"I have the simplest tastes. I am simply satisfied with the best." - Oscar Wilde

"I came, I saw, I ate." - Au Gourmand

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Recette - February 5, 2011

In Chinese, the essence of deliciousness, the elixir of gastronomic joy, is symbolized in one character – 鮮 – which is made of two parts: The left signifies “fish,” while the right “lamb.” The Chinese believed when something from the land was combined with something from the sea, the result would take on the best of both worlds; well, they wished, in any case. 鮮 is used to describe a dish that has the extra something, which elevates it to a higher plain, which mesmerizes diners for one more bite, and in short, which is what makes the dish special.

Salt Cod Fritters, Lamb Sausage Ragu, Curry Aioli

A similar concept to 鮮 can be found across the Atlantic in Surf n’ Turf and, on this night in February, it had reincarnated at Recette. One of their signature dishes, the salt cod fritters with lamb ragu, is Recette’s very own recette – meaning “recipe” in French – for the surf n’ turf. First, the fritters: The fibrous salt cod had been gently molded into a cute little ball, then finely breaded and fried to a hot ball of light crispness. The taste of sea in the cod, without any creamy embellishment, was simple by itself. Moving on to the ragu, the meaty lamb struck out wildly, bold and forceful, through the acidic tomato sauce: a wake-up call after the dormant cod ball. When the ragu and the fritters were consumed together, the fishiness of the cod gave unsubtle nuances to the muscular ragu. The little squirt of curry aioli was not enough to define the dish, yet it laid another layer of nuance for the diners to enjoy, to discuss and to ponder. At the end, do these all work together? Yes, they do, surprisingly. Considering their diverse origins, they manage not to kill each other, and moreover, they cohabit on top of each other. The chef had the technique to juggle the fritters on a very thin rope, balancing lamb on the one hand, and the curry on the other. Nevertheless, were the ragu and aioli necessary to complete the dish? No, not at all: Each cod, lamb and curry would have been happy to be left on its own with some space to breathe, I am sure. I think my brain found the fritters to be more interesting than my stomach.

"Buffalo" Sweetbreads, Pickled Celery, Blu di Bufala Dip

Another smart play of food concepts, this time the joke was played on the classical sweetbreads and buffalo wings. The chef took buffalo sweetbreads – large white squares of them with a texture similar to tofu but with more elasticity – and lightly fried them like age-dashi tofu* and rolled in fiery buffalo seasoning. The strong taste of the buffalo (here, I refer to the animal) sweetbreads matched the heavy seasoning well. On the other hand, the blu di bufala dip seemed to overdo the effect for the sake of verisimilitude.
*This is the correct way to say it, not age tofu, which, by the way, definitely has nothing to do with “age” as in “old.” “Age” means fried, and “dashi” stock.

Fall Squash Espuma, Roasted Foie Gras, Brussels Sprouts, Bacon Broth

This mousse-like soup was the height of the chef’s culinary skill on the table. The soup could have been heavy due to the cream unless, as here, it had been whipped and whisked to an airiness otherwise unattainable. Therefore, as much as I abhor foam as a general rule, this was the very first time that I could understand the reasoning behind it; and the usage of N2O cartridges did not appear as a child’s play with the shaving cream. The foie gras, well-concealed under the bright orange foam, was creamy and lovely, while the salt sprinkled on it acted as a catalyst to transform the nature of the squash espuma from a polished mademoiselle to a mature and confident lady with substance. The Brussels sprouts leaves showed that this formidable lady still had a few pleasurable tricks under her elegant fingers. Il Buco could learn a thing or two from this dish and redo their Brussels sprouts “petals.”

Grilled Pulpo, Black Garlic Purée, Fennel, Preserved Lemon, Rosemary

Octopus has become so fashionable in the last few years, has it not? All of a sudden, this model of alien life forms has taken over the appetizer section on the menu of numerous restaurants. Imagine, when I first came to the United States, people used to scowl at me for eating this devil-incarnate. Ah, the masses.

Recette’s octopus was expertly grilled. The balance of the citrus, the herbal fennel – impossibly thinly shaved so you could see through each opaque sheet, the piney rosemary all worked to create a perfectly composed and executed dish, if however, rather unmemorable.

Lobster Risotto, Wild Mushrooms, Lobster Emulsion, Perigord Truffle

I had been nursing my suspicion that the quality of the truffles exported out to countries with less differentiating palates has been constantly declining. The three thin shavings of “Perigord” truffles on the risotto did not taste of truffle and, its sole contribution was to unload a corky texture on the rice. The wild mushrooms had thoroughly failed in their designated offices in bringing out the flavor of the incompetent truffle. The adequately cooked rice - if it were rice indeed, for I had never seen such orzo-sized grains – was absent-mindedly salted. The saving grace of this risotto was the lumps of lobster meat – lovingly cooked to the point where rawness had just left, but sufficiently before the crunchy chewiness gave into stiff rubberiness.

Berkshire Pork Belly, Rock Shrimp, Turnips, Romesco, Sherry Caramel

Romesco, the menu said; however, Chinatown, it tasted. Along with the sherry caramel, it was akin to Chinese roasted pork – after all, don’t they just love their pork bellies and sweet and sour? The rock shrimp tempura was completely out of place on top of the over-roasted and dry pork. What was it doing there? If it was not so flagrantly featured in the menu, I would have thought the sous-chef had dropped it on the pork by mistake. If you want a low-fat pork belly, this is how you would do it – roast it and roast it and roast it.

"Smores," Graham Cracker Ice Cream, Toasted Marshmallow

A fun and adult interpretation of the Girl Scouts favorite, the liquid marshmallow (they come in jars in case you are wondering) was smeared across the plate like a Fauvism painting then scorched by a burner, while the ice cream hid gingerly graham crackers. The dish was amusing intellectually; however, the taste was still smores. This dessert seemed to embody the theme of Recette: Brainy food for thoughts, but not gastronomic food to light up my stomach.

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