Why is my title in quotes? Well, because as savvy as I think I am with words, that phrase is elegant in its simplicity, but hints at some playfulness in its humbleness. Huh? Yeah, I’m getting to the point.
I was fortunate to be invited by a good friend to his home for the evening for a meal that will be forever etched in my memory. I was afforded the chance to have an underground dinner. If you are unfamiliar with underground dinners, please refer to “supper clubs.” Specifically, this event was a dinner put on by a gracious host and a talented chef, and it just happens that this HGC member was friends with the host. (Lucky me!) In addition, there was a molecular gastronomy component to the meal (even bigger score!). If you don’t know what that is check it out here. I have been to Chef Alvin Leung’s Bo Innovation in Hong Kong, and while it is obvious that Chef Dan has not reached that level, I think he is on a path there.
(YOU CAN SKIP THESE NEXT 2 PARAGRAPHS IF YOU ARE TIRED, BORED, OR PLAIN HATE THE WAY I RAMBLE. AFTER THAT THE FOOD DESCRIPTIONS WILL BEGIN AND SPARE YOU OF MY INITIAL AND OVERALL IMPRESSIONS. YOU ARE A MONSTER FOR SKIPPING.)
Now, I know some of us, even if we are foodie’s tend to poke fun at the words used by sommelier’s to describe wine.
However, as I sit and write this piece I am struck by the very same problem that they encounter on a nightly basis for their job. How do I convey the sensations, experiences, thoughts, and feelings to another person with words when it would be better for them just to try it on their own? What captures the essence of this wine and tells the diner this is what is going to happen in your mouth? In my position, how do I tell you, the reader, this is what I saw, smelled, tasted, and imbibed when the experience is so unique and singular, that some part of me is sad I only have pictures to show you all . . . (where are you Smell-o-vision!?).
Thus, I have a great respect for my friend/sommelier/host when he had to work, and I do mean work, with his friend the chef (they say “cook,” but I say “chef”) to create pairings for unique plates created by Chef Dan. I’m going to be honest, I’ll simply say the wine pairings were great, and “sang” together, but because I am NOT a wine expert. I cannot tell you that I would/could think to pair another wine with each plate. Moreover, I cannot recall the exact tastes because I was HAVING FUN! I think that is the biggest thing to take away from this whole write-up. The experience was as good as any fine dining experience, but it had a casualness and fun element that you would feel in any neighbor’s backyard. So let’s just say “wine guy” did his job, and did it extremely well. I would do him injustice (and make an ass out of myself) if I even tried to critique his wine pairing skills. Let’s just say he rocks, and you all should have a sommelier friend because they are like pocket watches, classy to show off, and are also quite handy at parties.
- Aubergine, Yogurt, Renkon, Mentaiko. This was a perfect starter, small crispy bites of lotus, with the chewiness and texture of the aubergine with the hint of mentaiko, floating with the yogurt. Altogether it was earth (aubergine and renkon), sea (mentaiko), and the airiness of the yogurt reminded me of clouds, air. It was put together quite well.
- Tail, Apple. It was like an explosion in my mouth. Why? First, you bite into the crunchiness of the deep-fried batter on the outside, but then the pork tail sweet and succulent. The apple played nicely to add some tartness, and because it was cut so thin it was just adding that sour and the crunch coming from the outside. As the second dish, it was good because the portion was small.
- Popcorn, Apple, Caramel. Chef Dan if you read this, can I have some more of this 3rd dish? Like sent to my house? Popcorn?! Popcorn isn’t fancy or classy, you say? Try bathing it in Truffle salt. That’s right that buttery goodness that coats the mouth that is truffle oil with salt was all over the popcorn, just like I was all over it when it was served. So, I’m glad you weren’t invited to this if you are too snobby for popcorn (we also drank Krug with this dish, so suck on that snobs).
So the popcorn was popped perfectly, light and airy, and there were small slivers of green apple scattered. However, the highlight was the caramel. The caramel thanks to some chemistry came out in a powdered form. So you would sprinkle it on the popcorn and it would be like you were eating caramel popcorn (and apples), but it was like the salt. Very creative, playful, and because its lightness a great start for the first three because from there on out it started to get heavier.
- Shrimp, Wasabi, Mango. I’m allergic to shrimp, yes I know, boohoo to me, let me hear it all you crustacean-lovers. However, next time you bite into a shrimp think about this, shrimp are like the cockroaches of the sea, what do you think they eat? Stick that in your pipe and smoke it! Thanks Glee! However, if you want an opinion from someone who tasted this dish check out Frugal Foodie’s write-up, here.
- Confit, Thai Basil, Tomato, and Snow. I’ve had a lot of bad confit before, and it is too bad because it was one of my favorite dishes. Generally, someone overcooks it or it is too dry and chewy. Good confit should be moist and tender. This one was, and the addition of thai basil and the tomatoes played nicely with the confit. So there was the crispness of the thai basil, the sour and pop of the tomato, all the while flaked with foie gras snow. Yes, you read me right, foie gras snow, and you know what? There was a foie gras dish coming soon too!
- Scallop, Cauliflower, Lilikoi. I’m not a scallop eater, so all I can say that this was solid. The scallop was cooked to perfection. Moreover, the balance of bitter and crunch of the cauliflower played nicely with the tenderness of the scallop. All of this was linked through the sweetness of the Lilikoi droppings. It did nicely break up the duck dishes, so it was not like duck overload. So good placement during the meal.
- Foie Gras, Grape, Tarragon. I love foie gras . . . I would love to be lazy and just tell you that this was awesome and be done with it rather than relive the memory and then crave it again, but I guess that would not be fair to you. So here goes, it was totally AWESOME! How’s that? Look, it was a good-sized (read as, it was huge) of foie gras, the grapes really added some sweetness and nice counterbalance texture . . . and the bread, was good bread. However, I’ll be honest just give me foie gras and I’ll give you an extra shiso leaf rating . . . . The tarragon drops and a sip of wine made all of this go down nicely. For me I think this was one of the many highlights of the meal.
- Duck, Chocolate, Brussel Sprout, Shimeji. I would say this was a very fine dish. A lot of flavors and textures going on all at the same time. Might have been a tad too complex, but since I love duck and I like the use of bitter chocolate as support it all worked for me. The brussel sprout leaves were good, but I found my tongue being drawn more to the duck, chocolate, and shimeji mushrooms. I wouldn’t take out the brussel sprouts though because the leaves added good crunch to the duck when consumed together. Definitely would have gotten seconds of this . . . actually, come to think of it, I would have a seconds of a lot of dishes.
- Marrow, Himalaya, and Parsley. The marrow was cooked to perfection. In fact, if it had just been the marrow with Himalayan salt I would have sang, and not the mountains . . . . I thought in terms of portions the bread and parsley were too much. If it had been one slice of bread with a few leaves of parsley it would have been fine. I’m just being nitpicky. The marrow (the main event of this dish) was definitely a star.
Might I just add that I loved the salt, and as a “supertaster” I kind of wanted to steal it . . . just being honest.
- Kalamansi, Seed. This was a palate cleanser. So I it did its job effectively. I’ll be honest this wasn’t one of the most memorable cleansers I have had, but that’s not always the point. I will say the basil seeds added a very unique flavor, which did the job very well.
- Steak, Mushroom, Sunchoke. It was steak . . . like foie gras and marrow, all I can say is I like it. The steak was cooked perfectly, it soaked up its spices. It was juicy and tender, and the mushrooms and sunchoke played a nice support to it all. I will also add I’ve never had sunchoke before, so I did like the taste as a new experience. I’m glad the palate cleanser came before this because I had the parade of confit, scallop, duck, and then marrow. If I had the steak after the marrow, I suspect I would have been overwhelmed.
- Chocolate, Vanilla. I don’t know how I feel about his dish. On the one hand I like chocolate, and I’d say it was decent. I’m not sure if I liked the texture and the zest. I think I would definitely have to have another try, and I’d say I would like to eat it at a meal that wasn’t as many courses. I think the heaviness of the steak beforehand might have been lingering in my mouth.
- Coffee. I found the coffee tapioca balls, well kind of muted in flavor, given all the previous dishes. It didn’t taste like coffee, more like coffee after taste, if you know what I mean? I think it would have been more successful if it had placed in something or the balls were infused a little bit more with coffee. However, I still appreciate the playful concoction and its placement during the meal. And that was it.
Dinner started when there was still dim light in the sky, so it was slightly after seven. We did not finish until well after midnight. You know what? It didn’t feel that long. Why? Because it was fun all the way through and there was enough time to enjoy the dishes, get the complexity, drink your wine, and talk about it with your fellow diners. I enjoyed it all, and in fact as I am writing this I am getting hungry again thinking about it. In terms of the meal it was good and definitely memorable, I’d say not all the dishes were strong, but the overall complexity of the meal was good. Moreover, you have to consider that these thirteen menu items were each paired with a wine, and that this was all done in a 2-man show. So it was just unfortunate that these two do not have an establishment.
However, the bigger misfortune for Hawaii and my hungry stomach is Chef Dan is leaving the islands; he is heading off for a new culinary experience on the mainland. I am hoping while he is there he refines his craft even more, and my stomach shall wait for his return home. Also I hope Chicago loses some games or something because they are gaining some great food talent. I expect another meal like this, but better in the future if you are reading this Dan. In the mean time, I still have “wine guy,” so at least it’s not a complete lost.
To my readers, enjoy the pictures, but know that they do not fully capture how enjoyable the dinner truly was. I highly recommend if you know a friend in the restaurant business, and think they are good, sit down and plan a dinner like this for a perfect weather evening because you will have something better than the food and the wine, you will have a good memory.