A Historic Valentine’s Day

This year’s St. Valentine’s Day was especially enjoyed with the annual meal at the George and Rebecca Barnes Foundation at the Barnes Hiscock Mansion, 930 James St., Syracuse. The eight-course meal was prepared by chefs Luke Szabo and Dick Benedetto respectively of Scratch Farmhouse Catering and Smoke Incorporated BBQ.

Valentine’s Day is not something on my radar. Aside from the early grade school paper valentines sloppily piled in a desk basket after a delivery promenade, what is there to get excited about an annual quasi-holiday that annoyingly reminds/forces love like constant flicks of fingers upon the back of the head?

My lovely partner in crime. [Photo by C. Malone]

Well, enjoying great food with your equally (if not more) food-focused partner. That’s for certain.

The historic 1853 mansion is a notable one, albeit it can easily be missed if you’re not looking for it as it is set back from the road a wee bit. George and Rebecca Barnes, notable philanthropists and socialites, were progressive and civic-minded. The home has been recognized as one of the stops of the Underground Railroad.

There is a lot more history to dive into, and there’s not enough room here, but one of their goals was to open the home up to others. And, along with my being a board member to the foundation as well, our goal is to continue that tradition. The Barnes Hiscock Mansion is open for public use and hosts a very wide range of events.

The homemade eight-course meal was spaced out over the course of two and a half hours. Sure, that may seem like a long time to some, but it’s necessary. The Valentine’s Day Dinner is about love — the love of your partner or even friends (there were group dinners as well), the love of conversing with present company, and the love of food. Spacing out each portion allowed conversation to flow, whether culinary-focused or other.

Importantly, the evening encouraged slowing down and savoring. Savor the moment, the experience, the food. Allow time for your stomach to digest the food and your mind to enjoy the banter.

There were vegetarian and vegan options as well, but we opted for the omnivore series. Let’s take a look at Katey and I enjoyed.

The Beverage: Hot Whip by Buried Acorn Brewing Company. The American IPA is a hazy one. There is a cozy amount of hops to the brew — Centennial, Eukanot, Boadicea, and Brambling Cross hops — and it’s really refreshing.

Of course, a fritter would kick things off. The corn fritter was served with lobster meat, hyssop chantilly, and pickled chili peppers. A great balance of flavor with a little heat allowed this hors d’œuvre to stand out.

The second and salad course featured a smoked beet salad with grilled burrata, apple, cured duck egg, greens, harissa vinaigrette. Katey and I love burrata, and the extra smokiness was a great touch. The rest of the salad was wonderful. The duck egg added a little creaminess to it and held it together well. The beet and the apple are a wonderful pair.

The best French onion soup I’ve had was in New Orleans. This soup is a wonderful contender. Cue the roasted onion broth, caramelized onions, herb butter, house-made smoked Funyuns, and local cheese curds. Although the Funyun was a little chewy for me — due to it soaking up that delectable broth — the soup was intensely flavorful. The local cheese definitely was fresh.

Although this wasn’t at the top of my favorites, the turducken was foie gras stuffed in a chicken leg then stuffed in a turkey breast. It was served with cranberry piccalilli, dauphine (the potato puff), and creamed collards. The piccalilli and creamed collards definitely stole the show.

Katey and I agreed: It’s great when a chef — in this case chefs — don’t ask the servers to get a diner’s opinion on how they want their beef cooked. The tenderloin was remarkable and cooked perfectly. It was served with chive gnudi, amatriciana sauce, local spinach, and shiitake mushrooms. The sauce was super flavorful and made this Italian very happy.

How do you make a scallop dish better? Popcorn. The very large scallop was served with Horsford Farm’s popcorn puree, membrillo, and pistachio popcorn butter crumble. I’ve never had anything like this. The popcorn flavor was unapologetically brazen, and it added a lot of welcomed flavor.

The cinnamon beignet of this size is a perfect dessert. It’s enough to tease and satisfy a sweet tooth. What else can be seen is pecan bacon brittle and maple sweet potato frozen custard. I’d order this dessert again if it ever comes up.

Cheers to this cheese plate. After a long meal and traditional dessert, this charcuterie board was a perfect conclusion. Aside the blue cheese, which I’m not a fan of in general, the brie and (I think) parmesan were wonderful. The mustard wasn’t overpowering. The nuts were intricately roasted

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