Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Cobaya 1826 with Chef Danny Grant

At Cobaya, we love when chefs have passions they wish to pursue. When we first started talking to Chef Danny Grant about doing a dinner, he told us his passion was truffles. Initially I was puzzled when he said he wanted to do a truffle-themed dinner in the dead of August, when I'm accustomed to only seeing – and being disappointed by – summer truffles.[1] But Danny said he was bringing in Australian black Perigord truffles, and that they were great.

Grant is the chef at 1826 Restaurant & Lounge, a restaurant, bar and lounge in the heart of South Beach that opened last year. Before coming to Miami to open 1826, he had made a name for himself in Chicago heading the kitchen at the now-closed RIA, which garnered two Michelin stars during Danny's tenure in 2011-12 (and during which time he also earned a "Best New Chefs" recognition from Food & Wine magazine). Danny's resume – and the samples of his cooking I've had from a visit to the restaurant and the dish he contributed to our Cobayapalooza dinner last month – gave me some confidence in his judgment. We let him go with it, and I'm glad we did.

The truffles – eight pounds worth, supplied by Truffle & Wine Co., whose VP of sales, Frank Brunacci, was in attendance – were a revelation for me. The company started cultivating Perigord truffles in Australia more than ten years ago, inoculating oak trees with DNA-tested Perigold truffle fungus (tuber melanosporum), and produced their first truffle seven years later. I don't know how you pitch that business plan, but I'm grateful someone supported it. Maybe it was luck of the draw, as the quality of truffles generally can vary considerably – but if these were only 90% as good as the best Perigord truffles I've had from France, they were 100% better than many of the muted, bland ones I've still paid top dollar for, with an intense, complex, musky aroma of earth and underbrush and smoke.

Here's what Danny did with them:[2]

(You can see all my pictures in this Cobaya 1826 flickr set).

As guests started to fill the dining room, a couple passed appetizers were circulated - kumamoto oysters bathing in a truffle-infused cream, and these Keller-style tuna tartare cornets topped with a dusting of citrus and black truffle.

There were six courses listed on his printed menu, but once everyone was seated, Danny also added this off-menu amuse bouche: a couple delicate foie gras and truffle filled dumplings, swimming in an ice wine consommé that was poured tableside. Really elegant and clean stuff, especially that limpid, golden-hued broth.

Aside from the hurdle of convincing diners that summer truffles can be as good as the winter varieties, an additional challenge is what you do with them. Many typical truffle recipes – risottos, pastas, beef w Perigord sauce – are heavy, winter dishes. Grant responded to that challenge with a delicate seafood dish that made perfect sense for a hot Miami summer. Sea scallops were poached in milk infused with aromatics and black truffle, then served along with lobes of Hakurei turnip cooked to a similar tender consistency, all draped with a truffle vinaigrette, showered with matchsticks of black truffle, and topped tableside with a foamy "fumé blanc" sauce.

(continued ...)

Grant's next dish was also seasonally appropriate, inspired by the flavors of a summer picnic – specifically, fried chicken and potato salad. He cooked clever hollow tubes of potato in aromatic olive oil, and paired them with cured chicken, foie gras, a potato foam, and a cold, crispy powder of chicken skin and truffle. This dish seemed like a bit of a mess at first – but I found myself enjoying it more and more as I continued to eat it.

Staying relatively light, this fish course may have been my dish of the night. Grant took wild black bass, shingled its dramatically black-and-white patterned skin with coins of black truffle, then steamed it with the truffles and other aromatics and plated it with some delicate wilted romaine lettuce. The bass was served with two sauces: a lobster, scallop and shellfish reduction mounted with truffles, lemon and white wine; and, tableside, a frothy lobster and truffle emulsion perfumed with orange. Grant talked about how sauce-making is something of a "lost art," but also demonstrated that it's not completely lost. This kind of technique is hard to come by in Miami these days.

For the final savory course, Grant went more traditional: a wagyu New York strip topped with disks of bone marrow, paired with buttery potato purée and chanterelle mushrooms, and topped with a rich black truffle and madeira jus, with more black truffles shaved on top tableside. Pretty resolutely old school; pretty perfectly executed.

As a pre-dessert cheese course, we were served creamy Brillat Savarin cheese, whipped with truffles, honey and fig, topped with a delicate tuile and a tuft of lightly dressed mache lettuce. The rich, slightly tangy triple cream cheese was a very effective vehicle for the flavor of the truffles.

To finish, a rich black truffle infused milkshake, paired with a wavy ribbon of flexible chocolate ganache, almond and crumbled sable breton cookies.

So thanks to Chef Danny Grant of 1826 and Frank Brunacci of Truffle & Wine Co. for turning me on to an exciting and relatively new food product. But even more so, thanks for putting together and executing a menu that not only showed off that ingredient, but was executed with some seriously refined technique and some deeply honed flavors. Danny's style is an interesting bridge between classical and contemporary, with an elegance that is not often found in this town.

Thanks as well to the whole team at 1826, who ran a bustling dining room all night (filled not only with forty-one Cobaya guinea pigs, but also several other guests of the restaurant at the same time), and as always most of all, to the guinea pigs whose interest and support make these events possible.

1826 Restaurant & Lounge
1826 Collins Avenue, Miami Beach, Florida

[1] Actually, "But summer truffles are totally worthless bullshit" may have been what I said to the Chowfather.

[2] A confession: I'm actually not such a big fan of the "truffle menu" thing. It's not that I don't like truffles – I do – but rather, that I'd much rather have one great truffle dish as part of a menu, than have that same distinctive, and somewhat domineering, flavor, repeated through each course of a dinner. Often I find it loses some of its impact that way. I know, classic #firstworldproblems.


  1. I have to tell you how much I really enjoy your blog, I'm a newer reader and floridian, so thank you. Comment on this dinner is to say, tho I don't have the obvious skills Chef Grant has attained, at the same time, I believe there are very very many less skilled who can achieve great heights using only the most expensive ingredients in the world. I have been in the most upscale restaurant and hotel business all of my life and had always challenged both the chefs/bridgarde as well as myself to strive for this atmosphere without the need to both spend so much as well as the overcharging to the public that will usually follow. Special fetes, et al aside…Rather allot the savings to those in real need of nutrition. Just saying...

  2. Thanks for the kind words. I agree with you that often the use of luxury ingredients is a "cheat" - what's not going to taste good showered in truffles? But Grant has some really sound technique underlying his use of those truffles and can flat out cook. I'll go so far as to say you could have taken the truffles out of every one of these dishes & they'd still have been great.

    (I also think that the $150pp T&T included price tag on this meal was far from overcharging, but was actually a relative bargain given that Australian black truffles' retail prices are pretty comparable to French Perigords in season, and there were a whole lot of them served).

    I don't think dining well, even luxuriously, occasionally, is inconsistent with doing what you can to address hunger issues or any other cause that matters to you. It's not our mission statement, but in each of the past couple years we've done an event to benefit a particular charitable cause, and I hope we'll be able to do more.

  3. well said…well done; thanks for your reply! I must also admit that I was unaware of the 'reasonable' price tag on these or that event. Keep up this very good work, best a

  4. Looks amazing. I will have to check cobaya out!


  5. Stellar post dude. Summer truffles are a disgrace to the epic fungus. Will Cobaya be doing any sort of exquisite Winter White dinner?