Oven-baked crab. Maple-glazed salmon. Cajun chicken. Seared duck breast. See anything you like?
The Rend Lake College Culinary Arts program is bringing back its fine dining series, four professionally prepared and served meals with something for every taste. This year, each dinner is themed around a particular region's cuisine, and the atmosphere of the restaurant will reflect that with decorations and background music.
o The first in the series is the Cuisine of New England on Friday, Feb. 20. This authentic New England experience includes indigenous ingredients and features your choice of braised roast beef with Yorkshire pudding, sharp cheddar cheese potato gratin and caramelized root vegetables, or oven-baked crab-stuffed haddock with creamy cranberry risotto and caramelized root vegetables. Each entrée comes with New England clam chowder; a warm wilted baby spinach salad with dried cranberries, toasted pecans and sliced red onion served with a garlic sherry vinaigrette and toasted crostini; warm challah bread with whipped maple butter; and individual Boston cream pies with assorted berries and whipped cream for dessert.
This is a taste that is distinct in Southern Illinois, a perfect menu for this time of year. This is stick-to-your-ribs comfort food. The atmosphere will feature the sounds of the ocean and the dining area will be decorated with ships and lighthouses.
o Experience the wild life with the second meal in the series, the Cuisine of the Pacific Northwest, on Friday, Feb. 27. Choose from pepper-crusted maple-glazed salmon with wild mushroom risotto and grilled asparagus, or honey- and beer-braised buffalo ribs with a vegetable-loaded twice-baked potato and roasted zucchini and squash. Both entrées come with mixed grain bread and cinnamon butter, creamy parsnip soup, mixed greens with berries and a raspberry vinaigrette, and Marion blackberry strudel with white chocolate ganache and a honey-lemon ice cream with a choice of hazelnut-flavored coffee with whipped cream.
This is a health-conscious menu, embracing the healthy lifestyle of the Pacific Northwest. The chefs will take full advantage of the treasure trove of ingredients available in the region and the nearby ocean, serving an eclectic menu which will be a unique experience for most people in Southern Illinois. The dining area will be decorated in a wilderness and wildlife theme, with candles resembling tree trunks, decorations reminiscent of the pleasures of fishing and soft acoustic background music.
o If you miss Mardi Gras this year, don't worry, just come to meal three, Cajun and Creole Cuisine, on Friday, March 6. Selections here will include shrimp jambalaya or blackened Cajun chicken breast on a bed of black-eyed pea and rice salad with asparagus almandine. Both will be accompanied by Louisiana sunburst salad with red wine vinaigrette, chicken and sausage gumbo, fresh Southern batter bread with butter and honey, and Bananas Foster bread pudding.
This is the best party north of New Orleans, and the food focuses on the best ingredients that come from that region. There will be beads for every diner and Mardi Gras decorations and music in the background. This meal features a special prize to one lucky winner. Underneath the dessert of one diner will be a large coin. Whoever finds it will eat at the final meal in the series for free.
o That final meal is the Hollywood-themed California Cuisine on one night only, Friday, March 27. This meal will be served in a theme of stars from the 1940s and 1950s, with dinner accompanied by a variety of Charlie Chaplin silent films with background music. It's dinner and a movie.
Diners can choose from Malibu Mahi (Mahi Mahi en Papillote, served over a bed of wild rice and fresh vegetables) or Diamonds are a Duck's Best Friend (seared breast of duck with a red wine and fig reduction, served with wild rice and grilled asparagus). Each entrée will be accompanied by Sunset Sourdough (crunchy sourdough bread rolled in sunflower seeds), Groucho Gazpacho (California avocado and white bean soup topped with shrimp and served chilled), Derby Salad (crisp romaine topped with smoked turkey, avocado, bacon and crumbled bleu cheese in a tangy vinaigrette), and Say "Cheesecake" (strawberry cheesecake brule on a graham cracker crust).
Diners will get the red carpet treatment, with the entry to the restaurant roped off as if at the Oscars. Pictures of movie stars will decorate every table. Come and dine with the stars, with Hollywood brought to Southern Illinois for one night only!
All dinners begin at 6 p.m. and will be held in the Private Dining Room in the Student Center on the Rend Lake College campus in Ina. Dinners are $25 per person by reservation only. For reservations, call Jean Huie at (618) 437-5321, Ext. 1247.