Perbacco’s James Beard Benefit Dinner

Chefs Staffan Terje (left) and Tony Mantuano (right) teamed up for last Saturday's dinner.

Executive Chef Staffan Terje of San Francisco’s Perbacco and Chef Tony Mantuano of Chicago’s famed Spiaggia have shared a kinship ever since Terje’s elegant Italian establishment opened in 2006.

So much so, that the two chefs have sent their cooks to the other’s restaurant regularly to hone their skills even more.

Saturday night, Mantuano was only too happy to partner with Terje in a special dinner at Perbacco, “Inverno in Piemonte,” a fund-raiser for the James Beard Foundation’s scholarship program for culinary students.The evening started with little bites, including spicy nduja on crostini.

“Staffan is a great friend and a great chef,” Mantuano, a former competitor on “Top Chef Masters,” told the crowd. “And this is one of the places in the world I always look forward to going to.”

Yours truly was honored to be an invited guest at the 60-seat event, where every seat was taken.

(L to R) Mantuano, his wife Cathy, Alexandra Barton of Spiaggia, and Chef Joyce Goldstein.

If Perbacco’s Owner Umberto Gibin is ever in need of another day job, he ought to seriously consider becoming an auctioneer. Such were his mad skills in rallying the crowd to bid fast and furiously in a live auction that night that included lots such as a farmers market outing, cooking lesson and dinner orchestrated by Terje, and Chef Joyce Goldstein.

Terje's yellowtail crudo with green apple.

Mantuano's scallops with celery root custard.

Dinner began with a duo of crudo on one plate: At one end, Mantuano’s raw Nantucket Bay Scallops with celery root, Meyer lemon, shaved mandarinquats and Tuscan pine nuts; at the other end, Terje’s silky yellowtail with bright green apple, Taggiasca olives and radishes.

Terje's squash-filled tortelli finished with earthy black tuffle butter.

Mantuano's potato gnocchi filled with sweet dates.

Next, two preparations of pasta: Terje’s heavenly tortelli of sweet roasted winter squash finished with black truffle butter; and Mantuano’s unusual, pillowy potato gnocchi crescents filled with Medjool dates, Gorgonzola and toasted walnuts. Spiaggia’s Alexandra Barton actually carried the fragile gnocchi on the plane from Chicago, protected with bags of frozen peas. Talk about ingenuity.

The main course featured veal two ways: Terje’s robust veal breast filled with herbs and anchovy, topped with garlicky salsa verde and baby turnips; and Mantuano’s juicy roasted veal loin with toasted hazelnuts and wild mushrooms.

Terje's sumptuous veal breast with garlicky salsa verde.

Mantuano's juicy veal loin with wild mushrooms.

Dessert was a dazzling sampler: brown butter cake with a hidden center of oozy chocolate; chocolate gelato with hazelnut brittle; chocolate mousse and chocolate bonet; a creamy, rich custard.

Not one, but four little desserts to end the evening on the sweetest note.

Guests ended the night with bags of hazelnut meringue cookies to take home.

I’ve yet to make it to the landmark, 28-year-old Spiaggio in Chicago. But this was one fun way to get a wintery taste of the Windy City in the comfort of my own hometown.

More: Chef Rick Moonen’s Thoughts on Chef Tony Mantuano

And: Chef Staffan Terje’s Demo at Macy’s

And: A Honey of A Night at Perbacco

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