Monday, July 30, 2012

Modernist Cuisine Feast

Thursday night was the dinner that was the reason for our trip: the Modernist Cuisine Feast, hosted by Maxime Bilet to benefit the Hunger Intervention Program,Teen Feed, Farestart, Hopelink, Food Lifeline, Farmer's Coalition, and McCarver Elementary Edible Schoolyard.  As soon as we walked into the Palace Ballroom, co-host Tom Douglas's lovely event space, we got on line for cocktails. 
Two bartenders: One -- a former Microsoft employee who quit to pursue a degree in food anthropology and is playing around the Modernist lab for the summer, and is therefore basically my hero -- used liquid nitrogen to chill his creations.  His chamomile-jasmine aviation (gin based, but otherwise not aviationesque) and blueberry applemint gin were both great.  Once we drank our way through the list, he also made us a non-alcoholic "gin" -- flavored with juniper and more than a dozen other ingredients reminiscent of gin -- a bourbon cocktail.  The second bartender works at a local bar, and while his tia-leaf lime rickey was delicious, the pastis cocktail unsurprisingly tasted too strongly of licorice for me.

Cocktail hour snacks began to circulate soon after.  I quite liked the simple, delicious liquid nitrogen-frozen apple sorbet, sprinkled with banana mint that had also been frozen with liquid nitrogen and then ground with a mortar and pestle.  It reminded us of the liquid nitrogen cocktails at the Fat Duck, and made Adam's breathe condense.
Cryo Apple Meringues
green apple, cryo Banana Mint powder

Pea "butter" is delicious.  More than thirty pounds of centrifuged peas produce a pound of the vividly green, intensely flavored fat, which was piped onto wafer-thin walnut crackers.
Bread and Butter
who knew peas had fat?

The Modernist take on Mexican corn on the cob was fine, but not my favorite of the canapes: crunchy freeze-dried corn kernals, powdery cheese gratings, leek ash -- more about texture than interesting flavor.
freeze-dried corn, brown butter, cilantro blossoms

However, the elote was followed by my favorite snack: liquid caprese.  Tomato water and mozzarella whey emulsified with olive oil had the texture of cream and the flavor of ripe tomato and good mozzarella.
Liquid Caprese
constructed cream of olive oil, buffalo milk whey, and tomato essence

The cherry salad was good; cherries, lemongrass, cucumber, tomatoes, some sort of pickled onion (shallots?), a film of tomato water gelee and chive blossoms on top, but nothing more exciting than a ripe fruit-and-vegetable combo.
all sorts of cherries, lemongrass, Taki's cucumber, tomato water

I love sunchokes and the use of oyster leaf -- used by minibar on our last three trips -- is clever, so I enjoyed this one.  Seattle definitely helped me to start to appreciate oysters, but it's still a work in progress.
Oysters on the Half Shell
cryo-shucked oysters, sunchoke oyster cream, pickled rose from Susan's garden, oyster leaf

Adam tried the first dish from one of the guest chefs -- Crush's Jason Wilson -- but I (regretfully) passed because of the bacon.  Adam seemed to like it, and it certainly sounded great. Sadly, we somehow missed out on the "onion tart" of "freeze-dried onion, pressure caramelized ramps, flash pickles," because it sounds like a total Jessee food.
Bacon and Eggs
parsnip custard, cured steelhead roe, Bourbon maple syrup

After Chef Max talked a bit about each of the charities benefiting from the evening -- he's clearly passionate about their work and genuinely pleased to be able to help -- we finally made our way into the main dining area, where two long communal tables had been set up.  Adam and I sat at the foot of one table, surrounded by an interesting and professionally diverse (read: non-lawyer!) group of food lovers, including a couple who work on Facebook games and AV for Microsoft, respectively; a food writer; one of the food charity representatives; and a San Francisco-based actuary who has traveled the world to eat.  Great company.

This first fish dish was excellent -- light and fresh, with an interesting centrifuged cantaloupe and honeydew broth that avoided being too sweet.  
Le Cru
white soy cured BC black cod, cobia tartar, herbs, melons, and whimsy

Chef Matt Costello of the Inn at Langley was credited with this one.  Some of the already-lit candles on the table turned out to be coconut oil, which Chef Max went around to pour over our plates.  (One of many dishes that we were told not to "enjoy" until a liquid component was added.)  I really liked the balls of pickled peach.  (The Inn at Langley was highly recommended by a friend of Adam's, and I would certainly be interested to try it on a return trip.)
Dungeness Crab, Black Garlic, Aerated Nuoc Mam, Charred Coconut Oil
infusion, whipped sauce

The "spaghetti" -- actually thinly sliced geoduck clam -- was one of my favorites of the night.  It was covered in a "bagna cauda," traditionally a warm anchovy and garlic dip, with more geoduck subbing for the anchovies.  Normally I don't love geoduck because of the sort of tough texture, but the clam "noodles" were tender and the entire dish was like the platonic ideal of clam sauce flavor.  (Okay, enough scare quotes.)
Spaghetti alle Vongole
Taylor's geoduck, vacuum-molded, centrifuged broth

Another use of the delicious pea butter.  Reminded me of a better version of the pistou that we've had at Stone Barns over the years, which its fava leaves and blossoms, sliced radish, corn, and peas.
Summer Vegetable Broth
centrifuged peas, pickled Meyer lemon, sheep's milk ricotta
Chef Jason Franey said that this dish was premiering on the Canlis menu that evening.  Adam ate it.  (I didn't.)  Apparently meat-flavored butter is an apt description of foie gras, but he didn't find it to be that amazing.

Foie Gras, Blackberry, Chamomile, and Toasted Oats
low temp sous vide

The carrot soup was a perfect example of how the Modernist techniques seem to contrast with the elBulli/minibar/molecular gastronomy (although apparently Adria hates that term?) style: innovate to enhance the inherent flavor of an otherwise sort of normal-seeming dish, rather than playing with form.  The carrots were caramelized in a pressure cooker, with the addition of some baking soda to aid  in caramelization (a technique I've read about and successfully tried for onions).
Caramelized Carrot Soup
pressure caramelization, carotene butter, young coconut noodles

This one was total Jessee-food: essentially a cheese soup with Brussels sprouts, mushrooms, cauliflower, broccoli, bok choy, and grapes for a little sweet contrast to all the richness.  Mmmm.
Spirit of Autumn
gruyere veloute, flash pickled grapes, lots of brassicas

As this dish was placed before us, Chef Max explained out the quails are fed a very special diet to produce these "eggs," which turned out to be spherified passion fruit.  Cute.
Raw Quail Egg
a touch of protein from our rooftop farm

Another use of pressure cooking to intensify flavor.  The strawberry marinara, basil, and grated cheese was a nice mixture of sweet and savory.
Polenta Marinara
pressure-cooked with corn juice

The scrambled egg apparently contained extra yolk, and the combination of egg and porcini marmalade was predictably savory and rich.  The technique was impressive, but the thin, smooth texture of the omelet was a bit odd.
Mushroom Omelet
constructed egg stripes, combi oven, Porcini

Adam and I strongly disagreed on the salmon (which also included lightly cooked ramps and coriander).  He loved it and thought it was one of the highlights of the night.  While I thought the flavors were delicious, the nuts and seeds on top had a gritty texture that I found so pleasant that it severely lessened my enjoyment of this one.
Marble Chinook King Salmon, Hazelnut and Sorrel
delicate brine, aromatic nuts and seeds, lemon butter

 For the next two meat dishes, we got the accompaniments without the meat.  So we didn't get chicken or the fried chicken skin, but did get fiddleheads, wood sorrel, morels, and artichoke hearts.  Sorrel is an interesting flavor, but the artichokes tasted kind of overcooked without the chicken to (presumably?) help balance them.
"Poulet a la Creme"
Mamie France's cream sauce, morels, asparagus

Everyone else raved about the pastrami -- which is brined for one week before its extensive cooking.  (NM brought the pastrami on the Colbert Report.)  Even without the meat, I really liked the Wala Wala onion sauerkraut and stone mustard.  But it was no famous pastrami.
72 h sous vide, Taki's sweet onion sauerkraut, fresh Oregon wasabi

The fruity little shot was a nice palate cleanser.  Poprocksy, I think?  (We're reaching the "it's been too many courses for me to really remember everything" stage of the entry.)
freeze dried raspberry, carbon dioxide

I really, really wanted to like this.  Cheese!  Cotton candy!  What's not to love?  (I am a girl who owns a cotton candy machine.)  Apparently, cheese cotton candy, because it tasted burned.  I'm not sure if the char was an intentional attempt to capture the "grill" flavor (bad idea), or actually was accidentally burned (bad technique).
Grilled Cheese!
centrifuged cheese water, isomalt

I think I liked the milkshake, but I also think it basically just tasted like an alcoholic milkshake.  Not particularly memorable.
Milk Shake
vacuum reduced bourbon and goat milk, banana juice

The dessert soup was amazing -- a delicious, unexpected mix of vegetable and fruit -- cucumber sorbet, candied celery, candied white beans, fennel, cucumber, rhubarb, mango, strawberry, and peach.
Summer Minestrone
vaccum infused fruits and vegetables, candied white beans

Chef Bill Yosses, the White House pastry chef, produced the most disappointing dessert of the night.  The cake was dry and the elements didn't really meld into anything striking.  My guess is that he was playing with techniques in keeping with the dinner's theme, but that they're not really his thing.1
Honey Globes, Pistachio Bar and Local Berries
spherification, cold infusion, summer blossoms

The next pistachio dessert, however, was awesome.  And I'm not even a huge fan of pistachio.  The mix of pistachio textures -- I the the gelato was actually dairy free? -- and floral note was fantastic.
Pistachio Gelato
constructed pistachio cream, Amarena cherry, violet and pistachio crumble

The deconstructed pie was fine, but sort of messy to eat and the (presumably intended) textural contrast of cotton candy-ish coconut threads got lost in the sable.  I missed the explanation of why it was an homage.
Coconut Cream "Pie", Homage to Tom Douglas
toasted coconut sable, pressure caramelized coconut, coconut threads

We ended with "sweeties" (why so twee?).  The gummy worms were interesting, but a bit tough.  I didn't eat the bacon chocolate, although Adam did.
Gummy Worms
peanut butter and jelly, fish-lure molds
Bacon Chocolat
bacon fat ganache, pop rocks

The dinner was in contention for longest we've ever had, and it was definitely among the most enjoyable.  The food was fun, the company was great, and this experience alone would have made the trip to Seattle worth it.  (Luckily, it was a trip filled with highlights.)
1 Edit: or maybe it was just a bad dish?
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