Saturday, September 04, 2010
You know how it is. You hear off and on about how good a particular Chef is and just when you're getting around to possibly making a reservation at the restaurant he's an Executive Chef at, he leaves the restaurant. (sigh) Then you find out that he's going to be serving his food for just one night at a Breadbar Hatchi event so you make reservations. Unfortunately, something comes up and while the rest of your friends enjoy their meal, you can no longer make it. (big sigh). I was ready to throw in the towel or at the very least wait until he finally opens his own restaurant, but thankfully, Test Kitchen came to the rescue.
Test Kitchen is a restaurant conceptualized by Bill Chait and Brian Saltsburg. The idea behind Test Kitchen is that visiting chefs are there for a limited time to experiment and test new menu ideas for dishes that could be served at future restaurant projects. The meal is usually a pre-set tasting menu and innovative mixologists are also on hand to come up with creative cocktail pairings that matches well with the food. Thankfully, Test Kitchen provided the venue for Chef Walter Manzke to showcase his food for two days and I was luckily enough to get invited by a friend to finally have my chance to try Manzke's food.
Along with the Tasting Menu, tapas could be ordered for an additional change, so of course, our group ordered 1 of each starting with the Bread Butter, which came with Vermont butter with sea salt and foie gras lavender honey butter. Of the two butters, I leaned more towards the Vermont butter because the salt added a savory component that I enjoyed.
Next was the Tomato Bread, which was topped with tomatoes, sea urchin and olive oil. The slight juicy acidity of the tomato and the sweetness of the sea urchin were flavors that balanced well together.
The Santa Barbara Spot Prawns were wonderful in their simplicity. Just add butter, garlic, lemon, grill and what more could you ask for?
As for the Corn Beignets with Parmesan cheese and basil aioli, I found them to be a little bit oily and would have loved actual bits of corns in the beignet itself. The basil aioli was wonderful because it added a little grassy pungent flavor component to the dish.
Our last tapa was the Calamari prepared two ways. Half were fried. The others were grilled and sat on a little pool of squid ink aioli. The squid was cooked just right for both renditions and while unexciting, it was a good tasting dish.
Now that we're through with the tapas, it was time for our tasting menu and it started with Hamachi (yellowtail) layered with avocado, green apple and jalapeno with yuzu. This was the perfect way to start the meal. It was cool and refreshing and I really enjoyed how the flavors and textures of sweet, crunchy, tart and spicy interplayed together.
Our second course was the Thai Curry-Carrot Soup with Maine lobster, coconut tapioca, Thai basil seeds, bits of fresh fruit and peanuts. First, we were presented with the bowl and then our server poured the soup in everyone's individual bowl. The broth itself had a good balance of spice (not spicy) and sweet. The lobster was cooked beautifully and I really loved the creative use of the coconut tapioca in a savory-sweet soup as opposed to in a dessert.
Third up was the Loup de Mer with sungold tomatoes and mole verde. Loupe de Mer translates to "Wolf of the Sea" and is basically a sea bass. The fish itself was cooked just right with the meat being light and tender and the skin was wonderfully crispy. I enjoyed that he sungold tomatoes were juicy; however, I wasn't really feeling the mole verde. It seemed a little on the bland side and didn't have the richness in flavor that I would expect from a mole.
Our final savory course before dessert was the Beef Tenderloin with chanterelle mushrooms, Katsuo bushi broth and a poached egg. There was also a smear of yuzo kosho on the side of the bowl, which was a Japanese condiment made of yuzu and chili peppers, to add a little heat to your meat, if you so desire. The meat was cooked to a tender perfection and the broth was amazing. It added an ocean-salty component that I enjoyed. It was almost like a surf and turf dish, with the surf coming from that broth. A perfect bite for me was the steak with the addition of the yuzo kosho and a smear of the yolk. Yum! This was easily my favorite dish of the whole meal.
For dessert, we had a Strawberry Creme Brulee. It didn't seem that exciting when I first read it on the menu; however, it was actually a great way to end our meal . Above, you get the wonderfully caramelized creme brulee, but you as you dug in, you'd get spoonfuls of strawberries, custard and cream. Sometimes, desserts don't have to fancy. They just have to taste delicious and this one did.
Overall, I'm happy that I finally had a chance to try Chef Manzke's food. It was worth the wait and I thought my meal was excellent. To end this post, I have to say that showcasing a test menu at Test Kitchen could be a double-edged sword for the Chef. On the one hand, if the menu isn't a wow, the restaurant patron may not be that excited about going to that Chef's new restaurant when it opens. On the other hand, if the menu is perceived as a delicious success. that Chef could create even more of a buzz for their as yet unopened restaurant. So what did I think of my first taste of Chef Manzke's food? Well, all I have to say is that his new restaurant can't open soon enough to suit me. Thanks Test Kitchen!
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