Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Cobaya "Dunch" with Chef Micah Edelstein

Many people probably think it's just a gimmick that we refer to our Cobaya events as "experiments." But we really do push chefs to push themselves. This is not simply an excuse to trot out the same old dishes in a fixed price, tasting menu format. If there's one "rule," it's that it has to be an off-menu experience.

What diners may not fully appreciate is that oftentimes, this means they're getting a dish that the chef not only has never served before - sometimes they've never even made it before. And since we're rarely working with chefs who have the opportunity or budget to do a full dry run in advance, often these really are experiments of a sort, and the diners really are the guinea pigs.

That was undoubtedly the case with our most recent Cobaya event, a late brunch ("Dunch") with Chef Micah Edelstein of neMesis Urban Bistro in downtown Miami. Which, to me, makes the meal she put together all the more remarkable.

(You can see all my pictures in this Cobaya "Dunch" at neMesis flickr set)

We wanted to do it on Sunday, when we could take over neMesis' cozy dining room, and that quickly turned to thoughts of brunch. Brunch became "Dunch" (dinner / lunch) when we proposed a noon-ish start time, to which Micah responded "I don't get up before noon on Sunday!" Though we didn't start until 3pm, I suspect she had to rise a little earlier than usual anyway.

The menus on the tables were actually the final iteration of sketches Chef Edelstein prepared both to brainstorm dishes and game-plan their preparation, an interesting insight into both the creative and logistical processes of putting together the meal. Afterwards, she shared with me some earlier versions, which showed how some dishes changed and evolved, and also how each of the components was highlighted or crossed off as it was prepared. I'll show each course here with both the sketch and the final realization.

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Saturday, June 23, 2012

Goes Around ... Comes Around: Spanish Edition

We periodically devote our attention here to the task of tracing how food ideas and trends migrate their way from restaurant to restaurant. As we noted way back when,[1] sometimes the phenomenon is the result of "homage" or "inspiration;" sometimes it's "copying" or "plagiarizing," the lines between which are not always easily drawn. Every once in a while it may actually be a case of genuinely spontaneous independent creation.

Often, what prompts these reveries is the audacity of a chef who claims to have "invented" a dish. Almost invariably, such braggadocio is unwarranted. There is, in fact, very little that is truly new under the sun, and very few culinary creations can legitimately claim to be so completely untethered to what came before as to constitute an "invention."

That apparently doesn't stop Chef Alex Raij: ["Alex Raij on Copycats and Surviving in New York."]

I'll bet I'd really like Chef Alex Raij's food. For several years now, she's put together menus of pretty authentically Spanish tapas dishes for New York restaurants, first at Tia Pol, then El Quinto Pino, then plumbed more deeply the depths of Basque cookery with Txikito, and most recently opened La Vara, which explores the even more esoteric Moorish-Jewish-Spanish food connection. I love all that stuff, and by most accounts, she does it very well.

So why the compulsion to shit-talk other chefs? In the recent Eater piece, Chef Raij simultaneously (1) claims "first" for several dishes; and (2) complains that several other chefs (specifically, Ken Oringer of Boston's Toro, coming soon to NY, and Miami's Michelle Bernstein) have "stolen" dishes, either from her or others. Specifically:

You say that before you opened Tia Pol, no one was doing certain things that are now common.
No one was doing a current expression of tapas. I wanted to dispense with all the Spanish dishes that were on every menu. No one was doing patatas bravas or shishito peppers. Nobody was making bikini sandwiches or pintxos morunos. No one was eating romesco sauce. I'm resentful, in some ways, but not regretful.
What bothers me is when people get called innovative when they've taken someone else's idea. Toro is coming to New York, but he straight-up took the uni panini from us. I know he took it, and he knows he took it. It's one of the few original things I've created in my life.
Michelle Bernstein took that Bar Mut dish and then got called a creative genius by Frank Bruni.
What bothers me is when people don't credit where they took it from. When we borrow something, we give credit and name the restaurants we love in the menu.
Let's take each of those in turn.

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Monday, June 18, 2012

Animal Pizzeria

chefs at work

Not long after Chef Michael Schwartz opened up Harry's Pizzeria, he started putting the space to use for more than just baking pies. In a twist on the "pop-up" genre that is the restaurant industry's latest trend, Schwartz has brought in chefs from around the country to cook for an evening in his little pizza parlor. In November 2011 Harry's held its first pop-up dinner with Gabrielle Hamilton of New York's Prune. Since then, Harry's has played host to a distinguished list of visiting talent: Jonathan Waxman, Marc Vetri, Jonathon Sawyer, and Kevin Sbraga. Last night, it was chefs Vinny Dotolo and Jon Shook, of Los Angeles' Animal and Son of a Gun, who took over the restaurant for the night.

Some folks may know Shook and Dotolo from their successful L.A. restaurants. Some may remember back to their short-lived stint on the Food Network with "Two Dudes Catering." Though I didn't know it at the time, I've actually been eating their food since even before then - they both cut their teeth at the Strand here in Miami Beach (now long gone) more than a decade ago, back when a young Michelle Bernstein was the chef and I was taking Mrs. F there for date nights.

Though Dotolo and Shook had not crossed paths with Michael Schwartz back in the day, they'd become acquainted more recently on the charity circuit, and - lucky for us here in Miami - came back home to put together a dinner at Harry's.

(You can see all my pictures in this Animal Pizzeria flickr set).

kumamoto oysters

Some passed appetizers started things off, including these kumamoto oysters. A cucumber and serrano chile gelee provided a great balance of cool and heat to set off the briny pop of the oysters. Crostini topped with sautéed porcini mushrooms and a rich truffle fondue offered a more earthy starting point for the meal.

triggerfish crudo

Though I enjoy it, often fish crudo seems like a "throwaway" of a dish - fish, oil, salt, citrus, done. Too easy. So this was actually a pleasant surprise: mild, faintly sweet slices of triggerfish swam in a colatura vinaigrette with that unique umami zap fish sauce provides of intense flavor without heaviness. Fresh basil and mint, chopped peanuts, and crispy fried shallots pulled things further in a Thai direction, with a little something different in each bite.[1] I might have worried that the fermented fish funk of the colatura would be a bad pairing with the fresh raw fish, but I loved the combination.

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Saturday, June 2, 2012

Cobaya Carmellini (a/k/a Cobaya Goes Dutch)

We've actually been in talks for this Cobaya dinner since last October, before Chef Andrew Carmellini opened his Miami outpost of The Dutch. Of course, Carmellini has had some other stuff on his plate - opening the Miami restaurant, running Locanda Verde and The Dutch in New York, publishing a new cookbook, "American Flavor," to name a few. But the stars finally aligned last week, when Carmellini and his Miami crew, including Chef de Cuisine Conor Hanlon and Pastry Chef Joshua Gripper, put together a fantastic-looking menu for thirty guinea pigs.

I say fantastic "looking" because, sadly, I had to miss this one due to work-related travel. But I did stop by before the dinner and Chef Carmellini was gracious enough to give me a tour of the kitchen to see what was in progress. The theme carrying through several of these dishes was "The Whole Damn Thing!" - turbot cooked whole (innards and all, if he stuck with the plan as of around 4pm the afternoon of the dinner), with a sauce made from the bones; a fifty pound pig from Hialeah, prepared about a half-dozen ways. And though I didn't get to taste any of it, I got a good look at what I missed out on from the folks who were there.

It's the first Cobaya dinner I've missed, and it sure looks like a great one. It's also my first time trying to recap a meal I didn't eat.

Here's Chef Carmellini providing a greeting to the diners, the menu, and below, pictures from some of the folks who were at the dinner. (Video courtesy of Ethan Shapiro, pictures via Chowfather, Allison Riley a/k/a Y'All Taste This, and Andrew Carmellini). My usual descriptive flourishes will be missing - wish I could tell you about it..

Lemon Arrancini, Caviar, Creme Fraiche
Watermelon, Cobia, Spicy Yuzu
Bulgogi Tartare, Jae's Kimchi, Lettuce
Duck Foie Gras Meatball, Celery, Cherry Mustard

Bluepoint Oyster, Cucumber Shiso Granite
Lake Meadow Egg, Smoked Sable, Trout Roe
Gnocchi di Patate Primavera con Funghi e Piselli
Turbot Cuit Entier Sur L'Os Aux Saveurs Marocaine
Whole Hog Cooked in a Variety of Ways with Condiments

Crispy Testa with Gribiche
Smoked Ribs Glazed in Cider
Pastrami-Brined Belly
Alsatian-Style Shoulder with Mustard
Brown Sugar-Cured Hams
Crispy Pig Ears, Swank Farms Arugula, Meyer Lemon
Natural Jus

Conor's Pickle Pots
Pickled Bread & Butter, Michael Borek's Farm Field Tomatoes
Pickled Ramp Relish
Grilled Georgia Peaches
Mom's Collards
Weinkraut MSG Style

Rainier Cherry Consommé, Manhattan Granita

Croque en Bouche Royal

Ice Creams, Sorbets, Sauces, Cookies, Candies, Chocolates

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