Cobaya 17 - Dinner at Market 17, Fort Lauderdale

It's always interesting to me to see the different approaches chefs take to putting on one of our Cobaya dinners. Some treat the group as true guinea pigs (that is what it means, after all), trying out dishes that may or may not end up on a restaurant menu one day in order to gauge the group's reaction.[1] Others see it as an opportunity to do something different from their usual routine. When we approached Market 17 in Fort Lauderdale to put on a dinner, they clearly gave it some thought. The restaurant, opened less than a year ago, embodies the current farm-to-table ethos and the menu usually features ingredients from close to home. But for our dinner, Chef Daniel Ramos purposefully set out to expand his horizons, which eventually turned itself into a seven-course dinner where each course focused on a different continent. Our menu for the evening started in Asia, then wound its way though South America, Australia, Africa, Europe and North America before ending up in Antarctica (and yes, that was a challenge):

menu

It was an ambitious plan, and I was impressed both by the thought that went into it and the results on the plate. (To see all my pictures from the dinner, go to this Cobaya 17 flickr set).

Asia

Asia
prawn with shrimp and pork dumpling, lemongrass prawn head broth, accompaniments of traditional ingredients
Charles Smith Kung Fu Girl Riesling, Washington State 2009

This starter featured shrimp in three different forms - a simple seared prawn, a dumpling filled with minced shrimp and pork, and a potent lemongrass-infused prawn head broth infused with a spicy/sour kick reminiscent of a Thai tom yum soup. It was presented with the broth in a separate decanter, and small bundles of accompaniments - fresh herbs, finely julienned radish, green onions, shiitake mushrooms, carrots, herb-inflected rice - to assemble D.I.Y. style immediately before eating. Bright, fresh flavors and a fun, interactive presentation. Riesling is a classic companion with Asian foods and the juicy, tangy Washington State "Kung Fu Girl" worked well here.

(continued ...)
South America

South America
quinoa crusted Peruvian paiche, roasted garlic, amaranth, cassava purée, tapioca, salsa verde
Alma Negra Sparkling Rosé, Mendoza Argentina 2009

Where Chef Ramos' "Asia" course cooked in the style of the region, his South America course focused even more closely on the ingredients indigenous to the area. Paiche, the Amazonian "river monster" fish, made its second appearance on a Cobaya menu. It was paired with a couple other South American staples: quinoa, an ancient grain that was sacred to the Incas, as well as cassava, which appeared in multiple forms - as a purée, a chip and as tapioca balls atop the fish. But the most notable element of the dish was the salsa verde, which contributed a verdant grassy note of dill, parsley and garlic that reached the nose as soon as the plate was set down.

Australia

Australia
peppercorn grilled kangaroo filet, caramelized brioche, poached pears, broccolini, blackberry sauce
Yangarra Old Vines Grenache, McLaren Vale, Australia 2007

Carbon footprints be damned, how many times do you get to try kangaroo? Talking after the event, I get the sense that Chef Ramos was a little concerned with this dish (I guess he hasn't worked often with kangaroo). But the concerns were unwarranted: the kangaroo meat, seared rare and coated with black pepper, was quite good: very lean, and chewy much like a skirt steak, but not at all tough, and with a flavor comparable to farmed venison. The accompaniments - fine broccolini florets with a ribbon of its stalk, a blackberry demiglace, balls of poached pears, and buttery toasted brioche - seemed more designed to tie with the wine than the geographical theme. In that respect, the dish matched up well with the candied cherry and blackberry notes of the fruit-bomb styled Australian grenache.

Africa

Africa
African spiced wild boar tenderloin with gumbo braised shank, whipped peanut sauce, caramelized yams, plantain coins, kale
Pinotage, Spice Route, Swartland, South Africa 2008

The wild boar for our dinner didn't come from Africa, instead it came from Broken Arrow Ranch in Texas.[2] The tenderloin, perfectly seared and still red-centered, was rubbed with "African spices" (I can't tell you everything in there, though I would suspect cayenne, ginger, cumin, cinnamon were players). But even better was the "gumbo braised shank," meltingly tender shank meat prepared like an osso buco, then pulled off the bone and mixed with an okra stew.[3] The accompaniments mostly stuck with the theme, primarily the light whipped peanut sauce and the thick rounds of caramelized yams, rounded out with thin coins of fried plantain and flavorful, crispy finely chopped kale. The wine pairing bravely stayed faithful to the theme: pinotage is something of an ugly duckling of wine varietals, a hardy grape known primarily for leathery, smoky flavors that often veer into undesirable acetone notes. The Spice Route Pinotage from South Africa was a bit much on its own, but the robust wine actually proved a good match for the equally hearty wild boar. For me this turned out to be both one of the best dishes, and one of the best pairings, of the evening.

Europe

Europe
pheasant breast, pheasant sausage, pheasant pistachio mousseline, duchesse potato, asparagus, creme margot
Chateau Merville, St. Estephe, Bordeaux France 2005

For Europe, Chef Ramos headed for the definitive source: Auguste Escoffier. Maybe he was inspired by Chef Grant Achatz's new shape-shifting restaurant Next,[4] where the menu for its first incarnation was "Paris 1906 - Escoffier at the Ritz." This was all classic French technique, quite literally straight from the book: tender breast of pheasant and ruddier pheasant sausage, along with pheasant mousseline with pistachios, duchesse potatoes, and creme margot, with whole and thinly sliced asparagus spears. As game birds go, pheasant is a mild one - it really does taste like chicken. Yet that mildness provided a pleasing vehicle for multiple variations in form that were simultaneously delicate and rich. Nobody cooks like this any more. And while I couldn't eat it every day, that's a shame.[5]

North America

North America
bison, tomato chili sauce, sweet corn, potato purée, poached fingerling potatoes
Lancaster Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley, CA 2006

The final savory course brought things back home with some North American staples: bison, tomatoes, corn and potatoes. The bison - again, perfectly seared - was like an exponential grass-fed beef, pleasingly chewy and with an iron-rich intensely beefy flavor. The thick, almost molé-like sauce, redolent with (ancho?) chiles, in combination with the bison, was happily reminiscent of a good chili. Corn appeared in multiple forms, both as an (agar-set?) flan and as chewy dried kernels; potatoes did as well, in a purée and as fat-poached disks in multiple shades. Tomato likewise made multiple appearances - in the sauce, as a round of raw black cherry tomato, in dots of a fluid gel, and as an intensely flavored dried chip atop the corn flan.

Antarctica

Antarctica
vanilla cake, meringue, candied lardo, fried raspberry coulis, chocolate and caramel ice cream
Inniskillin Vidal Icewine, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Canada 2007

What would you do if you were trying to do an "Antarctica" themed dish? Nothing grows there. Nothing lives there but polar bears and penguins. Maybe this "seven continents in seven courses" thing wasn't such a good idea after all. Chef Ramos tried his best with the challenge he had given himself, and it was a noble if not completely successful effort. Fluffy vanilla cake and crispy meringue represented snow and ice; chocolate and caramel ice creams were the color of penguins (??); curacao fluid gel for the ocean ... hey, you try it! Add in that a 100° kitchen is a much tougher place than Antarctica to elegantly plate out 38 servings of two ice creams, and this was clearly not going to be easy. But even if it wasn't perfect, I still saw plenty of clean plates and the Canadian icewine from Inniskillin was a thematically appropriate pairing. (This replica of whisky abandoned at the South Pole in 1907 would have worked too.)

Market 17

I admired both Chef Ramos' ambition and his execution. We encourage chefs to think creatively and unconventionally when they do Cobaya dinners, and this menu was fully in that spirit. There was thought behind each dish, as well as great flavors on the plate.[6] Market 17's regular menu may not be as globe-spanning as our meal was, but even working closer to home, this kind of thoughtfulness and care surely result in good things.

Market 17
1580 SE 17th Street, Fort Lauderdale
954.835.5507

[1]A good example: the foie gras "fluff" at Area 31.

[2]Broken Arrow Ranch is a purveyor that works with Texas ranchers to raise, and then field-harvest, free range venison, antelope, and wild boar. Chef Chris Cosentino filmed a pilot for a show (alas, nobody picked it up) with Broken Arrow Ranch which, though not for the squeamish, is fascinating. The video is here: "Chef Unleashed."

[3]The word "gumbo" apparently means "okra" in many African dialects and reflects the African derivation of the dish.

[4]In case you've been under a culinary rock: in April, Achatz, the chef of Chicago's famed Alinea, opened Next, which features one set menu with a distinct theme that changes every three months. The theme recently changed over, for the first time, from Escoffier to "Tour of Thailand."

[5]My only disappointment here was the wine pairing, an unmemorable Bordeaux which didn't harmonize with the mild bird, creamy sauce and mousseline. This seemed like an opportunity for white Burgundy.

[6]It also did not go unnoticed - by me, anyway - that other than the dessert, each of the other courses was composed as if it was a meal in and of itself, with each including a protein, vegetable and starch. This may not be at all necessary in a multi-course tasting menu - might even be overkill - but is indicative of the generosity and enthusiasm with which Market 17 approached the dinner.

Comments

  1. Another solid recap, Frod. I've been trying to get my thoughts into a post but the whole "sitting down and writing" is where I'm struggling haha. That last pic is a beaut! New camera?

    ReplyDelete
  2. I'm so pumped on this underground food movement in south Florida! As a foodie, former chef and recent relocatee to south Florida I've been really trying to stretch out and find the good eats here. I now have a resource - Food For Thought.

    Cheers and thank you for this blog, Frod fellow!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Every plate just looks like crap at Market 17. I think you're making a mistake encouraging these places that overreach. Serve us some good food. You don't need 12 ingredients in every dish

    ReplyDelete

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