A Profound Tasting: Hight Cigars and Balvenie Whisky at the Hotel Zaza
As excited as I am to welcome in the new year, I cannot help but reflect on some of the greatest moments from the previous year. One particular moment which still stands out to this day is a cigar and whisky dinner held at the Monarch Bistro in the Hotel Zaza. This was the most profound tasting I’ve been to! It excites me to see such amazing talents working together, and inspires me for an even greater future for food and cigar lovers alike.
This tasting was a collaboration between Chip Hight of Hight cigars, The Balvenie, and Executive Chef Adam West of The Monarch Bistro. The communication between these masterminds was elegantly displayed in a profound work of art. Each course took into consideration the whisky and cigar to be paired with the dish, and when appropriate even included them within the ingredients.
The first course presented to us was a small cup of soup. The appearance was simple, but the taste spoke volumes. It was a sunchoke soup, but it had notes of vanilla char, certain subtleties that were reminiscent of the cigar itself (The Benchmark “Blue Label” Hight cigar), and even a drop of The Balvenie Doublewood 12 year whisky.What an amazing and clever way to begin the meal!
And it didn’t stop there. The Petite Veal Osso Buco (amazing!) had a suprising nicotine finish with a sauce that included a full cup of Balvenie whisky for two cups of sauce. Again the combination of the cigar and whisky were artfully combined and presented in a balanced manner. It wasn’t forced, but truly complimented the dish. Not every course included the actual direct influence of the cigars or whiskies, only when felt to be appropriate. The dedication to thought for each course became very clear as Chef Adam West introduced each dish as they were placed before us, and took the time to not only explain what the dish was, but how it was created , what he was looking to achieve, and why each element was present. I must say I am thoroughly impressed and still smiling just thinking about the experience again in my mind.
Each course kept us excited and involved- there wasn’t a peak too soon. In fact, once the third course was presented we knew that we could trust each plate presented to us after to be just as exciting and delicious, if not more.
Next was a beautiful raw scallop which had been cold smoked with a Hight Primitivo cigar. There was a slight sweetness accompanied by black pepper with an intriguing flavor from the cigar. In this dish, the nicotine was not as present as it had been in the Osso Buco, rather the natural flavor characteristics of the cigar really shined through. It was delicate like the scallop, and a very elegant meal. I must say I really enjoyed the texture of the thinly sliced raw scallop with the flavor of the smoke. The scallop almost disappears in your mouth just like the silky nature of cigar smoke itself.
How do you follow up a cigar smoked raw scallop? With a perfectly prepared White Pekin Duck Breast course, naturally! The meat was cooked to precision, giving the right texture to follow the silkiness of the scallops before. Notes of coriander, tea, vanilla, and a maple syrup which had been aged in bourbon barrels for 6 months were present, giving an aromatic addition that paired nicely with the Balvenie whisky.
I liked that there were familiar notes throughout the meal, such as coriander, black pepper and vanilla, to keep the story flowing and the cigar and whisky characteristics in mind.
Next we have a peanut butter and jelly course. Okay, not really but it is a play on the familiar flavors! We have a Proscuitto wrapped South Texas Antelope with a Carrot-Cardamon Pudding, Pistachios, and Huckleberry. The carrot-cardamon pudding, pistachios, and huckleberry brings the “peanut butter and jelly” element in with a sweetness to pair to the savory prosciutto and Antelope medley. Delicious!
Now it is time for dessert, but not time to end the experience. For our final course we are presented with a Dark Chocolate-Caramel Tart with Vanilla Sea Salt and Hazelnuts. Mmm, rich without being too sweet- an ideal way to end the meal and guide us into the right mentality for lighting up our Hight cigars on the patio, a Balvenie 21yr Portwood whisky in hand naturally. The dark chocolate with the vanilla, the sea salt, and the hazelnuts made for the perfect setting to not only close the meal but to begin our after dinner indulgences.
From start to finish, this was an amazing meal I not only will not forget, but will inspire me to discover more. At our table, we were fortunate enough to have existing friends and make new friends who we all now share a very strong bond with. That’s the beauty of cigars, whisky, and food on their own- when you combine them the bond is magical.
I want to thank Chip Hight and Balvenie for hosting such an incredible event, and Chef Adam West for including us in such a profound and elegant meal. I also want to thank the entire staff of The Monarch Bistro for their great hospitality. I will definitely be back to dine again, even if it is with a small group of friends sitting outside with a Hight Cigar and Balvenie whisky to remember the occasion!