‘Tis that time of year when suddenly, precipitously, business falls off for about 6-8 weeks. It’s like clockwork, well, calendarwork I suppose, as a clock has little to do with dates. Mid-April until the end of May is the slow time of year for restaurants around here – and talking with friends in the biz, everyone’s getting hit the same way – perhaps even more so than in past years with the drop in tourism. There were also the vagaries of having a large number of people reserve and then cancel unexpectedly, including a trio of South African businessmen who asked me to hold their spots without deposit because they were hiking in Patagonia and they’d pay when they got back – instead, the night before their reservation, they informed me that they’d changed their mind and had figured I wouldn’t hold the spots anyway. Really? Then why the request and back and forth e-mails to begin with? And though completely anecdotal on my part, it’s something I’ve observed with South Africans – I have to assume it’s a cultural thing with regard to reservations – deposit or not, over the 7+ years we’ve been in business, roughly 3/4 of them either cancel at last minute or simply don’t show up. Any South African readers out there to comment on how reservations are typically viewed there?
Still, we managed to eke three nights out instead of our usual four, with a total of 21 people spread between them. And, a few really fascinating folk joined us – a young man from Italy who makes his living playing online poker as he travels around the world, a young couple from California who just completed a motorcycle trip from southern California to Patagonia over the last six months; an online game designer, an indie film producer; and a war correspondent from Spain, along with everyone else who always has an interesting tale to tell. This week was an anniversary of a Key West themed dinner we did a few years back. I started from that menu and then went off in other directions…
We kicked the evenings off with a warm salad of jibia, the tentacles of the Humboldt Squid, a personal favorite. I confited the wriggly things in olive oil with salt, black pepper, garlic, thyme, cinnamon stick and star anise, let them cool, cut them into segments and then rewarmed them for service in the oil they were cooked in. Scattered with two different types of eggplant sauteed with smoked paprika, roasted cherry tomatoes, a mix of sprouts, a crumble of fontina cheese and fennel crackers (delicious and something I’ll make again and use in other ways), and dotted with a black olive mayo, green lemon oil, and a lightly foamed chorizo puree.
A portobello and caramelized onion soup – inspired by a somewhat famous soup from a fave KW restaurant, Cafe Sole. I have no idea how they make theirs, but I simply sweated onions with butter until golden in color, added grated carrot and celery and cooked a few more minutes, added thinly sliced portobellos and cooked another few. Deglazed the pot with port and white wine. Then filled the pot up with a quick mushroom stock made from button mushrooms, a sprig of thyme, brought it to a simmer and cooked from about 15 minutes to meld the flavors, and finally finished with a little cream, salt and pepper.
Fresh tagliatelle verde – egg noodles made with pureed spinach and black pepper. The sauce a blended mix of mascarpone, milk, egg yolk, olive oil, peperoncino, garlic and parmesan, salt and white pepper – to keep it from separating a little bit of xanthan gum. Tossed with the noodles and then they’re topped with a saute of breadcrumbs and panceta lardons with a mix of fresh oregano, thyme, parsley and chives. One of my favorite pasta dishes.
Oven-roasted palometa served with Andean potatoes (papines) and a brunoise of serrano ham, sauteed turnip greens with garlic (except one night when the market ran out of turnip greens and I used chicory instead), mustard caviar, and a red wine and fish stock reduction sauce.
And, we finished off the evenings with a coffee cheesecake – espresso crust, cappucino cheesecake filling, caramelized lemon and orange peel, toasted pistachios, and a chocolate sauce made from the juice of the oranges and lemons and melted dark chocolate.