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‘Twenty at the Tower’ gets off to strong start

Posted 6:13pm on Tuesday, Jun. 04, 2013

A few weeks ago, we told you about Twenty at the Tower, a series of pop-up dinners this June and July featuring local chefs and benefiting the Fort Worth Food + Wine Festival. The series began Sunday and Monday, with dinners prepared by Blaine Staniford, executive chef at Grace.

DFW.com attended the Monday dinner, which drew a full house for a five-course meal plus canapés beforehand. This is a well-paced meal, with seating beginning at 7 p.m. and service lasting till around 9:30 -- appropriately unrushed for the plates Staniford and his kitchen crew sent out.

Staniford started with what might have been the most adventurous dish of the night: Hawaiian Ama Ebi, a large deep-sea shrimp, accompanied by traditional Japanese chawan mushi, a savory custard, with chicken thigh, spring onions and goji berry. Gotta admit it: The ama ebi (sometimes spelled amaebi), which I’d never had before, threw me a little bit, but the chawan mushi had great texture and flavors. Still, this was probably my least favorite course of the night -- which is another way of saying it just got better from there.

For me, the highlight of the next course -- Quinault River King Salmon Belly with citrus roasted beets, hearts of palm, radish and rye -- was the beets, or rather the citrus they were accented with, which provided a pleasantly acidic touch. The rye, crumbled to near-powder, provided a little crunch. The salmon, which comes from a river in Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, was good but was upstaged by other components in the dish.

That wasn’t a problem for the fontina-stuffed Tortellini Fonduta that followed; the pasta, served in steaming truffle oil that managed not to be overpowering, was probably the most popular savory dish at the table I was seated at, and it was well complemented by wonderfully smoked heirloom tomatoes and subtly salty Iberico ham.

It was followed by a course of Veal Loin and Sweetbreads, which led to discussions at my table about how veal cattle are treated and about where sweetbreads come from. But -- with apologies to my vegetarian wife, my own conscience (I haven’t eaten veal in years) and the calf -- the veal was delicious. So was the cheesy polenta it was served atop. And the sweetbreads had a nice dusky flavor, reminiscent of chicken liver but not as intense. Even those at my table who were reluctant to go for this gave it a try, and although they might not have been fully converted, they seemed pleaseantly surprised. My favorite dish of the night.

Savory dish, that is. Dessert was a warm chocolate pudding cake that had perfect melt-in-your-mouth texture. It was served with vanilla ice cream, Texas sweet corn puree (which kind of got lost among the stronger chocolate flavor) and blueberries (which didn’t, and were so good they almost stole the show from the cake. Almost.)

The series continues through the end of July; most dinners take place on Sunday and Monday nights, but there will be a couple of Tuesday dinners to round things up to 20 (check out the calendar that you can find by clicking on the Twenty at the Tower logo on the Fort Worth Food + Wine Festival website). Most dinners will have a different chef on Sunday, Monday and the occasional Tuesday night.

And a note for vegetarians: Fort Worth Food + Wine Festival co-founder Russell Kirkpatrick (of Reata) says that the July 15 dinner will be vegetable-influenced. I may have to check it out to make up for my liking the veal so much.

Dinners are $75 a person; proceeds benefit the Fort Worth Food + Wine Festival. Seatings begin at 7 p.m., with a 6:30 pre-dinner reception, at the old Tower restaurant at the corner of Fourth and Taylor streets in downtown Fort Worth.

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