A Cook and a Wine Guy
A special dinner provided by the very talented Chef Dan who has since moved to Chicago, wine pairings by equally talented sommelier Sean, currently working at one of Hawaii’s top fine dining restaurants. So my thanks to the two of them for putting together a memorable and delicious dining experience that can’t be found anywhere else in Hawaii.
Before I get to the food, I’d like to address the wines. In a word – Amazing. I wish I was more knowledgeable when it comes to wines, but at the start of the dinner, I must admit I was woefully unprepared for the quality of wine I would be drinking that night. Luckily, I was dining with some great wine aficionados and I learned more about wine in one night than my entire trip to SF/Napa. And as much as I would love to double the length of this post and talk about the wines, even my newfound knowledge wouldn’t stop me from sounding quite foolish.
I was told from the very beginning that the food would be adventurous, and that the use of molecular gastronomy would be present in many dishes. Molecular gastronomy by itself is a neat trick, but if you can’t use it to produce great flavors and textures I don’t see the point of incorporating it into dishes.
Aubergine, Yougurt, Renkon, Mentaiko
I’ll admit, when I first tasted this dish, I was quite perplexed. There were hints of familiar flavors, but everything seemed to be completely over-powered by a very strong smoky scent and flavor. The crispy lotus root was helpful in providing some textural contrast with the eggplant. The flavor combination was interesting and good enough for me to try a second piece to help me get an understanding of the flavors. And while I consider this dish good, I still feel as though a little less time in the smoker could have elevated the dish to great.
Some people say it’s easiest to get people to try new things if you feed it to them in a familiar form. This dish is a prime example. Pig’s tail croquettes, garnished with thinly sliced apples. This was my first time trying pig’s tail and I can’t imagine anyone who enjoys bacon not loving these little deep fried croquettes. The apples cut through the wonderful fattiness of the pig’s tail croquette. It was an interesting way of combining a rather classic combination of pork and apples. Oh, and it was absolutely delicious.
Popcorn, Apple, Caramel
Recently, more and more chefs are starting to use whimsical items like popcorn, cotton candy, and pop rocks in their cooking. It’s a trend I hope continues. This dish contained popcorn mixed with thinly sliced apples, topped with truffle salt and powdered caramel. Wonderful use of molecular gastronomy here, with the powdered caramel really stealing the show. I really enjoyed this dish, very eye-opening.
Shrimp, Wasabi, Mango
Shrimp, topped with cucumber, a wasabi gelee, and what I believe was a mango coulis. I found this to be the most disappointing dish of the night. The presentation was by far the best up to this point in the night, the ingredients all sounded delicious, but overall effect just felt flat. The shrimp was the highlight and the cucumber brought some texture but unfortunately the coulis had little flavor, and the gelee lacked any sort of pop you would expect from something wasabi based.
Confit, Thai Basil, Tomato, Snow
Duck confit, tiny freshly picked tomatoes and basil, all topped with a foie gras snow? Yes, please. The dish was brought to us without the snow, then Dan went around shaving frozen foie gras over the top of each plate. The fresh tomatoes really helped to brighten a very heavy dish, but the foie gras snow… words escape me. I have no idea if this is anything like what David Chang serves at his Momofuku Ko restaurant, but if I ever dine there, I hope it is.
Scallop, Cauliflower, Lilikoi
Another wonderful dish. Two pan-seared scallops, split by a piece of cauliflower atop a base of pureed cauliflower, with lilikoi drizzled around the plate. Dry packed scallops like these are hard to come by outside of restaurants in Hawaii, and I am so glad that these were perfectly cooked. I love scallops, but most chefs tend to overcook them, leaving them a bit too dry. I was surprised to find that the lilikoi worked very well with the scallops, enhancing the sweetness.
Foie Gras, Grape, Tarragon
Our next dish was the very classic foie gras au torchon. Good foie, like good steak tartare, is almost non-existent in Hawaii. I can’t remember exactly how the grapes were prepared, but they added a very nice sweetness to this dish. Never being one to turn down foie gras, after devouring my dish, one diner couldn’t finish hers, and I gladly volunteered to make sure it didn’t go to waste. (A decision I would regret latter…)
Duck, Chocolate, Brussel Sprout, Shimeji
Duck, served medium, topped with brussel sprout leaves, shimeji mushrooms and chocolate “dirt.” I definitely thought this was a very good dish. However, I didn’t feel as though the chocolate added much. It was a good dish with it there, but I felt as though I would’ve liked it just as much without it being there. I had always wondered how well chocolate would work in savory dishes, so I did appreciate a dish incorporating it, and I look forward to trying more savory chocolate applications in the future.
Marrow, Himalaya, Parsley
By this point in the night, we were about 10 wine bottles in, so I apologize for missing some of the components to the following dishes…. Veal marrow bones, topped with a foam (of what? I really don’t remember.) Served with toast, parsley, onions and two different types of finishing salts – a Jurassic salt, and a pink Himalayan salt. Marrow has become one of my favorite foods in the world, but this was my first time trying veal marrow.
This was a great little palate cleanser, very fresh. It consisted of a kalamansi lime granite, with basil seeds. Yup, basil seeds. Who knew? Intriguing and refreshing. The bright flavor helped me get through at least an extra dish.
Steak, Mushroom, Sunchoke
By this point, I was absolutely stuffed to the point of not wanting to eat another bite. But with the palate cleasner before, plus the heavenly smell coming from this dish, I pressed on. The steak was great, perfectly cooked. The shaved asparagus, garlic chips and sunchoke were all wonderful. But that little mushroom was unbelievable. How good was it? We had all my favorite foods – foie gras, marrow, steak, scallops – all wonderfully prepared. And I would have given then all up for a plateful of those mushrooms. Well… maybe not. Everything else was too good. But I would have considered it.
Lots of really, really good wine….
Honestly, at this point, the food and wine just became too much. Heh, more so the wine, because I know I can eat more than this…. I did have a small taste, and i did like the flavor of the chocolate with the citrus rinds. The texture was unique and I wanted to try it again, but I just couldn’t take another bite.
Chef Dan making the final dish of the night. I had seen this done before on television, but it was still interesting to see it being made in front of me.
Using one of the more well known molecular gastronomy techniques, this coffee “caviar” is made by releasing drops of a liquid containing the essence of coffee into a bath of calcium cholride and water. Also commonly known as spherification, this is a technique that chefs like Ferran Adria, Jose Andres, and many others use in some of their signature dishes. The presentation was nice, and the size of the spheres here resembled actual caviar. The idea and presentation were great, but the dish fell well short on flavor. The predominate taste that was present was salt. There was a little hint of coffee in there, but not enough. I love the idea, and I think with a little tinkering, this dish could become a winner.
Overall, I would call this meal a resounding success. There were a couple misses, but I think that’s a part of coming up with new, creative types of dishes using new, inventive cooking techniques. If this was a meal I was served in a restaurant, I would look forward to going back every single week. And for me, that’s the true measure of how good the food was. This was truly an outstanding meal.
I’m going to get on my soapbox here for a bit… Even though there are a few great places in Hawaii, I feel as though most of Hawaii’s culinary scene is so fixated on making decent dishes using proven techniques while making as few mistakes as possible that there really isn’t any room for GREAT cuisine. I would gladly pay more for a meal like I had here, than for one with 3-4 dishes of well prepared standard Hawaii regional cuisine. I know I’m probably in the minority when it comes to trying new food, and I’m not sure if the culture here can support such innovative cuisine. But what I do know is that it really stinks that I have to go to places like Chicago, New York and Los Angeles to find new great food.
That’s enough time on the soapbox for today…
Keep in mind, most of the dishes were cooked by one guy, in a home kitchen. I’m not sure what I expected coming in, but I’m glad I was there for it. So thanks again to the guys who made this happen.
Good luck to Dan who’s heading to Chicago to help open a new restaurant there, Chizakaya. Hopefully they’re open by the time I head there, and if anyone else will be in Chicago, be sure to check them out.