Sunday, September 21, 2008
Notes from a ★★★★★ restaurant …
I have this theory about gourmet food, which is partially derived from the book Class: A Guide Through the American Status System, and partially derived from watching countless episodes of Iron Chef America (“Today's secret ingredient … squid eyeballs!”).
The food in a four or five star restaurant is of course going to be the best example of whatever it is you are getting, whether its Beef Wellington or pan seared squid eyeballs in a lemon-butter sauce. If it weren't the best example it wouldn't be a four or five star restaurant, now would it?
Now, to frequent such a place, you have to either be rich, or have access to a fantastic expense account. And I'm sure that after your twelfth perfectly cooked Beef Wellington, you'll get bored. So maybe that pan seared squid eyeball in a lemon-butter sauce sounds interesting. I mean, it'll be the best squid eyeballs you've ever had because this is, you know, a four or five star restaurant. And there's only so much Beef Wellington you can eat.
And that is why I'm convinced that is the only reason chefs cook such odd dishes as squid eyeballs in a lemon-butter sauce, lest their clientele become bored with Black-and-white truffle pizza with Mozzarella di Bufala Campana, heirloom tomatoes and fresh lemon basil drizzled lightly with extra virgin olive oil from the Azienda Agricola Librandi region of Italy, again.
Back in November of 2000, I had Thanksgiving Dinner with John, the paper millionaire of a dot-com at his house in an exclusive neighborhood of Boca Raton, Florida. During dinner, we were served an acorn squash soup.
I hate squash. Doesn't matter which kind of squash, I hate squash (and pumpkins—can't stand pumpkin pie in fact). But since I was a gracious guest, I decided to at least try the acorn squash soup.
It was the best acorn squash soup I ever had. Sure, I hate squash but it was so good I wish I had seconds.
Yes, five star food is incredibly good, even if you don't like it (and yes, I still hate squash and squash soups).
But it's not everyday I get to dine at a four or five star restaurant.
Today, Bunny and I dined at Chef Allen's, a five-star restaurant in Aventura. She had been invited to a retirement dinner for a friend, and Chef Allen happened to be this friend's brother-in-law.
Once inside, we found our seats and checked the menu for the night's dinner.
Zucchini & Ricotta Ravioli
Brown Butter and Spinach
Blue Crab Cake
Pineapple Tzatiki, Summer Kimchee
******** ******** ********
Organic Green Salad
Herbs, Nuts and Berries
Pan Seared Grouper
Giant Peruvian Lima Bean Sofrito
Herb Grilled Medallion of Beef
Scallion Mashed Golden Yukons, Wild Mushroom Port Sauce
While I love crab cakes, I'm not a fan of sauerkraut (and by extension, kimchee, acorn squash soups aside), therefore I decided to try the ravioli. My only complaint about this dish was the toughness of the pasta, but I was advised by Bunny (and later on, by Wlofie) that the rather firm al dente I encountered was the proper way to serve pasta. Outside of that (and I will admit I tend to like my pasta a bit softer) it was very good; Bunny found the crab cake a bit on the hot (spicy) side (due, no doubt, to the kimchee) but still, very good.
This was followed by the salad. If there was a dressing, it was so light it wasn't noticeable, but even so, it was excellent (and I tend like dressing with a little bit of salad). The toasted walnuts may have been a bit too toasted for my liking, but at this point, even I will say I'm being too nitpicky.
This was followed by a small scoop of raspberry sorbet with a fresh mint leaf to cleanse the palate. I heard from some people around me that the raspberry sorbet was too tart, but the intent was to eat the sorbet and the mint leaf at the same time; the mint counter-balanced the tartness of the raspberry to make for a refreshing palate cleanser prior to the main course.
And it's here I think I've watched one too many episodes of Iron Chef America—“counter-balanced the tartness” indeed.
I'm not a real big fan of seafood, so I skipped the surf and went for the turf—the herb grilled medallion of beef, which was as tender as butter. The knife didn't so much as cut as it fell through effortlessly. I was relieved that the scallion mashed golden yukons were indeed, mashed and not the trendy “smashed” but again, that's a personal preference on my part. And they were delicious. So was the asparagus, crisp and not at all mushy.
The whole meal was excellent (personal preferences aside) but that's to be expected, because this is a five-star restaurant. Why wouldn't it be excellent?