Saturday, December 26, 2009

Cobaya Dinner 3: A Trip Up & Down the East Coast

Earlier this year, the Cobaya Gourmet Guinea Pigs group was formed with the goal of providing local chefs with a no-holds-barred creative outlet for creating dishes outside of their everyday menus (or their diners palate range).  A prerequisite for being part of the group and attending the dinners was that you, the diner, needed to be open to eating just about anything, trusting the chef to enlighten you with something that may not be in your culinary comfort zone.  For our 3rd dinner, Chef Jonathan Eismann took us on a trip up and down the east coast, featuring dishes composed of fresh seafood flown in from Massachusetts, Maine, the Carolinas and Florida. The dinner was held at the spot of one of his two soon-to-be-opened restaurants, Fin (the other is a BBQ joint called "Q"), which is right around the corner from his Pacific Time spot.

I won't spend too much time on each dish since I'm way late to the party for writing about each dish.  Mango & Lime and Food For Thought already have recorded their thoughts, so be sure to check them out.

The first dish was a scallop with a hard sear on one side with the rest left raw and sprinkled with coriander, cilantro, and sea salt with a little lime juice added.  Being a  big scallop fan and very finicky about my scallops, I was both anxious and guarded when I took my first bite.  No disappointment at all.  The texture was perfect and I loved the tiny amount of chew left from the sear (mightve been dipped in egg prior to the sear but Im not sure.  The texture seemed more than just seared scallop but my memory might not be serving me correctly).

Next up were warm curried Davenport oysters from Massachusetts.  I'm not a huge curry fan so this dish wasn't something I was excited to try.  The curry was a bit overpowering for my tastes and the oysters that had been fried crisp had become cold and slightly soggy from sitting before I got to take a bite.  I thought the use of some Trisol here would've been a great way to keep the oysters crisp.

The third course featured a fluke and squid tiradito from Long Island, served "saigon style" with red grapefruit and nuoc cham.  This was one of my favorite dishes of the night.  I especially loved the consistency of the squid which was tender with a slight chew to it.  Funny thing was that I'm not a real grapefruit eater but I loved the way the grapefruit balanced the dish and I ended up clearing my plate of all things grapefruit.  Yum.

Our next dish was a crabcake made from Florida stone crabs and served with a napa cabbage kim chi and accompanied by a black bean vinaigrette for dipping.  This was another dish met with some skepticism from me as I have yet to find a restaurant that serves crabcakes as good as the ones I make at home.  Chef Eismann once again did not disappoint (though I still like mine better :-p).  The crabcake had a wonderfully crisp outside and a meaty inside without being too bready.  The star of the dish for me, however, was the black bean vinaigrette which had an incredible flavor that was heightened by a few drops of what I believe was sriracha that brought a little heat to the sauce.

At this point, I was beginning to feel full and we still had 5 dishes to go!  I was happy to see on the menu that the next dish was of lighter fare - steamed clams from Sebastian Inlet, FL, served in a rocky mountain sake broth with green onion and crushed tomato.  The clams were great but the broth was phenomenal and LOADED with butter.  Mr. Frodnesor and I both decided that drinking the broth directly from the bowl was an awesome idea while we waited for bread to come around and I'd reckon to say that we were correct.

The last 4 dishes were all hunks of white fleshed fish, served in what I would call "main course" portions.  It was clear that Chef Eismann wanted to make sure that we diners would want nothing to do with food for the next 24 hours after this meal with the amount of food we were served and I'm sure I'm not the only one who enjoyed nearly every bite while simultaneously wanting to raise the white flag and surrender with me belly full.  Some quick comments on the final four dishes...

Pan roasted snowy grouper from Miami served with braised fennel and a preserved lemon risotto was first up, bringing one of my favorite pairings of tender grouper flesh and preserved lemon.  I loved this one.

Wild striped bass from North Carolina served with cucumber salad and a mustard oil/soy sauce was another great dish.  The mustard/soy sauce was freakin awesome and paired quite well with the monster hunk of bass we were served.

Hong Kong yellow tail from the Florida Keys served as a whole fried fish that had a really light batter with some red curry in it and was accompanied by some sliced jalapeno pepper and cilantro leaves.  A little dish of sauce comprised of some yuzu, ginger, and soy was great for dipping.  This was a great dish.  I liked the textures of the flesh and slightly crispy skin of the snapper and the flavor of the dipping sauce.

Pan roasted North Atlantic cod from Maine with black pepper potato and a slightly spicy escabeche made of red and green peppers was the final dish and the only one I fully disliked during the entire meal.  I didn't like the flavors of the escabeche at all and also thought this was way to savory of a dish to finish the meal with.

Wild Striped Bass with Cucumber Salad, mustard oil, soy

Hong Kong Yellow Tail with red curry and yuzu, ginger, soy dipping sauce (not shown)

I was glad that we were served a nice trio of fruit sorbet (coconut, pineapple, and lemon I believe) that was drizzled with a little bit of honey which I thought was a fantastic topping, especially as it became slightly hardened from the coldness of the sorbet.

Chef Eismann came out at the end to thank us for coming and received a nice round of applause from the group.  With 34 diners, this was by far our largest dinner group yet and I think that Chef Eismann did a great job.  This Cobaya dinner was a bit different than the previous two as the Chef didn't come out to explain each dish but I guess it was understandable as I knew he also had a separate beer dinner going on at his neighboring restaurant, Pacific Time.  I later learned that some of the dishes we were served are to be featured at Fin and I look forward to dining there in the future when I'm in the mood for a great seafood-style meal.

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