Ahh the vagaries of taste. I know that on our website I state:
I do hope that we serve good food and that people enjoy it, but I’ve been around enough to know that not everyone has the same tastes.
In a fantasy world of some sort, everyone would like everything I cook. But this is reality. If I’m cooking food that everyone likes it’s likely that I’m cooking very basic, simple food and not taking any chances or experimenting, so that no one has anything to possibly object to. How boring would that be? For everyone. Of course, it bothers me when people make negative comments in online forums or their blogs…
At the same time, I often find myself mystified when I get wildly disparate feedback from guests at the same dinner, sharing the same table, the same food and wine, same atmosphere – it’s one thing if it’s different nights of the same week, I can understand that things are different in the group dynamic and perhaps something is better or worse coming out of the kitchen. To whit, this last Saturday in particular, here are some of the feedback comments: “The food was wonderful and the whole experience amazing”; “Perfect wine pairings”; “I’ve never had a red wine with a fish. I believe the fish should have come with white wine and you must serve the fish before the meat, the order is important”; “This is the best dessert I’ve ever had in my life”; “Quality and finesse of the food, wine pairings were terrible”; “Great evening and great company”.
I realize that some of it is just people who feel the need to share their opinion, no matter what – especially on social media. I’ve written before about the sort of people who rush to post something (usually negative) online (not just about us, but about any dining experience) before the plates have been dried in the kitchen. I’ve actually had people tell me that they’re “obligated” to do so simply because they need to maintain their online “street cred”, as if no one would follow them if they said something nice. I’ve even had TripAdvisor remove nasty, negative comments from people who separately send me an email telling me that they actually enjoyed themselves, but they “have to” appear negative online – a few of them have lost their accounts over it when I’ve shared those emails with TA (not my intent, it’s just how TA handles stuff like that). Those people forget that their comments do have an effect on the businesses they’re “reviewing” – psychological and economic. I suppose this is where shows like Gossip Girl get their popularity – there’s an entire “trash everything” online culture that’s been built over the last few years (and it is just a few years, these outlets didn’t exist before that – they’re so ubiquitous in our lives these days that one forgets that neither Facebook, Twitter nor Yelp existed as public, social media until a mere eight years ago). One has to wonder where it’s all headed.
On to the dinners, which, with the exception of the two negative comments above (and actually, the one who commented on the fish/red wine thing liked everything else), garnered positive messages from everyone else who’s ventured feedback during all four nights.
A return of our ensalada amazonica – herb roasted tomatoes, spicy avocado mousse, hearts of palm dressed in a tomato, lemon and garlic vinaigrette, chives, basil flecked local cheese. Even the naysayer above liked this one, it was the only dish they gave props to.
And a reprise of our olla gitana, or “gypsy pot”, a favorite that goes back to our inception. Vegetable soup packed with squash, carrots, chickpeas, unripe pears, and green beans all cooked in a vegetable and herb stock and then finished with a sofreito of toasted ground almonds, garlic, shallots, onions, tomato, saffron, cinnamon and pepper, and garnished with fresh mint.
This is one that’s been in the works for a bit and I’m quite happy with how it turned out. I do understand the one objection that traditionally a meat course should be served after a fish course, but this was intended as a smaller plate, an appetizer, and it was quite intentional that it came before the fish. It’s a reinterpretation of the concept of a taco al pastor, bringing in the flavors, but changing the components. Pork breast marinated for the day in a mix of white ale, pineapple, red onion, cilantro, yellow chilies (fresh ají amarillo), lime juice and salt, then broiled while brushing repeatedly with the marinade. Accompanying, a baked corn pudding with a touch of sweetness, a tart lime puree, and a little salad of cilantro, red onion and hot chilies (ají limo). I could see doing this as more of a main course using a different cut of pork, perhaps grilled, and maybe a baked polenta. Though, I do like my midwestern style corn pudding, and we loved this dish back in the kitchen.
Inspired by a dish I had years ago at Oviedo. Broiled sea bass that’s been brushed with olive oil, salt and pepper. Served over a creamy potato puree spiked with garam masala. Surrounded by a mixed herb (oregano, basil, parsley), olive oil, peperoncino and anchovy puree. Topped with a mix of pickled elements – cauliflower and rocoto chilies that are quickly “hot brined” in apple cider vinegar, salt, sugar, white pepper and coriander seed; plus capers, gherkins and green olives, toasted sunflower seeds. My favorite dish of the week, this one will definitely be making a comeback, probably without changes.
Part a reprise, part new – the tart we’ve offered up before, a cocoa crust, passionfruit curd center, and dark chocolate ganache infused with a little ground mace. But instead of a straightforward caramel, I started thinking about offering something with a little more complexity. A few months ago a friend of mine had mentioned a dish he’d seen on a restaurant menu that paired soy sauce and chocolate, and my initial response was a sort of “ugh” – sometimes experimentation is not well thought out. But it stuck in my mind, and as I thought about it, I realized that in some ways, it’s just a variation on a salted chocolate or salted caramel component. And so, I’ve been playing with it and came up with something that I really like. Now, I’ve had three different requests for the recipe for this dessert, and while I’m tempted to say, “wait for the cookbook”, what the heck, let’s go for it.
Passionfruit and Chocolate Tart
130 grams pastry flour
20 grams bitter cocoa
200 grams confectioners’ sugar
100 grams butter
1 egg, lightly beaten
Crumb or pulse the first four ingredients together until you have the texture of wet sand, add in the egg and mix well to just bring the dough together. Press out into a standard springform pan (26-28 cm) to just cover the bottom evenly. Chill for 30 minutes and then place in a medium hot oven (170°C) to parbake for 7-8 minutes. I generally find it a good idea to set the springform pan on a baking sheet of some sort, I tend to find that they leak a little of the butter as it melts. While baking…
8 large eggs
450 grams sugar
320 ml fresh passionfruit pulp (including the seeds, roughly 3 large passionfruit)
140 grams butter, melted
In a mixer, preferably with a balloon whisk, though beaters will work just fine, whisk the eggs and sugar together until light and creamy. On slower speed blend in the passionfruit pulp (this, by the way, works just fine with any acidic fruit puree – it’s the same recipe we use for our lemon tart in which we just use the same amount of fresh lemon juice plus the grated zest from the lemons) and the butter until well combined.
When the tart crust has just started to look baked – it’s a judgment call, I sort of eyeball it for when the crust just barely no longer looks wet from the melted butter in it – carefully pour in the filling and return to the oven. Bake for about 30-35 minutes – the top will get golden brown and the filling will set with just a bit of a wobble left. Don’t leave it in longer than this or the egg in the mix will start to curdle. Set aside on a cooling rack to cool to room temperature.
200 grams dark (bittersweet) chocolate
1/2 tsp ground mace
200 ml heavy cream
1 Tb butter
Bring the cream and butter to a simmer. Break the chocolate up into small pieces and place in a heatproof bowl with the mace. Pour the cream mixture over the chocolate and let it sit for five minutes. Whisk until smooth. Pour over the tart and tilt it around to cover evenly. Let sit for about ten minutes to cool and then place in the refrigerator for 3-4 hours to chill and set firmly. Dust with sweet cocoa powder.
I’m a firm believer in “dry caramel”, but you can make your caramel sauce as you see fit. David Lebovitz has a great step-by-step for making dry caramel on his blog.
200 grams sugar
200 ml heavy cream, room temperature
2 Tb butter
1 Tb miso paste
50 ml soy sauce
4 hot red chilies, finely chopped
Follow David’s procedure for the caramel. At the point where it’s a beautiful dark brown, whisk in the cream a little at a time to incorporate it. If it seizes up the caramel, just keep whisking over low heat until the lumps remelt. Turn off the heat, whisk in the remaining ingredients. Let cool. Taste. If you think it needs a touch more saltiness, whisk in more soy sauce a spoonful at a time until it tastes the way you like it, and, of course, if you want more or less chili, adjust the quantity – different chilies obviously have different levels of spice – I’m using little 1″ red Thai chilies that probably run around 75,000-100,000 “Scoville units”, and chopping up four of them yields about a teaspoon of chopped chilies.