Monday, July 28, 2014

Cobayapalooza at Shikany

Typically, we use our Cobaya dinners as a way of turning a spotlight on a particular chef, to give them free reign to craft a menu that gives voice to their creative impulses or personal culinary obsessions. But collaboration has its rewards too, and we've long hoped to do a dinner that would bring together several local chefs to cook a meal.

That opportunity finally presented itself through the generosity of chef Michael Shikany, who opened the kitchen of his new restaurant in Wynwood – Shikany – to several other chefs for a "Cobayapalooza" dinner on July 16. Shikany and his pastry chef Jill Montinola were joined by Diego Oka of La Mar Miami, David Sears of SushiSamba Coral Gables, Mathias Gervias of the Setai, Danny Grant of 1826 Restaurant and Lounge, and Timon Balloo of Sugarcane Raw Bar Grill and Bocce Bar, who collectively put together a nine-course menu loosely organized around the great La Boîte spice blends made by Lior Lev Sercarz (each dish used a different La Boîte custom blend).

The restaurant was an ideal setting for the event, with room for nearly fifty guinea pigs in the stylish dining room, as well as for all the chefs and their crews in a bright, wide open kitchen. It was a great opportunity to highlight both an ambitious new restaurant, and a number of other talented young chefs working in Miami – several of them fairly new faces.

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

Course 1 (Galil N. 13) Fresh Diver Scallop Crudo
Michael Shikany

Shikany started things off with a diver scallop crudo, thin ribbons of the shellfish topped with diced strawberries, pickled watermelon rind, and white truffle oil, and plated with a swoop of black garlic aioli, a powdered creme fraiche sorbet, dots of hibiscus gel and still more items I've lost track of. A lot of flavors, a lot of techniques; but also a really good, fresh, plump, sweet scallop as the centerpiece of it all.

Course 2 (Coquelicot N. 24) Oysters & Salmon
David Sears

Next up, David Sears of SushiSamba, who served a round of tender salmon topped with a crust of poppy seeds and spices (almost an "everything bagel" kind of thing going on here), accompanied by a tangled salad of sorts of oysters, pickled onions and sweet cherry tomatoes, accompanied by generous dollops of jet black sturgeon caviar and cool creme fraiche.

Course 3 (Luberon N. 4) Wild Quahog
Michael Shikany

Back to Shikany for the next course, a sort of cross between sashimi and ceviche featuring – among other things – a fat quahog clam, ribbons of madai (Japanese sea bream), assorted seaweeds, cubes of tofu and purple Okinawa potato, dabs of puréed sweet potato, tiny caviar of "Coke syrup," an herbaceous green emulsion, and a little squirt bottle of a spicy soy sauce to apply in DIY fashion. I think the perfumey, lavender-forward Luberon spice blend was making its appearance in the dabs of translucent fluid gel interspersed around the fish.

Course 4 (Vadouvan N. 28) Yellowtail Snapper
Diego Oka

Diego Oka's yellowtail dish was, for me, one of the most intriguing of the night. While ceviche tends to get all the attention these days, there's an incredible diversity to Peruvian cooking, which his dish highlighted. The fish was served over a curry-spiced, chocolate-dusted potato stew, which had a fascinating, nubby texture and great depth of flavor.A translucent quinoa crisp, peanut butter powder and a sauce of huacatay (Peruvian black mint, with a zing sort of between typical mint and basil) completed the dish.

(continued ...)

Course 5 (Cancale N. 11) Foie Gras Terrine
Michael Shikany

Shikany served the next course, a tranche of really nice foie gras terrine – rich in flavor, light in texture – plated with slivers of apple cured duck breast, sweet candied asparagus, fresh peas, sweet-tart berry purée, and a sprinkle of a sage and parmesan gremolata.

Course 6 (Ararat N. 35) Organic Slow Poached Farm Egg
Mathias Gervais

Chef Gervais' dish appeared deceptively simple. A soft, runny poached egg sat poised in the middle of a frothy, ocher-hued jamón ibérico broth perfumed with the smoky, chocolatey spice of the Ararat blend (which includes Urfa chile and smoked paprika). Delicate asparagus spears, tiny crisp croutons, and sprigs of marajoram floated on top. It was delicious.

Course 7 (Apollonia N. 29) Veal Breast
Timon Balloo

Timon Balloo, who just recently did a dinner with us (Experiment #41 at Bocce Bar), showed he still had a trick or two up his sleeve. Here he rolled out a trio of veal – a slice of breast, a sliver of tongue, a nub of sweetbread (the best of the bunch) – accompanied, he claimed, with "canned peaches and peas." They were nothing of the sort; rather, a slice of burnt peach brought a savory note to the sweet fruit, while a bright green pea purée and fresh peas and favas added a verdant note.

Course 8 (Tangier N. 23) Lamb Loin Crepinette
Danny Grant

Danny Grant of 1826 provided the last savory course, and it was a good one. He wrapped a lamb loin, cooked to a rosy pink hue, and a meaty farce, in a shiny pig skin crepinette. One of the slices was topped with a perfect curl of frozen foie gras. A sauté of corn and tiny chanterelle mushrooms, and a textbook glossy reduction perked up with the Moroccan, ras al hanout style "Tangier" spice blend, completed the dish.

Course 9 (Lula N. 41) Tupelo Honey Cremeux
Jill Montinola

To finish, a really nice dessert from Shikany's pastry chef, Jill Montinola. A tranche of soft cremeux was infused with the flavor of good Tupelo honey, but not overwhelmed by sweetness. Crisp apple chips, ribbons of candied fennel, a green apple sorbet, fluffy cilantro sponge cake, and a sprinke of "Lula" seaweed "snow" maintained the same deft balance.

A big thank you to Chef Shikany and all of his crew at the restaurant for welcoming us and all the other chefs who participated; to chefs David Sears, Danny Grant, Diego Oka, Timon Balloo and Mathias Gervais for being a part of this "Cobayapalooza"; and as always, most of all, to the guinea pigs whose interest and support make these kinds of events possible.

251 NW 25th Street, Miami, Florida

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