Sunday, February 27, 2011

Ideas in Food Cobaya dinner

Ideas in Food is a culinary consulting business run by Aki Kamozawa and Alex Talbot. They've got a blog where they work through the titular ideas and a new cookbook. They're based in Levittown, Penn. but visiting Miami. Only Talbot was there this evening along with Jerimiah Bullfrog and his Podzilla kitchen. Talbot explained that he came down without ingredients or plan and the dinner was a result of improvisations with local ingredients.

The dinner was set up in an art gallery called G.A.B. in Wynwood so we got good lighting for once. Some of the pictures still didn't come out great because they're of small amounts of food deep in narrow serving containers, but most should be clearer than usual.

But enough ado. There were nine courses, starting with...

Surf and Turf--steak tartare, seaweed mayonnaise, bean sprout batons
This didn't wow me at first, although it was pleasant enough. But I grew to appreciate it more as I ate it. The steak was at just the right level of chewiness where it slowly releases its flavor but you aren't working at it. The seaweed in the mayo is a subtle but pleasant accent and the bean sprouts add crunch and freshness. Nothing jumps out at you, but it's very nicely balances and composed.

Clams in Green Sauce--parsley, coconut, garlic-mustard
You can't really see anything in the picture there, other than the puddle of green sauce, and that's a clear representation of the problem here. The sauce is, by itself, intensely parsley-y which works very well with the mustard and with the clam, but there's so much of the sauce the clam is well submerged and the mustard is hidden down at the bottom of the cup so you've half finished before you find it. Just putting the mustard on top would have been a bit improvement. Reducing the amount of green sauce would have helped a lot too. It came very close to working.

Steak and eggs--beef tendon, onsen egg, culantro
Another near miss. The beef tendon is meltingly soft and very mildly flavored so it is entirely overwhelmed by the flavor and texture of the egg yolk. That just leaves the beansprouts as crunch in a cup of goop. That makes it sound worse than it was; It was good goop. I'd cut back the egg to a quail egg (or scale up the rest), add some actual steak for more intense flavor and added texture, and add a bit of heat and/or acid to cut all that fat. A few drops of sriracha would have been a big help.

Kimchi cavatelli--kimchi gravy, torn basil, benton's ham
The idea of the kimchi tinged tomato gravy is a good one. You could see the promise here as the kimchi tinged the sauce's aftertaste. A little more boldness would have improved it. As for the cavatelli, a proper kitchen with a stove on which to boil pots of water was what was called for. However they managed to cook them in the gastropod left them with undercooked-doughiness and overcooked-mushiness simultaneously. I don't know how you do that. I did like how the basil and ham worked with the gravy.

Twice cooked scallop--pumpkin, citron-sriracha, furikake
Twice wasn't enough as my scallop had an unpleasant under-cooked texture. Others were happy with theirs though. Beyond that, the furikake I liked, but the other components never came together for me. It's not even close enough for me to offer tweaks; it didn't make sense to me at all. Lovely presentation, though.

Sweetbreads--green mango, rum raisin, lime vinaigrette
In direct contrast, all the the components of this dish worked together beautifully: the meatiness of the sweetbreads against the tart dressing and slightly sweet mango and raisin. There was a pleasant array of textures too, the crisp top of the sweetbread block worth mention in particular.

Sticky pork belly--cream soda, crunchy turnip, charred scallions
The good pork belly was bland in flavor, limp in texture. The "sticky" and "cream soda" makes me think there was supposed to be a glaze, but it didn't come out. The scallions were rather bitter, but good with the pork when used in moderation. OK, overall, but pork belly really shouldn't be just OK.

Powdered goat cheese--strawberry relish
Like the clam course, this suffered from the presentation. The strawberry was deep in the bottom of the cone where our blunt utensils couldn't quite reach and you scattered the powdered cheese around the tablecloth trying to dig down to it. And since the powder melted back into creamy cheese immediately on the tongue, what was the point? A disk of cheese with a blop of strawberry jam on top would have worked better. I suppose we'd complain about the lack of an idea then, but at least we could get the balance right.

Malted milk custard
There's a reason people make chocolate malteds. Just plain malt doesn't taste very good, at least not at the intense level presented here. Embedding it in a rubbery custard is no help. I saw others eating it with gusto, but I also saw them being boisterously drunk so I don't give that much credit. I couldn't get past one bite myself. Maybe it was supposed to be frozen? Some folks had frost sublimating off their push-pops while mine was barely cold. I don't see how that would help the flavor though. This is the only real failure on the conceptual level, to my mind.

So, overall, some good points, some weak ones. It was certainly an interesting set of dishes, but I think the lack of planning and the unfamiliar kitchen hampered the execution of some good ideas. I wish we could have had the second draft instead.

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