Monday, January 12, 2015

Melons Catering and Events

For the past several years, Melons Catering and Events has catered my annual company holiday party.  These are large events, with ~1500 attendees, so certainly not any easy job for any caterer.  And you know how I tend to feel about catering ...

Every year, they do entirely different menus.  Two years ago, it was downright incredible.  One room at the venue was a special seafood room, where they served seared scallops that rivaled those of most restaurants.  Using their tiny little catering facilities.  I honestly have no idea how they pulled it off, but I was absolutely blown away.  They also always set up a dessert room, and many of the items featured there have been particularly notable.  Of course, I never took photos or notes before, so I don't have any real details to share on my past events.

So this year, when I heard that Melons was catering our party again, I was excited.  I took photos.  I was ready to write a glowing blog post.  But ...  there was little to glow about with the main food options.  Some of it was menu choice, as there was no extravagant seafood room this year (although there was a sushi bar, which was decent), but mostly, the hot food just really wasn't good, and perhaps most tragically, the desserts were all lackluster as well.

Melons has done a great job in the past though, so I'm hopeful that next time will be better ...
I was excited to walk in to the first room and discover a whole charcuterie table.  The perfect place to start, particularly alongside my glass of mediocre red wine, and the lineup was quite impressive.

Melons cures all of the meat in house, using products from Stone Valley Farms.  There were several salami-style items that were all fine, including pork fennel salami, coppa, lonza, and prosciutto.  The prosciutto was the most memorable, and I genuinely enjoyed it, particularly slathered with a little mustard, of which there were several choices.

But the star of the lineup was the duck liver mousse (and not just because it reminded me of foie gras!).  It had the perfect consistency and flavor, not too livery.  I went back many times throughout the night for more and more of this.  Once I tried all of the desserts, and was not satisfied by any, I may or may not have come back for more of the mousse as my quasi-dessert.  Winning item of the night.

The charcuterie station was completed by housemade focaccia and breadsticks, wild mushroom salad, chick pea and olive salad, and roasted peppers, none of which I tried.
Nigiri Sushi Bar.
The next room we entered featured a sushi bar.  Now this looked promising, particularly given how much I enjoyed the seafood offerings the previous year, it seemed possible that they would have decent quality product.

But, catering sushi?  The shelf life of sushi is on the order of minutes, how could they possibly do sushi hours before and have it be good?  They couldn't and knew that, so the sushi was actually being prepared behind the bar by a line of chefs, it hadn't been sitting around for hours.

There was a decent line up of nigiri including unagi, hamachi, salmon, octopus, and two types of tuna.

I tried all but the unagi, and they were all fine, not incredible obviously, but good enough, and the product was decent quality.

However, the fish was a bit warm.  They obviously weren't in a climate controlled area, and were working with what they had, but there is something off putting about warm fish, and it certainly changed the texture.

The sushi was served with wasabi, ginger, and soy sauce, as you'd hope, but there were no dipping cups for the soy sauce, so you had to dump soy sauce on each piece of fish from the big vat as you served yourself, and this just didn't work well.

But for massive party catering?  Not bad.
Assorted Sushi Rolls.
There were also pre-made sushi rolls.

One entire tray was California rolls, which turned out to be a good thing.  Of all the sushi, it turned out to be my favorite, it tasted fairly fresh, and wasn't overly coated in mayo or anything.

The other platter contained a mix of spicy tuna, unagi, tempura shrimp, and veggie rolls.  The spicy tuna was also tasty enough, but the fish was a somewhat grey color, which scared me a bit.

[ No Photo ]
Italian and French Buffets.

There were also two themed buffets: Italian or French.  I somehow lost the photos.

The buffets annoyed me.  They were buffets, but, you couldn't serve yourself, instead, they had staff there to add items to your plate.  I wanted to try a little bit of everything, but it was impossible to communicate that I truly just wanted a little dollop of each dish so I could try everything, and then come back for more of something if I liked it.  No matter what language I used, I got giant scoops of everything.

The French offerings had two salads, a good enough basic frisee salad with nicely crispy bacon bits (and an optional poached egg), and a fairly tasty celery root and carrot slaw.  Hard to go wrong with bacon and mayonnaise.  The hot offerings were not as successful.  The gratin potatoes were completely undercooked and basically raw, so even large amounts of cream and cheese couldn't save them.  The beef looked dried out and awful, so I didn't even try it, and I never like quiche, so I skipped that too.  I was sad, since I love French cuisine, and there was potential here, but there weren't even delicious sauces to try!

The menu for the Italian section was no better.  The main entrees were pork and rock cod, both of which I actively dislike (seriously, you want to hear me rant sometime ... ask me about rock cod.  I don't think it is possible for rock cod to be tasty).  I also skipped the fried stuffed olives, since they clearly weren't freshly fried.  Since it was an Italian station, it obviously had pasta, and I did try those.  The first had rubbery baby shrimp in a vary banal red sauce.  Meh.  The other was a vegetarian option, that just tasted really strange, and was crazy mushy.  I didn't want to finish a single bite of this, not even for exploratory purposes.

The buffets were clearly not the way to go, and after the awful pasta and the undercooked gratin, I was too disheartened to try anything else, and just went back to the sushi and charcuterie to eat enough "real food" that I could move on to dessert.
As I mentioned, the previous years always had impressive dessert rooms.  While I am fairly picky about food, dessert is the area where my standards do lower.  Enough cream, butter, and sugar and I'm generally happy enough.  But ... nothing here came close to satisfying.

On the left is carrot cake bites.  They were fairly dry and flavorless, topped with a tiny insufficient dollop of cream cheese frosting.  Seriously, carrot cake is ALL about cream cheese frosting, who thinks that a dot of it is enough?

Next was tiramisu, that clearly didn't set right.  As it was spooned onto my place it ran all over the place like melted ice cream.  I didn't mind the runnyness exactly, except that it also didn't taste like anything.  No mascarpone flavor, no coffee flavor, nothing.  Just runny whiteness.

In the back were tiny espresso panna cotta.  Panna cotta is always a favorite of mine.  This had a good consistency unlike the poor tiramisu, and it was topped with good enough whipped cream, and did taste a little like espresso, so, it wasn't bad, but it also wasn't particularly good.

The best was cheesecake, with a sweet, buttery, crunchy crust, and a creamy interior.  It was topped with booze stewed dried fruits, which I wasn't a fan of, but the cheesecake itself was decent.  Not earth shattering, and I wasn't even tempted to get a second piece, but, good enough.
More Desserts.
There was also a pear pâte de fruit, topped with a dollop of cheese and a nut, which I skipped.  Yes, gasp, I skipped a dessert.

And last, a chocolate gateau.  It had a mediocre base chocolate cake layer and a decently creamy chocolate pudding layer.  It was served with a sauce they ladled over the top, that was cloyingly sweet.  Like, unpalatable sweet.  And I like sweet!  The sauce also had little chunks of banana, which were quite good, but I didn't understand the sauce at all.  I'm normally a sauce girl, and a fan of having a hot component with my dessert, but this just didn't make any sense.

Last year's dessert lineup was much, much better, as there were multiple items that I couldn't stop going back for more and more of, and this year, I didn't bother with seconds of anything.
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