Next to it on the plate we place a couple of our shellfish cakes topped with mango salsa and drizzled with hollandaise. Troy makes a beautiful bleu cheese risotto to accompany the course.

Our meat course is filet mignon sauvignon. Aged tenderloin rubbed with cracked pepper and grilled to medium rare over the cherry wood fire, then allowed to rest before slicing. The bright red slices of meat are accentuated by the pink sauce, a reduction of cabernet with fresh tarragon and garlic into which we whisk a generous amount of fresh butter. With this, we serve our trademark Colcannon (an Irish potato dish containing cabbage and leeks) and fresh pencil asparagus from the Peruvian Andes.

For dessert, we serve Creme Brulèe. Surprisingly, everyone finishes his or her dessert. All of this is washed down with two wonderful wines, Groth sauvignon blanc and a merlot by Gainey, which my good friend, Tony Artale from Judge and Dolph, has supplied.

After dinner, I sit down to chat. After dinner, I sit with my friend Charlene Coulombe. After dinner, I tell her that I was happy to have my two mayors here (Dale Adams and Doug Scott). After dinner, she says, “You didn’t have two mayors, you had five.”

(Only Ward Sterett wasn’t here—funny because he is one of my best customers, and he missed a great meal.) After dinner, I meet Jim Gitz, the mayor of Freeport, for the first time. After dinner, I walk down to the Brick House, and Adella makes me two martinis.

Saturday night, Elisha calls me. I can tell she is looking for something to do. I tell her that I want to work the dinner crowd at the Irish Rose downtown, but that I will break free about 9. She shows up in her new little black convertible looking all beautiful. We drive to Serrano’s, where I left my jacket a couple of days earlier. At Serrano’s, Anita makes us margaritas. But we are hungry, and Elisha wants to have sushi at Paragon. We call to find out if they are still serving and are delighted to find out they serve until midnight. We walk to the Paragon.

The place is really busy. Mark is sitting at the bar looking really tired. We find a place at the opposite end to sit and ask Rose to wait on us. Suddenly, Mark shows up with two dishes for each of us: cherry tomatoes and cucumber in a teriyaki vinaigrette and some delicious octopus. Then we order about a half dozen items off the sushi menu. I don’t know that much about sushi, but I do know fish, and the fish is some of the freshest and brightest I have tasted. I think this may be the perfect late-night repast.

I have too many drinks, and I wisely let Elisha drive my van back to the Irish Rose. It is so crowded in the neighborhood that we have to park at Fran Kral and not even in a real spot, in the lane. Dan, my manager, calls from Rockton to tell me that we have had a record Saturday. Looks like it might be a good summer after all.

Owner of the Irish Rose (Rockford) and Irish Rose North (Rockton) restaurants, Mike Leifheit’s “Hanging Out In Rockford” reviews locally-owned restaurants, businesses and Rockford life. These columns are also available on his Web site: IrishRoseRockford.com and featured on WNTA talk radio AM 1330.

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