November 3, 2014

Lunch on the rocks

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I have been remiss.  It's been months since I last paid Chef Uwe Opocensky a visit, and every once in a while he'll drop hints which, over time, became increasingly less subtle.  When it became painfully obvious that Uwe was feeling neglected and unloved, I roped a friend into doing lunch with me at the Mandarin Grill + Bar, then pinged Uwe and told him I was coming.  After all, we both love Uwe's food, and really should take time to visit our friends more regularly...

After sitting down at our table by the window - which, by the way, has plenty of lighting for pictures - Uwe came over to check on us.  Now, when a chef asks you to go visit him so you could try out some new dishes, it is best to leave things up to the chef.  So we dispensed with ordering, but I pleaded with Uwe "not to kill me" with too much food - like the time when I almost exploded in the restaurant...  He promised to go easy on me.  Uh-huh.

We were offered a glass of "R" de Ruinart to start.  I hadn't planned on drinking at lunch, but decided it would be poor form to turn down the Champagne.  Nicely balanced and very easy to drink.

When the waitstaff comes over, and asks you to remove the glassware from the table so that he can lay silicone mats on the table top, you know you're in trouble.  Usually the silicone mat comes out at the end of the meal... for the grand dessert presentation that's kinda OTT... so what did this all mean?

Our "starter" was in fact a whole series of seafood, and Uwe simply called it "a taste of the seaside".

First Uwe came and sprinkled a bunch of fermented beer soil around.  Then the staff came over and laid down a bowl containing pebbles and seaweed, and liquid was poured into the bowl so that the dry ice could release the scent of the sea.  This was by now a familiar sight, and Uwe said he works with someone in Spain for the scent - which makes sense considering Azurmendi has a presentation like this.  Then someone brought a big rock and set it in the middle of the bowl, and the staff proceeded to bring out more rocks, progressively - each bearing a different type of seafood on top.

Oysters - coming in two different flavors.  My friend had the one with sake granita while I took the one with lemon foam.

I really liked this.  There was plenty of acidity, but also sweetness so it wasn't all one-way - kinda like having lemon sorbet.  There was also caviar here.

By the way the fermented beer soil didn't taste like beer to us, even though Uwe mentioned something about Oktoberfest... If anything it may have tasted a little like malt, and was savory in general.  Scooping the occasional spoonful into the mouth together with some of the seafood seemed to provide interesting results.

Pebbles - we were told some were real but others merely looked like pebbles.  We were able to distinguish them by poking a couple with our forks.

It turns out these were blocks of tuna, wrapped in layers of gelatin.  The gelatin was made with capers and gherkins, which provided the acidity to balance out the flavors from the tuna.  When I ate the gelatin together with the tuna, I had real trouble distinguishing any flavors from the gelatin.  It was only when I deliberately separate the gelatin and tasted it on its own that the acidity really came through.  Pretty interesting...

King crab -  these were sections of Alaskan king crab legs where meat from the two ends had been removed and replaced with mayonnaise.  Gotta say that the crab meat tasted incredible - so full of flavors of the sea.  And little wonder that mayo went beautifully with crab meat...

Razor clams - diced razor clams were served on a bed of soil, along with fennel, dill and dill flowers.  Lovely both in terms of presentation as well as flavors.

Lobster tartare - After the first round of rocks, Uwe brought us a new one, and this came with a layer of lobster tartare smeared on one side, sprinkled with powdered seaweed.

We were to grab one of the paper-thin chips made from scallops, and scrape the lobster off the rock.  That way we could have both lobster and scallops in the same mouthful.  Definitely very interesting... and once again we're playing with our food.

Cured salmon - Uwe described this as a cross between gravlax and smoked salmon, where the salmon is first cured, then cooked, and finally smoked.  Served with salmon roe, caviar, spinach, and sprinkled with freeze-dried seaweed powder.

Langoustine - fresh and tasty, and perfectly done.  Interestingly served with a dab of sauce that seemed to be made of the langoustine tomalley.  Yum.

Clam chowder - we were presented with these two-layer contraptions and the chowder was poured into the top layer.

The liquid slowly drained through holes into the bottom cup, while the tiny vegetable balls remained.  Curiously, there were no clams in the clam chowder... but it was tasty nevertheless.

With that, our trip to the seaside was finally over.  It was time to move on to a seasonal ingredient - white truffles from Alba.

Macaroni: handmade, mushroom, cream, white truffle - Uwe brought out a bowl of mushroom macaroni, then mixed two duck egg yolks into the bowl - creating that golden hue.  Then came the white truffle shavings.  Uwe said the quality of his current shipment is the best so far, and it really showed.  The fragrance was simply incredible.  Together with chanterelles and ceps, I felt like I was in mushroom heaven.

And that duck egg yolk... you really gotta have yolk to make that thick, sticky sauce.  So damn good I had to wipe the plate clean.  Of course, I ain't no I Love Lubutin so I ain't got no skillz with my index finger, but I have fork use, and I think I did a pretty decent job cleaning my plate with it...

Thankfully that was the last of it.  Both of us were really full, and there was only room for some madeleines.  We each got a "regular" as well as a chocolate madeleine, and both were delicious.  We even got one to take back to the office.

This was certainly beyond our expectations, but I should have known better than to think that I could have a "normal" lunch when Uwe knows I'm around.  Both of us left the restaurant satiated, and wishing that we could spend the next hour strolling to digest our lunch instead of going back to our desks...  Many, many thanks to Uwe for sending us all the extra seafood...

We really are overdue for another visit to the Krug Room...

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