In the cinema, there are many great movies where a feast plays a central role in the plot. First and foremost there’s Big Night, where two Italian brothers, who take a no compromise approach to cooking, decide to have a no holds barred dinner in honor of musician Louis Prima in hopes of saving their failing New Jersey restaurant. Then there’s Babette’s Feast, where a servant decides to use the entire winnings from a lottery ticket to prepare a sumptuous French feast in the austere Danish village where she has been living in asylum. And at the other end of the spectrum there’s La Grande Bouffe, where a group of wealthy middle-aged men decide to eat themselves to death after a weekend of debauchery.
As wine after wine was poured and as course after delectable course was consumed, I couldn’t help but be reminded of these movies during the annual lamb roast at Paumanok Vineyards on the North Fork of Long Island. And no, there was no all-or-nothing finality about the meal. And the Massoud family was not bankrupting the winery with one lavish feast. And as far as I know, nobody at the dinner was eating and drinking himself to death. (Although that’s not a bad way to go!) It’s just that after my heart attack a few years back, I not only altered my diet, but I became a man of moderation who seldom participates in lavish feasts, such as the 7-course wine dinner that we had that evening. So, this big night on the north fork was a big deal for me. And judging by the smiles on the faces of my fellow diners, it was a big deal for quite a few people.
The food was prepared under the direction of Chef Philippe Massoud, Executive Chef and Proprietor of Ilili, a Meditterean Restaurant in New York City. Chef Massoud (nephew of Paumanok owner Charles Massoud) and his team did a phenomenal job. The logistics of successfully pulling off a sit-down dinner for 270 people is no easy task. But the staff of Ilili and winemaker Kareem Massoud and the team from Paumanok performed flawlessly.
We started out with an assorted Lebanese appetizers: Hummus, Garlic Minted Labne (a style of Greek yogurt) and Roasted Eggplant Tartar. To start the feast I choose Paumanok’s 2014 Sauvignon Blanc. Next was an Organic Heirloom Tomato Salad with Aged Goat Labne and Bulgarian Feta, Torpedo Onions and Pickled Ramps. This was accompanied with the 2014 Dry Riesling. And the final appetizer, a Purslane and Lebanese Thyme Salad with Green Olives, Galician Grilled Octopus and Organic Fingerling Potatoes with Toasted Spanish Paprika. These I paired with 2014 Chenin Blanc.
We were then served a trio of main courses: Charcoal Grilled Organic Chicken with Garlic Whip, six-Hour slow cooked cured Pork Butt and then the piece de resistance, the eight-Hour slow cooked roasted Lamb Shoulder. For the chicken and pork, I drank the 2014 Dry Rosé, but I switched over to the 2013 Cabernet Franc with the lamb. The feast was topped off with a Pistachio and Berries Tarte Tropezienne and Pecan Semolina Cookies.
To say that the food was fantastic hardly scratches the surface. Every course was cooked to perfection. To say that the setting was idyllic is a gross understatement. We dined amidst a beautiful vineyard with perfect July weather. And to say that a good time was had by all is putting it mildly. It was not just a big night, but a feast for the ages. The brothers from Big Night would have approved.