Leek and Sunchoke Mezzaluna
There's a reason why Boulud's restaurants are so beloved in New York, and this dish representing him and his Café Boulud Executive Chef Gavin Kaysen was exemplary of their classic French cuisine executed flawlessly (something we appreciate at such walk-around tasting events). Their plate had a comforting richness from porcini cream that didn't overwhelm, with a satisfying bite of roasted sunchokes and funky salt from Pecorino Romano.
Smoked Sturgeon Panna Cotta with Wild American Caviar, Beets, and Rye Crouton
Brennan didn't settle for a solely creamy panna cotta, but used sweet and slightly briny caviar to add a gentle touch of salt, pushed over by the smoke and crunch of a rye crouton, and complemented by a bit of freshness from sweet beets and the little green thing, which we honestly couldn't identify but that contributed a melon or cucumber-y bit of almost-sour refreshment.
Scallop Ceviche with Passion Fruit, Mango, and Mustard Seeds
Stupak had our vote for the most innovative dish of the evening, his ceviche giving off an even undercurrent of heat from habaneros that didn't overwhelm the dish. A papaya sauce and mango foam brought sweetness to balance out the scallop's citrus bath, overall creating a balanced ceviche that was both restrained and loaded with flavor.
Pork Bone Char Cheese with Blood Cracker and Bacon
None in our group have been lucky enough to eat at Barber's Blue Hill, so we paid extra attention to his cheese plate, which paired a funky aged goat cheese with a sweet fruit and blood cracker that was delightfully crispy. Altogether it was a rich plate shot through with green that we would have easily enjoyed again at a table.
Shrimp with Crab Fondue
Colicchio continues to wow us with how much flavor he concentrates in his food, and this "fondue" was no exception. Incredibly smooth with a nice pop of herby chive, the crab melted in our mouths and was enveloped in a creamy richness that somehow had a rather clean finish.
Chicken Liver with Cippoline, Pine Nuts, and Raisins
We loved this dish. Robbins's cippoline onions were cooked to the point that they just gave in texturally, adding both sweetness and a bite to the richness of the chicken liver, which was smooth and not too fragrant. The combo with the pine nuts and raisins in one mouthful had satisfying sweet/rich/meaty/green/sharp accents, with one not overpowering the other.
Veal Terrine with Fall Vegetables and Bagna Cauda Dressing
Jonathan Benno's talent is extremely underrated in our internet food focus. His root vegetables were so clean and flavorful that he had to do very little with them for his terrine, with was simple and earthy, the veal melting quickly with its fatty richness and the whole thing finishing with a peppery bite. It was a dish exemplary of how one can finesse superior ingredients with pristine technique, letting the products' inherent flavors do the bulk of the work.
Torchon of Foie Gras...
Hugh Acheson, Five and Ten ('02).
Another favorite of the night, Acheson's foie gras was extremely smooth and subtle, a strong base for the scuppernong, which he told us are an an indigenous grape from the south often used in making wine. Their pickled version was both sweet and slightly acidic, which worked really well with the onion jam and mustard seed. We might have done a subtle happy dance after this one.
Shaved Raw Fluke with Crushed Olives, Lemon, and Chiles
Kluger's fluke was just slightly thick enough to be a bit more substantial than what we'd expected, covered in crushed olives with a brininess that somehow didn't overpower the freshness of the fish. The lemon and chili were definitely present, but we really appreciated how the citrus didn't take full focus, so that all flavors and textures were rolled in succession.
Spicy Seafood Salad
Thankfully my Poppa doesn't frequent food blogs, because I feel no shame stating that this seafood salad beat the pants off of his. Tiny bites of white potato and calamari were touched with tomato and dried herbs, altogether salty, sweet, spicy, and smoky. On its own everything was fresh and comforting, but taking a bite with the endive made it even that much more Italiano.
Braised Veal Osso Bucco with Heirloom Polenta and Broccoli Rabe
Carmellini's veal was extremely tender, falling apart with a bite. The South Carolina corn used in the heirloom polenta was excellent, and altogether it was a delightfully seasonal plate we wouldn't have minded a full portion of.
"Assagini and Aperitivo Gathering"...
Scott Conant, Scarpetta ('04).
Conant's bites were both fun and classically simple, his pork not too sweet from the balsamic or tomato that all melted together. We particularly dug the presentation of the hot gougeres served atop a bed of Parmesan, which stuck to them just enough for an added salty kick.
Walu Sashimi with Preserved Fig, Cured Caper, and Grapefruit
Sweet, salty, and citrus-y, Psilakis's substantial piece of fish had a little char on the end of the bite, boasting lots of flavor for one fork in a portion size we appreciated.
Steak Tartare with Bulgar, Sesame Tofu Sauce, and Chinese Chili
Lo's bright tartare used a fun addition of slightly sweet bulgar which lightened the bulk and provided a slightly crunchy texture in contrast to the smooth, clean raw steak. We appreciated the hint of chili and the simplicity that showcased the clean ingredients.